Brazil's biggest infrastructure project -- the $11 billion Belo Monte dam -- is also its most controversial, and one showcased at the international summit on June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro held 20 years after the Earth Summit.
Opponents, among them Sting and other celebrities, thought they had defeated Belo Monte in 1989 but construction is now well under way as this photo from June 15 shows.
Proponents tout Belo Monte as a way to make clean electricity for Brazil's booming economy.
This woman is among the 20,000 or so who will have to relocate when Belo Monte's reservoir floods out existing homes. Seen on June 15, these homes in the outskirts of Altamira are built on stilts to protect against seasonal flooding. Brazil says residents will be compensated; dam opponents are skeptical the locals will come out ahead.
This bar is among the businesses in Altamira, a city of 130,000, that stand to benefit from the jobs, and spending money, brought in by Belo Monte.
Tribesmen living near the dam site were among those who on June 15 occupied an area along the Xingu River in protest.
Some 90 miles of river, which includes 2 indigenous tribes and numerous riverside settlements, will become a "dry stretch", says Philip Fearnside, a researcher at Brazil's National Institute for Research in Amazonia.
"Since the impact on these people is not the normal one of being flooded by a reservoir, they were not classified as 'directly impacted' in the environmental study and have not had the consultations and compensations to which directly impacted people are entitled," Fearnside noted in a recent discussion paper he wrote for the Global Water Forum. "The human rights commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) considered the lack of consultation with the indigenous people a violation of the international accords to which Brazil is a signatory, and Brazil retaliated by cutting off its dues payments to the OAS."
A woman prepares food on June 14 near the Belo Monte construction site along the Xingu River.
A cyclist in Altamira on June 15 passes graffiti calling Belo Monte, which translates to Beautiful Mountain, a "beautiful mountain of lies".
Part of the Belo Monte construction site near Altamira is seen on June 15. Up to 230 square miles of rainforest will be flooded by the dam's reservoir.
"What is most extraordinary," wrote Fearnside, "is the project’s potential impact on vast areas of indigenous land and tropical rainforest upstream of the reservoir, but the environmental impact studies and licensing have been conducted in such a way as to avoid any consideration of these impacts."
Construction of Belo Monte, part of it seen here on June 15, is just the start of Brazil's plan to build more than 60 dams in the Amazon.
Fearnside, who expects five smaller dams to be built around Belo Monte to make it more economically feasible, says Brazil has trampled over its environmental laws in a rush to build its energy infrastructure.
Belo Monte opponents march through Altamira on June 15.
The June 15 occupation of part of the dam site included opponents forming the words "Stop Belo Monte" and digging a breach in an earthen dam across part of the Xingu River.
A worker repairs a power line in Altamira on June 17. The benefits of Belo Monte -- cheap electricity -- make it an easier sell among residents of Brazil's urban cities.
The Juruna indigenous people live along the Xingu. Children attend class on May 30 at a school on the riverbank.
Cristiane Rodriguez stands with her children Gleciane, bottom, and Rodrigo on June 15 at their home in the Altamira neighborhood that will be flooded out by Belo Monte.
Indigenous people from the Kuruaia and Xipaia tribes protest against Belo Monte on June 13 in Santo Antonio. Near Altamira, the town will be expropriated for the dam's construction. Around 60 families originally lived in Santo Antonio, but now only about 10 families remain.
These men were among the protesters at Santo Antonio on June 13.
Dam opponents breach an earthen dam on the Xingu on June 15 as part of their symbolic takeover.
Opponents celebrate on June 15 after having breached the earthen dam near Altamira.
A girl waits at Santo Antonio's church on June 13 for the start of the protest there.
Tribesmen rest on June 13 ahead of the protest in Santo Antonio.
A stretch of the Xingu River near the dam site is seen on June 15.
"Most of the river’s flow will be detoured from the main reservoir through a series of canals interlinking five dammed tributary streams," wrote Fearnside, "leaving the 'Big Bend' of the Xingu River below the dam with only a tiny fraction of its normal annual flow."
Tire tracks on June 15 reflect an area cleared for construction of the dam near Altamira.
Hundreds used Rio de Janeiro's Flamengo Beach as a canvas on June 19 to protest the dam and urge "Rivers for life". The rally was led by an association of indigenous peoples.
Supplies are shipped along the Xingu River on June 14. Delivery men like these are among those seeing more work from the dam project.
Altamira has grown as Brazilians made their way into the Amazon, clearing rainforest to do so. It's still largely ramshackle, as this commercial street on June 17 attests, but 130,000 people call it home. A quarter of the city will be flooded by the dam project.
Signs that Altamira has matured as a city include these music students practicing in the streets on June 14.
This tributary to the Xingu is a playground for Altamira residents, including this high-flying young man on June 16.
The first stage of Belo Monte's construction is seen on May 30. The dam should start producing electricity in 2015 and will be the third largest in the world when it does.
This area, seen on May 30, is also part of the dam's first stage of construction.
This bar along the Xingu, seen on June 14, is among the Altamira properties that will be flooded by the dam's reservoir.
There's no question that locals -- including these Altamira residents enjoying the water on June 16 -- see the Xingu as a river with assets. The question dividing folks is what kind should be exploited -- a dam that provides jobs and electricity, or a naturally flowing river that generations have fished on and lived from.
Brazil's Environmental Balancing Act
Brazil, host of the Rio+20 Earth Summit on June 20-23, is itself struggling with balancing economic and environmental priorities. The BR-222 highway in Para state, seen here on June 9, reflects prosperity but also deforestation.
Although illegal logging in Brazil's Amazon is down 80 percent since 2004, environmentalists fear recent changes to the Forest Code will lead to further destruction.
Illegal burning for a farm clears brush in an already deforested section of Amazon rainforest on June 11 in Maraba. Around 20 percent of the Amazon forest has already been destroyed.
A truck hauls illegally felled logs on June 10 near the protected Arariboia Indigenous Reserve in Maranhao state. Guajajara tribe members say their forests are being plundered and that one member was killed while trying to stop the logging.
According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, which tracks rainforest destruction by satellite, 242 square kilometers in the reserve have been logged.
Frederico Guajajara and his daughter, seen here on June 10, are among the villagers in the Arariboia Indigenous Reserve. Guajajara is the tribe's deputy chief.
Blackened by his job, a worker on June 8 moves charcoal made by burning illegally cut rainforest in Rondon do Para. The charcoal is primarily used to power smelters producing pig iron, including some for export.
Charcoal is moved to trucks on June 8 in Rondon do Para. Greenpeace alleges that 2,700 charcoal camp workers were liberated from conditions akin to slavery between 2003 and 2011. The workers here said they made $40 per loaded truck.
A worker carries a bag of charcoal produced from illegally harvested Amazon rainforest wood up a ladder onto a truck on June 8, in Rondon do Para, Brazil. According to a recent Greenpeace study, illegal wood charcoal is primarily used in Brazil to power smelters producing pig iron, which is used to make steel for industries including U.S. auto manufacturing.
Mist shrouds a logged section of Amazon rainforest in Para state on June 8. Brazil's Amazon is home to 60 percent of the world's largest forest and 20 percent of the Earth's oxygen -- earning it the nickname "Lungs of the Planet".
This soybean field in Para state, seen on June 9, used to be forest. Soybeans are Brazil's biggest farm export.
Cows graze in a deforested area near Amarante do Maranhao on June 10. The cattle industry has taken over much of the deforested land in the Amazon.
A smelter produces pig iron in Acailandia on June 9. Charcoal used by smelters like this one is largely from illegally logged forests.
Residents of Belem on June 7 enjoy a former riverside port converted into an entertainment complex. Belem, a key gateway to the Amazon, has prospered from development there. For more than 300 years boats have unloaded their wares from deep in the Amazon at Belem's historic market.
A worker surveys the ecological park in Belem on June 6. The landscaped green stands in contrast to cleared areas in the Amazon.
A mother and son cool off in Acailandia on June 9. The boomtown was founded when a highway was carved through the rainforest and loggers quickly felled the valuable trees.
Fishermen and others who make their livelihood on the waters face environmental hazards including pollution from mining, agricultural runoff and silting of the waters caused by deforestation.
Christians celebrate the holiday of Corpus Christi on June 7 in Belem. The city is home to more than 2 million people and is the main port for international shipping in the Amazon.
Revelers celebrate the 31st anniversary of the founding of Acailandia on June 10. The boomtown now has 104,000 residents -- and many smelters producing pig iron with illegally cut wood.
The Belo Monte mega-dam in the Xingu River