Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydropower project and a globally notorious issue. Its benefits are that it offered 26,000 jobs during construction, it’s the largest single source of renewable energy and will reduce the risk of flooding for communities downstream. However, it forcibly displaced 1.3 million people during construction with inadequate compensation, will cause wide scale environmental issues, and there are concerns it cannot prevent flooding. Was the dam construction morally justified?
Three Gorges has Dammed Us All
The relocation figure of 1.3 million people is heavily criticised and could be up to 2 million, meaning government compensation is likely inadequate. The compensation relied on a lump sum method, with the quantity decided by the government. Issues with this method are available houses could cost more than the sum provided and the citizens’ skills could be unsuitable to their relocated regions, (PH Gleick). The dam will lead to environmental issues such as flooding of industrial units causing water pollution, and an increase in landslides.
After construction, power from the dam is enough for 5.7 million homes while showing positive action versus climate change. 40% of the dam’s capacity is provided for flood control, improving the risk of flooding from 10 to 100 years (Mtholyoke). Flooding is a recurring and serious issue with 3650 lives in 1998 and 5.7 million homes lost in China (BBC).
The stakeholders are the government who want to provide energy for their country and prevent flooding, and may desire to showcase their country’s power. The contracted companies want to be economically profitable and gain prestige for working on the world’s largest dam. The communities upstream require adequate compensation for being displaced. The communities downstream require protection from flooding, energy access, and economic growth.
Given the undemocratic politics of China, the government majorly drives the course of action. Instead of building the dam, Soft engineering techniques could have been used for flood prevention, or invoked greater discussion to identify and account for all resulting impacts. Another option could be to build several smaller dams and improve older dams. They could have taken better care over the relocation (PH Gleick) and ensuring the funds allocated were correctly distributed.
Using a virtue ethics framework, these authors propose that the Chinese government were not acting completely virtuous in the construction. Their desires to provide clean energy and prevent flooding were good because they acted to benefit their citizens’ wellbeing via flood prevention and promoting sustainability. The dam protects 15 million people and 1.5 million acres of farmland and so act in their citizens’ best interests. However, their desire to display their power by discarding other low key options immediately and not taking care over the compensation allocation was not virtuous. The Chinese government also did not fully assess the construction impact e.g. landslides and increased seismic activity. These issues could have been planned for if the government showed virtue by being open to criticism and striving for quality during the design stage. The virtue of professionalism and honesty was also absent in compensation allocation as money was embezzled by government officials, causing families to suffer. The dam therefore could have been built adhering to a virtuous ethic, but was not in an attempt to cut costs.
Three Gorges was the Best Dam Thing to Happen
Three Gorges Dam reservoir has a capacity of 22.15×109 m3, which will control flooding in the Ching and Yangtze River. The dam helps agricultural irrigation, it has solved the drought problem that occurred in central China in 2009, and it has improved the yearly grain production. The dam provides around 84.68 billion kilowatt annually, which satisfies 1/9 of the domestic electrical demand. Additionally, the use of hydroelectric power dramatically reduces the consumption of coal therefore reducing CO2 and SO2 emissions.
However, ethical issues have been raised. Since the dam’s completion, geological disasters in the surrounding area have increased. 4719 landslides happened from 2003 to 2007, in which 627 were directly caused by the dam. 632 square kilometers of land, including 116 cities in Chongqing and Hubei Providences, were submerged. Approximately 1.2 million residents were displaced, which led to social problems. The compensation the residents received did not match their loss, and some coastal cities suffered a great economic impact. Furthermore, irreparable environmental impacts occurred in both the dam area and the Yangtze River basin. Animal habitats were destroyed, and the climate pattern changed after the construction of the dam. Deforestation and pollution also threatened the biodiversity of the dam area.
The stakeholders who have benefited from the project include the Chinese government, the builder of the dam, and hydro-power companies. Those who suffered include farmers who were forced to relocate and the Baiji Dolphin which became extinct because of the construction of the dam. Environmentalists are concerned about the problems caused by the dam.
Actions should be taken to minimize the downsides. Artificial reproduction of some species could help recover the ecological balance in Yangtze River. The government could build waste disposal plants to prevent pollution. Implementation of afforestation could help prevent flooding and landslides, as well as control the climate pattern in the dam area. The construction of some smaller dams in different areas of the river might have the same functionality as Three Gorge’s Dam but minimize the detriments.
What the government has done is built about 200 garbage disposal plants to deal with the pollution in the dam reservoir. This was due to the silt build up cause by the dam reducing the flow rate of the river.
In conclusion, the Three Gorge’s Dam has created a large economic and societal impact to China. It has solved one of the most vital problems, and has also provided a solution to the electricity shortage in middle and western parts of China. Although there are issues with the construction, the Chinese government has taken steps to solve these issues and make the dam an even greater asset.
A utilitarianism approach was used to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to see whether Three Gorge’s Dam was the right decision.
32: David Michael, Starsky Kenneth Hutchinson, Muyi Pan, Dewei Chen