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Excerpt from Endgame

Dams in China (p. 650)

From chapter "Dams, Part IV"

Another town, another talk. Another Q and A session. This night someone asks, “There are a lot of incredibly destructive dams going up right now in China. I would love to go over there and take them down. But to do so will wipe out villages downstream and kill a lot of people. What do I do about that?”

There have been times when I’ve gotten questions like this that I have responded as I wish I had to that pacifist who said that he wouldn’t hurt a single human being to save an entire run of salmon, which is that the belief that any human life, including my own, is worth more than the health of the landbase is precisely the problem. But for whatever reason I didn’t feel like saying that this night. I said, “First, we don’t need to go to China. There are plenty of dams right here that are very destructive. Second, we kill as surely by inaction as by action: the dams wipe out villages and kill people, too, but those costs never seem to be counted. And who gains from the dams? It’s always those in power. There’s a very important third point, too, which is that there are hundreds of thousands of dams that can be removed at absolutely no risk to human life. I don’t see us taking those out, which makes me think that this fear of killing people is just a smokescreen, another way to rationalize our inaction. If that really is a concern, why don’t we take out these smaller dams now, and then face the question of the bigger dams when the time comes?”