Fiona Lebar, Shaylyn Pelikys, and Eliza Maharjan, undergraduate students at the University of Manitoba, Canada, recently partnered with DWI to complete a course project on the greenwashing of hydroelectricity. The following is the summary report submitted by the students.
An analysis of the impacts of greenwashing hydroelectricity was conducted to explore what implications certain narratives can have on both the general understanding of hydro development and its growth in popularity as a “clean” energy source globally. This project was separated into two sections. The first part of the project was a coded analysis of interviews with individuals who are advocates for halting and healing from dam development. These individuals were from around the world including India, Brazil, Canada, and the United States. The second part of the project involved three case studies on countries that have been and continue to be heavily impacted by hydro development. The chosen countries were Chile, Indonesia, and Brazil. Overall, the purpose of this project was to explore examples of greenwashing regarding hydroelectricity and see if it can be observed around the world in any country regardless of the local climate, governance, and scale of hydro development.
From the research, it can be concluded that greenwashing is observed around the world in regard to hydro development. When the interviews were coded, common themes relating to greenwashing were observed. Environmental degradation was listed as a serious negative effect of hydro development in all analyzed interviews and case studies. Hydroelectricity is often praised as a clean energy source because it is being compared to oil and natural gas. In comparison, hydroelectricity may be cleaner in the sense it sometimes produces less greenhouse gases directly (although it does still produce greenhouse gases), but big hydro corporations and governments that push hydroelectricity rarely, if ever, discuss the other environmental degradation that occurs because of hydro dams. When looking at all the environmental impacts that hydro causes, there is no logical way that it can be labeled as a clean energy source. The social impacts (displacement of local communities and lack of consultation) were also mentioned across the interviews and case study analysis. Regardless of location, there is an overall lack of communication between government/hydro companies and the communities that are directly impacted by hydro development. False promises made by hydro proponents to community members further creates upset between the two parties.
Something surprising about this project was that across all analyzed interviews and case studies, the term greenwashing was hardly ever used. Topics and themes of greenwashing were seen numerous times, but the term itself was rarely used. Using the term greenwashing is important as it helps to unify examples of exploitative hydro development projects on a global scale. The themes of false promises, misinformation, social injustices, and environmental degradation that are observed on various hydro development projects can be unified by the term greenwashing. It is clear from this research project that most of the public is unaware of the true impacts of hydro development. If further education on the topic of greenwashing and hydro is made available there could be more pressure applied to hydro organizations by the general public, to reduce future hydro projects. Most individuals believe that hydropower is clean because of the narrative created by hydro companies to cover the truth surrounding hydro impacts. With an increase in campaigns by organizations such as Dam Watch International to raise awareness about greenwashing and hydroelectricity, a potential shift in society’s general understanding of how “clean” hydropower might be achieved.
The graphics created below are examples of educational resources for the public to further understand the impacts of greenwashing on hydroelectricity.