Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to Speak at Yale Dam Conference

Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton Administration, will deliver the keynote address to open a conference at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) from November 3 to 5 on the social, ecological and economic impact of dams.

Babbitt will speak November 3 on the state of dams in the United States and across the globe in “Do We Need More Dams? Or Fewer?” His talk at 5 p.m. in Bowers Auditorium of F&ES is part of the conference on “Global Perspectives on Large Dams.”

“This is a very timely conference because major dam projects are being proposed all over the world,” said Babbitt. “Around the world, and especially in Chile and in China, dams will have major impacts on indigenous peoples and fisheries, many of which are irreversible. It is our responsibility to formulate a strong set of criteria by which to judge these projects, rather than just sitting idly by.”

The construction of large dams is the source of great controversy. Dams often provide flood control, irrigation for agricultural crops, energy as an alternative to fossil fuels or nuclear power, and economic development. However, they also disturb the habitats of fish and other aquatic organisms, alter river landscapes and displace entire communities. The conference will promote discussion between academics, technical experts, social justice advocates, politicians and engineers on domestic and international dam projects.

On Saturday, Nov. 4, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Sage Hall, discussion will focus on dam removal in the United States, with sessions planned on laws governing dams, tribal perspectives, fisheries and the rationale for dam removal. Speakers will include Tim Palmer, the author of “Rivers of America;” Don Knowles of the National Marine Fisheries Service; Jim Norton of the Yunnan Great Rivers Project; Rebecca Miles of the Nez Perce tribes; and Steve Mashuda, a lawyer with Earthjustice.

“Throughout the 20th century and recently, large dams have proved to be the most contentious of development projects,” said Ramachandra Guha, author of “Environmentalism: A Global History” and a visiting professor at Yale F&ES this fall. “To their proponents, these dams represent clean energy and reliable water supplies. To their detractors, they spell doom and destruction. Nowhere is the debate about dams more intense than in my own country, India.”

On Sunday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Sage Hall, discussion will focus on dam building in the developing world, featuring sessions on sustainable development; the role of dams in climate change; and food security and health. Speakers will include Wayne Edwards of the International Commission on Large Dams; Peter Bosshard of the International Rivers Network; Ari Hershowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Lester Chitsulo of the World Health Organization; and Jamie Workman, former secretariat of the World Commission on Dams.

The cost for the public to attend the conference is $35. Yale students, faculty and staff can attend free. Registration is on line.

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