Brasilia – Director James Cameron said on Monday that a real-life Avatar battle is playing out in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, where indigenous groups are trying to halt the construction of a huge hydroelectric project.
In an interview, Cameron said he was in Brazil’s capital to support Indian and environmental groups as they stage protests against the Belo Monte dam project.
Cameron attended an environmental summit in the Amazon in March with former US Vice President Al Gore.
He returned this week to Sao Paulo to promote the DVD version of his blockbuster movie Avatar, in which the fictitious Na’vi race fights to protect its homeland, the forest-covered moon, Pandora, from plans to extract oil. He said he came to Brasilia on his own initiative because he was drawn to the activists’ plight.
Avatar has struck a chord with environmentalists worldwide, from China, where millions have been displaced by major infrastructure projects, to Bolivia, where Evo Morales, the nation’s first indigenous president, praised the film for sending the message of saving the environment from exploitation.
“I’m drawn into a situation where a real-life Avatar confrontation is in progress,” Cameron said in a telephone interview while en route to protests taking place in front of the Mines and Energy Ministry.
“What’s happening in Avatar is happening in Brazil and places like India and China, where traditional villages are displaced by big infrastructure projects,” he added.
The $11bn Belo Monte hydroelectric dam – which if completed would be the world’s third-largest such project – was cleared for construction on February 1 by the Environment Ministry. Bidding for prospective builders is expected to take place later this month.
Brazil’s government has said that even if it can’t find private partners for the dam’s construction on the Xingu River, which feeds the Amazon River, the nation has the funds to finish the project itself.
The administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva argues that the dam will provide clean energy and is needed to meet current and future energy needs.
Environmentalists are sharply opposed. They say it will devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40 000 people who live in the area to be flooded. They also argue that the energy generated by the dam will largely go to big mining operations in the Amazon, not benefit the average person.
Cameron said he sent a letter to Silva five days ago requesting a meeting and urging him to stop the project. He has not received a reply from the president, who is currently visiting the US.
“I wrote to him that, ‘This is an opportunity for you to be a hero, a visionary leader of the 21st century, and modify Brazil’s path in such a way that you have sustainable economic growth instead of economic growth that has serious consequences for certain sectors of the population,”‘ Cameron said.
He said if he were able to meet with Silva he also would tell him that he believes North America and Europe have to help pay to preserve the rain forest, which he said “provides a service to the entire world” by helping fight global warming.
The Brazilian Amazon is arguably the world’s biggest natural defence against global warming, acting as a “sink”, or absorber, of carbon dioxide. But it is also a great contributor to warming. About 75% of Brazil’s emissions come from rain-forest clearing, as vegetation burns and felled trees rot.
“If North America and Europe have been responsible for the carbon pollution that started us down this inevitable slide of global warming, then they should take financial responsibility for those services that nature naturally provides,” Cameron said.