Always read the small print


London to Ho Chi Minh by train (and boat!): Day 51

After a beautiful journey down the Yangtze, our bus to the train station made an obligatory stop at the tourist centre of the Three Gorges Dam. We wouldn’t have planned this ourselves but I guess that’s what happens when you don’t read the small print (or it’s only in mandarin).

Hundreds of local tourists flocked to take in the views and marvel at the massive locks for the cargo ships. Everywhere we walked there were corporate-sponsored fountains, gardens, temples (‘charitably’ relocated before the dam’s flooding wiped all history and culture from the land) and signs about all the ‘green’ credentials of the dam.

The day before, I had spent hours watching the river hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Yangtze river dolphin before finding out that the last one was spotted in 2007. The third longest river in the world can no longer sustain the local people, plants and animals it once did. Although this has been a long journey of degradation, the dam has had a huge impact on the process.

As Arundhati Roy documents so eloquently in The Algebra of Infinite Justice (highly recommend), large dam projects always have a devastating affect on people and the environment. Often, they don’t fulfill their basic aims and are no more sustainable than fossil fuels. This is documented and well known. Yet the immediate profits for the aging executives and politicians always trump nature and people.

We know the animal industry is the second largest producer of greenhouse emissions globally (more than ALL transport combined), yet guidebooks are happy to advise travelers to offset their carbon and avoid flying while recommending the tastiest animal parts in town. If 1kg of beef consumes 25,000 litres of water, why on earth do we ask people to focus on turning the tap off while brushing their teeth rather than reconsider their diet choices?

Special interests don’t want you to have the real story. But it is out there. We must scrutinise, expose and share the truth. Then we put that truth into action to create justice.

Dig deeper. Ask questions. And always, always read the small print.

Next stop: Zhangjiajie — at Three Gorges Dam

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