The power of science in activism
By Elisabeth Berry
Citizen science, or ‘grassroots’ science, is when ordinary people from diverse walks of life and of different ages, experience and skills get actively involved in scientific research.
A new study by Duke University in the US has found that citizen science not only boosts environmental awareness and advocacy, but can lead to broader public support for conservation. Participants in the study gained environmental knowledge and skills, and a number also became environmental advocates, sharing their knowledge with their social networks.
I experienced this firsthand.
In March 2006, the Queensland government announced that a mega-dam was going to be built on the Mary River in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland to supply Brisbane with water.
People of the Mary Valley and other communities downstream had a different opinion on whether it should happen. Communities opposed to the dam worked as hard as the government to construct their own wall of opposition to the proposal.
I was a member of one of those communities. My love of the river grew from a love of its estuary and a growing understanding of how vital its flows are to ocean ecosystems. People told me that the government wouldn’t back down after investing so much money in the process.
But science won out, in the end.
Science told us that flows from the river support the marine ecosystems of the Fraser Island World Heritage area, and that they represent the best chance of survival for the vulnerable Australian Lungfish and only chance for the survival for the endangered Mary River turtle and critically endangered Mary River cod.
Mary River cod. Image: Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
By effectively and strategically using science, people with non-scientific backgrounds managed to persuade the federal government that building the dam was not a good idea, and the mega-dam was scrapped.
Science showed communities of the river that it was worth protecting in more ways than they had imagined, and understanding the science gave individual citizens the power and the confidence to contradict the authority that denied it.
So, get out there and work with the science! The easier it is for the community to understand a subject, the more likely they are to act on it. The consequences can be incredibly far-reaching.