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Mixed Media: Videos

ARTVIDEOS | BOOKS | WEBSITES

China Drowns?

Great Wall Across the Yangtze directed by Ellen Perry, ITVS; www.shop.pbs.org, (800) 328-7271

Reviewed by Bob Schildgen

China is building a new Great Wall, a 650-foot-high, mile-and-a-half-wide dam across the Yangtze River that will create a 350-mile-long artificial lake--and the plethora of environmental problems that similar projects have caused around the world. Ellen Perry's documentary, narrated by Martin Sheen, takes us on a tour through the river's dramatic mountain slopes, forests, and archaeological and historic sites that will never be seen again if the project is completed. Environmentalists interviewed warn that Siberian cranes, baizi dolphins, river sturgeon, and finless porpoise and other species will face extinction, with so much water impounded that the Yangtze might simply dry up many miles from its estuary.

The dam will also take an immense human toll, as 1.3 million environmental refugees will be displaced, their farmland and towns flooded away (see "No Place to Call Home," page 66). Such problems, plus the devastation if the structure breaks during an earthquake, have even driven the most fervent dam sponsors, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the World Bank, to withdraw from the project.

Chinese engineers disagree, dismissing the hazards and touting the dam's environmental benefits. Hydropower from the dam, they say, will help relieve China's deadly air-pollution crisis by generating as much power as 50 million tons of coal a year, while curbing CO2 emissions in the world's second-ranking source of greenhouse gases. Chinese environmentalists like Dai Qing, however, who was sentenced to ten months in jail for crusading against the dam, contend that there are less dangerous paths, as do her allies in the International Rivers Network and other groups. But the worldwide anti-dam campaign faces a difficult struggle against officials bent on rivaling ancient emperors for public-works immortality.


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