hydropower corporations promote the dam projects in Yunnan by referring to them, quite
disingenuously, as “poverty-alleviation weapons,” international conservation organizations
bemoan the projects by making references to ecological and cultural “destruction” in Ch-
ina's so-called Grand Canyons. The various parties with an interest in Yunnan's rivers have
staked out oppositional positions, marking their ground with fairly extreme rhetoric. In
truth, focusing on a single management objective is relatively easy to do. If your focus is
on alternative-energy development, you advocate for dam construction. If your focus is on
community equity, cultural preservation, or ecological conservation, you oppose the dams.
Moreover, each group, anticipating a process of conflict and negotiation, feels compelled
to stake out the most extreme position possible in order to avoid losing too much ground.
And the loudest voices, usually amplified by money, are the ones that get heard.
of binary or even discrete choices. My participation in cross-disciplinary research on dam
is to conceive of outcomes that maximize more than one dimension—plans for action that,
for example, help to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and prevent ecological harm and
economic and cultural marginalization. Various models are now available—including the
Integrative Dam Assessment Model—to aid multicriteria decision making by helping lead-
ers to make a real accounting of the costs and benefits of a given project (see Tullos et al.
2010). Another tool now being put to use by government agencies and energy corporations
is the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, developed by the International Hy-
dropower Association, a nonprofit organization with strong backing from the hydropower
industry. Critics have argued that the protocol is an attempt to circumvent the most robust
calls by the WCD for social and environmental responsibility (Imhof and Lanza 2010) and
that the dam industry, under a deluge of complaints from civil society organizations, has
simply devised a “green-washing” cover that will allow them to continue business as usual.
That may be. But such decision-support tools ultimately allow policy makers to see more
clearly how their choices affect ecosystems and communities. They also serve as a trans-
parent record of decision making, showing where trade-offs are made and rendering expli-
cit decision makers' normative judgments that would otherwise go unexamined.
A second recommendation to move the conversation beyond critique is to advocate con-
sistently what the UN General Assembly's Declaration on the Right to Development refers
to as “meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of the benefits
resulting therefrom” (UN General Assembly 1986) among key constituent groups. Eviden-
ce suggests that both state agencies and foreign NGOs in China are adopting participatory
approaches with greater frequency, driven in part by central policy that mandates public
hearings as part of the guidelines for complying with the EIA Law (Tilt 2011). The World
Bank and other multilateral agencies that have long funded hydropower development have