Tools for Activists
The tools on this page provide practical advice for community activists working to protect rivers and stop destructive river-engineering projects.
If you're just getting started, a good place to do so is Dams, Rivers and Rights: An Action Guide for Communities Affected by Dams. This guide provides general information about dams and their impacts, shares lessons and ideas from the growing international anti-dam movement, and gives concrete ideas on how to challenge dams. (Available in 18 languages.)
Maps can be a valuable campaign tool. To learn how to get started in mapping, read Making Maps that Make A Difference: A Citizens' Guide to Making and Using Maps for Advocacy Work.
How do dams alter rivers? For a look at basic dam impacts, check out www.dameffects.org, where you can explore the components of healthy rivers and what happens when a dam is built. Check out the latest research on reservoir emissions and a Google Earth 3-D tour to understand how dams can worsen the impacts of climate change.
Learn how Thai groups do community based research on fisheries to protect their resources when dams are proposed, and learn how you can design your own citizen science monitoring project. Many communities and campaigns have used a variety of legal tools in their struggles to protect their rivers and livelihoods.
- Dams Built by China: Many dams around the world are now being built by Chinese companies and financiers. Learn about how to campaign on dams built outside of China by Chinese instutitions in The New Great Walls: A Guide to China's Overseas Dam Industry.
- In Africa: River Keepers Handbook: A Guide to Protecting Rivers and Catchments in Africa. Intended to help activists, communities, educators and individuals become informed river advocates, able to ask the right questions about river-development schemes and press for better alternatives.
- In China: River Keepers Handbook: A Guide to Protecting Rivers and Catchments in China (in Mandarin)
- In Latin America: Guardianes de los Ríos: Guía para activistas (also available in Portuguese).
- In Brazil: Brazilian NGOs Mater Natura and Apremavi created an online toolkit that describes what to do "when dams come knocking at your door" ("O Que Fazer Quando uma Hidreletrica 'BATE À NOSSA PORTA'?"), in Portuguese.
- In Belize: Stand Up, Speak Up: A Guide to Citizen Participation in Belize (while focused on Belize, includes a lot of information that would be useful anywhere), by NGO Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy
- CDM projects in your country: To learn more about submitting comments for a project in your country that is applying for credits under the Clean Development Mechanism, see Carbon Market Watch's CDM Toolkit (English, Hindi, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, French, Filippino, and Thai).
Proposing a Better Way
If you want to propose alternative planning processes: our Citizens’ Guide to the WCD summarizes key findings of the World Commission on Dams' final report, and describes how community groups can use the report to improve water and energy planning. Our Protecting Rivers and Rights activist briefing kit provides concrete examples of where and how the WCD principles have been applied, and what happened when they were ignored.
If you want to propose better solutions to meeting water and energy needs:
- An Introduction to Integrated Resource Planning. An overview of an integrated approach to energy planning that helps citizens engage with their government in creating energy plans that are low-cost, low risk, and with outcomes that minimize environmental and social impacts.
- Civil Society Guide to Healthy Rivers and Climate Resilience. Using case studies and examples from around the world, the guide answers questions that help assess, address, and adapt to a world of increasing climate risks.
- Beyond Dams: Options & Alternatives. An overview of low–impact and non–structural alternatives to dams.
- Alternative Power Planning: 20 Questions, by Prayas Energy Group and Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group. Using an easy to understand question-and-answer format, the booklet outlines the social, environmental and economic costs of large centralized power plants, and explains how conventional power planning favors large power plants at the expense of energy efficiency, conservation and decentralized renewable sources. Although written with Indian citizens in mind, this booklet would be useful worldwide.
- Visit our Energy Efficiency page or download our Fact Sheet.
- Links to resources on energy efficiency.
- Rising Tide North America's handy booklet on false energy solutions.
- A series of excellent reports on global potential for energy efficiency by the McKinsey Global Institute.
- This website on "environmental flows" gathers information on how to protect river health through minimum flows from dams.
If you are working to decommission a dam:
- Reviving the World's Rivers, an overview of the global experience with dam removal.
- World Rivers Review special issue on decommissioning, including tips from experts
- If you're in the US, see the Hydropower Reform Coalition's Hydropower Licensing Guide.
- American Rivers provides several citizen’s guides on how to protect and restore rivers in the US; many of these guides are useful for campaigns in other regions.
- Dameffects.org, an educational primer especially for those not aware of the impacts of dams.
If the aluminum industry is the primary motivator for a dam: Foiling the Aluminum Industry: A Toolkit for Communities, Activists, Consumers and Workers. This toolkit provides a variety of information fundamental to understanding the aluminum industry. Includes case studies, practical suggestions on tactics that may be useful for activists, and consumer tips on reducing the impacts of aluminum products.
If you are looking for pro bono lawyers to assist you in a court case involving dams or mining: Environmental Defenders Law Center Pro Bono Program. This group enlists top American and European lawyers and law firms to provide pro bono assistance to protect the human rights of individuals and communities in developing countries who are fighting against harm to their environment.
Information for Grantseekers:
If you are seeking funds to support a particular campaign or program, Global Greengrants Fund has a compilation of resources for grantseekers. If you interested in launching a new project, check out Earth Island Institute's Project Support Program.
Telling Your Story:
Telling a compelling and effective story about your work is key to raising awareness about your issues, growing your network of allies, and increasing funding from your supporters. If you have a story you wish to share, you can submit it to our online story collection. If you would like to make a video about your campaign or organization, apply to Positive Exposures – if accepted, they will produce media projects that help you tell your story free of charge. If you are interested in learning how to write an op-ed, there are a number of good online resources that provide tips on how to write an op-ed. Learn how to tell a compelling story through visuals, and then get your story out through social media.
Didn't find what you were looking for? Visit our publications page for our complete library.