Not too many people read this blog; I don’t know whether there are many who also look at my webpage. (I know that at least one person did, since WordPress helpfully tell me which pages have referred visitors here.) If you did, you may have noticed that I had a link entitled “Traveston Crossing Dam, an unwanted dam”, which has now been removed.
I removed the link because this was a rare instance of a successful protest.
I visited Australia and New Zealand in December 2008 – January 2009. (You can read an illustrated account of the trip here.) During that visit, I stayed for a week with my brother, who has a dairy farm at Lagoon Pocket, near Gympie in Queensland. He told me, and showed me, a lot about the dam that the State government proposed to build at Traveston Crossing. His property is just downstream from the proposed dam, and so he was not being forced off his land (unlike some of his friends), but he was still strongly opposed to the project, and it was not hard to see why.
The main problem was that it was a completely unsatisfactory place for a dam. The valley is very wide and flat, and even when full, the average depth of water would only be a couple of metres. In the Queensland climate, the losses to evaporation would be catastrophic. Added to this, the soil here is quite porous, and as well as evaporation, there would be a huge loss to seepage. And finally, such a shallow body of water would cover a huge area, and take rich land out of agricultural or environmental use.
However, the dam-builders in the State government seemed unable to see something which was obvious even to an amateur like me.
After a long fight, the campaigners finally saw off the dam this month, when the Environment minister in the Federal government refused the State permission to build it. Why? Well, the river here is home to several very rare and threatened species, including the Australian lungfish (a creature of great importance in our evolutionary history), and the Mary River turtle. The minister’s decision was based on the fact that scientific evidence suggested that these creatures would be put further at risk by the proposed dam, despite “safeguards” built into the plans; the evidence suggested that these “safeguards” would not work.
So, the right result, for reasons which (while important) were perhaps not the
right ones. The positive thing is that it was the scientific evidence which influenced the minister’s decision.
The “Save the Mary River” website still exists, and you might enjoy taking a look. Their fight is not over, despite the political decision; people who have lived under the shadow of the dam for years, and have had their properties purchased by the State, have to re-establish their livelihoods, and need help in this.
This decision set me thinking, as I discussed it with my family by email. My
brother thinks that the link I made was helpful in their campaign, in bringing
international traffic to the website.
Right now there are surely hundreds of similar battles being waged all over the world. It has always been the case that, in any battle between developers and conservationists, the developers only have to win once; the conservationists lose unless they win every battle.
Here in Britain we have a government that wants to build another runway at Heathrow; a government that sacks its scientific advisers when it finds their advice unpalatable; and a legal system which allows those who profit from pseudoscience to use the libel laws to suppress scientific reports. Also, as I have written on this blog, we have a scheme to undermine fundamental research for the sake of social and economic “impact”.
Which brings me back to my starting thought. Does anyone read this? Well, some people do, maybe not a whole lot. But I have many web pages, which I hope are interesting and informative to visitors. Some of them are mathematics: my papers, my lecture notes, lists of collaborators, and so on. Some of them have pictures, of family, places I walk, and so on. But some, like my travel diaries, are really just exercises in writing. Mathematicians are traditionally people who have trouble stringing words together into a sentence. This is not how I see myself; I am not afraid to put my writing on public view, and while it may not be very professional, this is how I can improve.
And why do I want to improve? Two reasons really, I think. First, I would like my family and friends to have an account of my life and experiences; I think they may be interested, and I want to write it as well as possible. But second, it seems very likely that one of these days, one of these battles will come much closer to home, and I will need all the eloquence I can master to defend a cause I believe in.
So, as ever, comments welcome!