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A Struggle for Power in China: The Three Gorges Dam

Co Authors:

Dan Hua
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech

Brian R. Murphy
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech

Michelle D. Klopfer
Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Virginia Tech


The Three Gorges Dam in China is one of the world's largest hydroelectric dams, providing energy for millions of people. However, the dam's construction forever altered the Yangtze River ecosystem and the lives of local residents. In this case study, students explore the complex and inter-related issues associated with large ecosystem-altering projects like dams and develop a persuasive argument for or against their construction. Do the benefits from a dam outweigh the ecological, economic, and social costs? Answering this question is difficult, since the benefits and costs are not directly comparable. How do you compare the loss of endemic species to the increased safety from flooding? How do you weigh a relocated family's social and economic costs in comparison to the benefits of a sustainable and renewable energy source? Although this case was developed for an undergraduate course in fisheries management, it would also be directly applicable to courses in ecology, environmental engineering, or global issues.

  • Research and evaluate information related to ecological, economic, or social aspects of dam construction.
  • Compare and contrast the positive and negative impacts of dams.
  • Create a persuasive argument for or against dam construction.
  • Evaluate multiple aspects of a complex issue and justify a personal position.
Keywords: Three Gorges Dam; hydroelectric dams; energy; biodiversity; economic productivity; power generation; fisheries; environmental decision-making; China
Topical Area: Ethics, Regulatory issues, Scientific argumentation, Social issues, Social justice issues
Educational Level: Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program), General public & informal education, Continuing education
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Debate, Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Student Presentations
Language: English
Subject Headings: Ecology   Natural Resource Management   Wildlife Management   Environmental Science   Environmental Engineering   Chemistry (General)   Hydrology   Limnology   Biology (General)   Economics   Sociology   Interdisciplinary Sciences  
Date Posted: 1/27/2014
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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