Patagonia Breaks Down our DamNation
Here at Ben & Jerry’s we are constantly inspired by other values-led businesses. Patagonia has been a pioneer in this space, and has created an organization built upon an appreciation and respect for outdoor recreation and the environment. Patagonia’s initiatives, like One Percent for the Planet and the Common Threads Partnership, demonstrate their commitment to accountability, and their passion for conservation and a healthier and more environmentally sound planet.
“Dam-busting” is one of the issues Patagonia has tackled for over 30 years, dating all the way back to the removal of the Edwards dam in Kennebec, Maine. Since then, they’ve been openly involved with various grassroots efforts and dam removal campaigns, and have tirelessly petitioned authorities to take action to address dying rivers and ecosystems.
Earlier this year, Patagonia released DamNation, a documentary film spearheaded by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and ecologist Matt Stoecker, which takes a deep dive into America’s ever-laxing attitude toward dangerous, unnecessary, ‘deadbeat’ dams.
2012 was a monster year for dam removal, with the tearing down of the Elwha River Dam and the Condit Dam —two White Salmon River dams. However, there is still an estimated 80,000 dams over six feet tall currently in existence in the United States. That shakes out to about one dam built every day since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with many of them—nearly 26,000 —coming in as ‘high hazard.’ While these dams were once magnificent feats of industry and engineering, the film suggests it might be time to rethink their value. “They’re at-risk,” said Hans Cole, Patagonia’s Environmental Campaigns and Advocacy Manager. “Were they to break, they would cause significant damage to people and communities, and the natural environment. They’re in bad shape.”
Those unfamiliar with the effects of damming need only watch the film to understand its dangerous implications. For communities that depend on river ecosystems—many Native American, fishing, and recreation communities, namely—damming rivers and streams has devastating consequences. Why, then, are so few people taking notice? “I think people are disconnected from their rivers,” said Cole. “Here in Ventura, they literally built a highway between the city and the river. People used to walk to the river to fish, and now you can’t get there. There’s this disconnect that’s happened in a lot of communities.”
The film provides the opposing view, but even with the balance of pro-hydropower perspectives it’s hard to deny the detriment of deadbeat dams. Not only does damming up free-flowing rivers mean crushing ramifications to native ecosystems, but it can also yield a gross misuse of natural resources.
“As a company, one of our goals has been to really start to question, is hydropower a viable option as a renewable energy source? And our answer is no.” But Cole is quick to point out an alternative. “Wind, solar, conservation, efficiency. We can’t forget those pieces to the renewable energy puzzle.”
While cracking down on deadbeat dams nationally is part of the larger charge for Patagonia, the film specifically targets a few high-risk dams in the Pacific Northwest. “With the film, we’re saying, let’s pay attention, and let’s specifically take out the four dams on the lower Snake River. Everyone can probably find a dam in their community that needs to be taken out, but we wanted to shine a light on these in particular. This is sort of the holy grail of dam removal, at the moment.”
As one of the more visible members of the B Corp community, Patagonia going all-in on DamNation will hopefully push more businesses—B Corp and otherwise—to speak out about causes near and dear to them. “The for-profit sector really needs to step up on big problems like climate change and water preservation,” said Cole. “Unless everybody pitches in, we won’t find solutions.”
People interested in lending their voice to the dam removal campaign can sign Patagonia’s petition, which will be sent to the Obama administration and environmental leaders the NOAA Fisheries and the Army Corps, among others. They’re hoping for 50,000 signatures by January, 2015. To learn more about deadbeat dams, and to view the film, head to DamNationFilm.com.