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A Red Sea Dam: Huge Power and Massive Destruction
18 Dec, 2007 11:30 am
Today?s technological know-how makes it possible to construct a dam across the southern entrance of the Red Sea. Evaporation is high in the Red Sea, and the deficit is made up by inflow from the Indian Ocean. After closure, the level of the Red Sea will start to drop. After many years, the difference in height between the two water bodies is sufficient to use it for hydropower generation. By passing an equal amount of water as evaporates on the Red Sea side through turbines in the dam, up to 50 GW can be generated (the largest nuclear power plant in the USA generates 3.6 GW). This cheap and abundant energy will raise the standard of living for the people around the Red Sea. It also will avoid large CO2-emissions. It will destroy, however, the Red Sea?s ecology, tourism and fishery, and the Red Sea will no longer be available for shipping. The paper discusses the issue of decision making in such macro-engineering projects, where benefits must be weighed against adverse effects .
Although such a dam would be one of the largest constructions in history, it is feasible with present-day technology. Because the Red Sea experiences a hot and dry climate, its annual evaporation excess is more than 2 meters; in other words, after closure the level of the Red Sea will be lowered by 2 meters each year. A power plant will be constructed in the dam. After a number of years, the difference in height between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is so large that power can be generated by passing water through the hydropower plant. The amount of water that passes through the dam is equal to the amount that is evaporating from the Red Sea. The energy may reach 50 GW (equal to the total power generation of the Netherlands + Belgium + a part of France). This hydropower is free from CO2 emissions, unlike plants that use fossil fuels.
There will come a time that the oil reserves of the region are exhausted. For most of the poor people in the region, this will make life even more difficult. Having a large and inexpensive power supply would boost their standard of living. The power can be used for large-scale desalination, providing safe drinking water as well as water for crop irrigation in this arid region. Energy-intensive industries could be established at Bab-el –Mandab, like magnesium or aluminium plants. The Red Sea brine would provide the raw material for the magnesium, and bauxite ore from India or Australia could be unloaded there and be converted to aluminium metal.
All this, however, would come at a heavy price. An often unique ecology will be almost completely wiped out, fishing and tourism will stop, and there will be no more shipping through the Red Sea. So the question is, what is more important, the well-being of the people around the Red Sea, or the preservation of their present environment? There is no ready-made framework on which to base such a decision. The precautionary principle offers no guideline, because on the one hand it wants to prevent irreversible changes in the environment, but on the other hand it also concerns the longer run and the well-being of future generations.
The Red Sea macro-engineering project serves to highlight these ethical dilemmas. The conclusion must be that there are no easy solutions, but that every novel and innovative project must be judged on its own merits.
Schuiling, R.D., Badescu, V., Cathcart, R.B., Seoud, J., Hanekamp, J. (2007)
'Power from closing the Red Sea: economic and ecological costs and benefits following the isolation of the Red Sea,' International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, Volume 7, No. 4., 341-361.
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[Response] You are welcome to come up with a different plan to produce 50 GW of CO2 free power which has no negative environmental consequences. Until that time the fate and well-being of the people around the Red Sea remains a serious concern, so make your choice "fishes or people". Olaf Schuiling
It seems that here's no "ethical dilemma" for you ... your choice is done.
No problem, it's done for me too.
"the fate and well-being of the people around the Red Sea remains a serious concern"; come on ! are you serious ? You can not be ! The people around the red sea won't probably get any chance to tell you which side of the ethical dilemma they tend to agree to. Anyway, saying that giving access to a huge power is a decisive step towards well-being "of the people of the red sea" is an abusive short cut. Remember that the argument has been used to liberalize banking systems in Africa, to open markets to European and American goods, to industrialize everything that could be industrialized ... Big achievement, and average egyptian can now buy coke, marloboro and cream cheese ...
The Suez canal is if I remember well is the second or third source of incomes for Egypt. Will a huge access to power will counter balance this loss ?
If the read sea is closed for shipping, what will be be the new route for shipping ? Did you include the extra production of CO2 that could result in your global CO2 economy ?
But all this is just blah blah .... I can not imagine that this mega megalomaniac plan (a 100 km long and 1km thick dam, that's correct ?) will exist somewhere else that in a computer.
Remember St Expupery " A rose is usefull, it's usefull because it's pretty". This project can not be usefull because it's massively ugly !
[Response] Can't you read? My choice is NOT done at all, the point of the paper is to discuss how one takes decisions between incomparables, and I have taken this example to demonstrate how difficult (or impossible?) this is. Olaf Schuiling.
Here and there you put to the same level massive environmental destruction and potential gain for people, and try to tell how difficult is the choice. In the abstract , you and colleagues added even "The precautionary principle does not offer a guideline in such a decision, as it not only seeks to avoid irreparable ecological changes but also concerns the well-being of future generations of people living around the Red Sea, which is promoted by access to a large and emission-free source of energy." .
Extending precautionary principle to reduce its force and introduce the dilemma , Isn't that convenient ?
My point is that you force an ethical dilemma where almost everyone would say there's none.
Admitting there's one. I'm trying to put weights in the balance and I would like to know where you put yours. What is your opinion ?
Did your study include global economy of CO2 emissions, impact on the local economy ?
[Response] Once more; I don't know. About the precautionary principle, we have only quoted its full content, which is more than to avoid irreparable damage. Life has no easy answers. To help you, I will quote from the full paper (not just the abstract): If one emphasizes concern for the well-being of future generations, the ecological and economic cards for a Bam Dam project might be shuffled in a different manner than currently would be the case.. Especially this aspect highlights the contradictory consequences of the Bam Dam in view of a precautionary regulatory stance. Namely it shows that the precautionary principle cannot be a directing principle, as the Bam Dam on the one hand generates huge ecological changes generally regarded as unwanted, yet on the other hand will sustain and enhance the living conditions of innumerable people of future generations. Moreover, the ecological deficit might be offset by the reduction of oil consumption and its concomitant waste production (e.g. carbon dioxide). Olaf Schuiling
The Rio Declaration from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development stated for example :
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to theircapabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. Rio Declaration onEnvironment and Development, June 14, 1992, 31 ILM 874.
The 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle summarizes the principle this way: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically." (The Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle was convened by the Science and Environmental Health Network).
See also a lot of definition :
I'm not sure you can discard precautionary principle interpreting it also as "let's not take the risk to miss something really good for people" otherwise it would have no interest.
[Response] Not "my"definition. The European Commission states explicitly: ?The dimension of the precautionary principle goes beyond the problems associated with a short or medium-term approach to risks. It also concerns the longer run and the well-being of future generations.? see: Commission of the European Communities, 2000. Communication from the Commission on the Precautionary Principle. Brussels.
?in certain cases, a total ban is the sole possible response to a given risk.?
?the dimension of the Precautionary Principle goes beyond the problems associated with a short or medium term approach to risks. It also concerns the longer run and the well being of future generations.?
?to take action to avoid potentially damaging impacts of substances even where there is no scientific evidence to prove a causal link between emissions and effects.?
?Whether or not to invoke the Precautionary Principle is a decision exercised where scientific information is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and where there are indications that the possible effects on the environment or human, animal or plant health may be potentially dangerous and inconsistent with the chosen level of protection.?
The way you use it is out of context.
It was used to state for example that the proof that pesticides have no short or medium term damaging effects is not enough, not to point out that we could be missing years and years happy production.
I'm afraid that the precautionary principle fully apply here.
To justify ethical dilemma, one need to know all (at least all foreseeable) sides effects of such a gigantic plan (social, economical, environmental). The question then is did you take account of all this parameters in your study ?
I would be interested in reading the original article if it's possible.
[Response] Just send me your e-mail and I will send you the paper. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is too short to summarizes the dilemma-- whether ethical or not, it exists-- between technological development in sensitive regions and these developments in countries without governments/resources/means to refuse, to discover alternative means, to recompense, if that is even possible. See the Three Gorges...
I don't think the author necessarily advocates the Red Dam construction with this paper... Attacks are undue. Thanks for informing us about a touchy subject.
[Response] Thanks for seeing both sides of the picture. If you give me your e-mail, I will send the full paper. Mine is Schuiling@geo.uu.nl