Chasing Mirages

Tag: externalities

Dongjiang Expedition Part 4: The perils of small hydropower

by on May.23, 2013, under Posts

Small hydropower, roughly defined as having 300 kilowatts to 30 megawatts of electricity generation capacity,  is often lauded as a low environmental impact solution for rural electrification.

In some cases, small hydropower may be useful and sustainable.  However, like large hydropower, its deployment must be planned carefully.  Small hydropower plants with reservoirs cause the same type of damage dealt by larger plants, including flooding of productive land, fragmentation of river ecosystems, and alteration of natural flows.

In-stream hydropower plants, which don’t require reservoirs, generate electricity by diverting water from the natural stream into sloped pipes that lead to turbines.  An important requirement for sustainable operation of in-stream hydropower plants is the maintenance of minimum ecological flow in the natural stream.

The over-deployment and poor planning of small hydropower has irreparably destroyed river ecosystems all over China, and Guangdong Province is no exception.

(continue reading…)

Leave a Comment :, , , , , , , , , , more...

Dongjiang Expedition Part 3: Mining – a devil’s bargain

by on Apr.23, 2013, under Posts

Blocked mine shaft, labelled "Safe Production"

One of the most compelling books I’ve read in recent years is Collapse by Jared Diamond.  An important point he makes in the opening chapter is that there is often no way to operate a mine profitably provided that one accounts for all environmental externalities.  A simple example  is when an abandoned mine emits toxic run-off in perpetuity.  If mining companies had to bear the costs of treating this eternal source of pollution, there would be no price at which ore could be profitably sold because such costs would effectively be infinite.  Fortunately for mining companies, these externalities were largely ignored throughout human history and many have made huge profits at the expense of irreparably destroyed ecosystems.

(continue reading…)

Leave a Comment :, , , , , , , more...

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site: