In the quest to find clean, renewable sources of energy, we turn to a familiar method: hydroelectricity. Today, the ancient method of harnessing the power of flowing water is hitting enormous new heights. Hydroelectric dams are some of the biggest human-made structures in the world. As humans dam more and more rivers, the scale and sheer size of these structures continues to grow.
But in trying to meet our future electrical demand, are we pursuing a technology that is harming communities, rivers and environments?
In our first-ever documentary “Submerged”, we hear the different ways Indigenous communities bear the brunt of mega hydroelectric projects. What happens when land is flooded, waterways diverted, and dangerous neurotoxins like methylmercury are released? Featuring Inuk Labrador Land Protector Amy Norman and Aimée Craft, co-editor of In Our Backyard: Keeyask and the Legacy of Hydroelectric Development, the documentary by Farha Akhtar gives us a first-hand and insightful account of the long-lasting legacies created by hydroelectric projects.
Daniel Macfarlane then shares his perspective on the outsized environmental effects of super-sized hydroelectric projects. The associate professor of Environmental and Sustainability Studies at Western Michigan University sits down with Jay to discuss what actually happens when a free-flowing river is turned into a lake – from changes in species, to changes in local climates. They also discuss “hydraulic imperialism” and the colonial subjugation of Indigenous people and land.
The Canadian registered charity Raven Trust weighs in on its work supporting Indigenous communities pursuing the often-expensive and painful process of challenging large-scale dams and developments in court.
We round out the episode with the moving song “A Thousand Years” by Silver Wolf Band, a four piece Indigenous folk-rock band from Labrador, Canada.
This documentary and episode of What About Water? is supported by the Uproot Project, which is operationally and financially supported by Grist, its founding partner. Uproot supports journalists of colour who are underrepresented in the journalism industry, to help them tell stories like this one.