They have fought against this dam for decades, but the end is now in sight.

Big dams. Did you know they're the largest, most expensive structures we make?

The cost to build a mega dam goes way beyond money. They flood land, kill forests, destroy rivers and the life it supports, and displace tens of thousands of people.

Often, the culture and biodiversity destroyed by a big dam can never, ever be replaced.


Igre and her people in Brazil are facing just this reality. The Belo Monte is a giant dam being built on the river they call home.

We are starting to learn more and more not-so-good things about mega dams.

Big dams flood hundreds of thousands of acres of land behind them. They also harm rivers by depriving them of water and fundamentally altering natural fluctuations in flow and temperature. The loss of plants, fish, and other wildlife is astronomical.

Worse are the ongoing costs to cultures who live closely with rivers.

Belo Monte will flood an area of 190 square miles along the Xingu River. According to the Brazilian government, the flooding will force the relocation of up to 20,000 people, many of them belonging to at least 18 different ethnic groups. Nongovernmental organizations, like Amazon Watch, say the number of displaced may rise as high as 40,000.

The record of relocating cultures is not good. Forcibly removed from their homes and deprived of ways of life, once self-sufficient people can face hunger, rampant alcoholism, and high unemployment. Also, big dams are a "boom-and-bust" kind of development. Once they are built, many of the jobs go away.

Igre and other people of the Amazon have been fighting for decades against the Belo Monte Dam and their right to life.

Chief Rayoni of the Kayapo people, an international ambassador for the Brazilian rainforest and the people who live there, traveled to Paris in 2000 with a petition against the Belo Monte.

But after years of protesting and working with others to appeal to courts for their human rights to the land and their way of life, they have lost. The Belo Monte, which will be the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam, will close the river and begin operation in August 2015.

To make matters worse for indigenous people, it is just one of several mega dam projects on Amazonian rivers planned by the Brazilian government to fuel its booming growth.


People who have been watching and assessing dams are beginning to speak out against big dams and in favor of a whole suite of “agile energy alternatives" like wind, solar, and mini-hydropower facilities.

Sure, all sources of energy have negative impacts, but here's why people who once supported big dams are having second thoughts:

  • The actual construction costs of big dams are too high to ever yield a positive return and countries often end up in debt trying to repay loans for big dams.
  • The reservoirs for big dams in tropical places emit high amounts of methane due to the lush jungle covered by waters each year as the basin fills. One study reported 3.5 times more CO2 released than an oil power plant generating an equal amount of electricity. Oy!
  • Building dams leads to deforestation, and deforestation is a main cause of reduced rainfall in places like the Amazon. Without forests, there is no rain, and without rain, rivers dry up. So healthy forests are the key to providing water!

Rivers and their people need your help.

The fight is already on against the next big dam project.

The Brazilian government is planning to build five dams in the Tapajós River basin. In November 2014, members of the Mundukuru tribe organized with Greenpeace to raise awareness of the threats to their human rights. The sign, made with stones on a sandbar of the river reads, "Free Tapajos."

More people need to know that big dams are not "green" energy. It's not necessary to force people pay these terrible natural and cultural costs to produce the energy we need to live well.

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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