At five o’clock this morning, Husband returned from an evening trip to Lisbon. He had gone along with other concerned local citizens to be in the audience of a TV debate called Prós e Contras, this week featuring the arguments for and against the exploration for oil in the Algarve. I didn’t go, mostly because of work demands, but also because at certain points in life my natural reserve holds me back. Not so Husband, who is, by the way, a heckler supreme.
So the plucky group from the Algarve entered the studio, having registered for seats, and found themselves outnumbered by an audience of extras, paid a small sum to be there instead of by their televisions at home, and exhorted at the beginning not to rustle their sweet papers too loudly. In the front rows were a number of key witnesses, including one ‘Algarvian citizen’ (whose Facebook page reveals him to be a geologist living in Cascais, Lisbon) who appeared so clearly to be an oil industry plant that even the moderator was taken aback, and remarked that he must to be the only ‘Algarvian’ in favour of oil exploration.
On one side of the panel, the grinning villain Paulo Carmona of the national fuel entity (ENMC) and two industry cohorts, who barely assembled a convincing argument between them. On the other side, two Algarvian mayors, of Tavira and Aljezur, and Vítor Neto, the president of NERA (association of tourism entrepreneurs in the Algarve), whose arguments ranged around quality of life, the beauty of the natural environment and by the way the fantastic contribution to the Portuguese public purse made by the tourism industry of the Algarve.
All familiar arguments, nothing I hadn’t heard before, and of course you know my stance. So I shall leave you with two observations. A brilliant lawyer, who was one of the witnesses, pointed out that the 1994 law on which many of the oil contracts were based was a retrograde step in environmental protection, overruling earlier laws, in order to open Portugal up for business, which makes sense for the era. (I’d given those lawmakers the benefit of the doubt, that the evidence for man-made climate change wasn’t powerful enough – even though it was powerful enough really. Anyway, I was wrong.) A 2013 law, which demands public consultation and environmental impact studies, is routinely ignored by the likes of Paulo Carmona; they prefer to tread the easier ground of the 1994 decree. And the second: a geologist and former oil-industry employee stepped up to say that fracking was pretty safe, and the chemical contamination of local water supplies was at barely half a percent, at which point Husband shouted, ‘You drink it then!’ (In Portuguese, naturally.)
The show has at-home audience participation in the form of a voting system. At the end, the passionate arguments for wellbeing, beauty and sustainability won: 68 per cent of the voters said No to oil in the Algarve. The coach-load of Algarvian ‘Indios’ was in party mood on the way home.
The river is clear and serene again. Fish jump to catch the insects dancing on the water surface. I only hear three turtles dive in off the rocks when I approach, instead of the eight I had become accustomed to. I wonder if some of them took the chance of high water to go exploring, or got swept away to new shores against their will. Ducks disappear on my approach too: they whoosh creakily into the air and flap off. Last year we accidentally disturbed a nesting duck, who shuffled away with wounded wing, tempting us with an easy target. We left her alone, of course, and anyway we knew she was faking it to distract us from her ducklings. These are the familiar Mallards, but wild ones, not the bread-entreating kind we find in cities.
We took delivery of five lorry-loads of water this week – for our pool. The men came round pre-delivery to assess the site. They needed to choose between their big and their little truck.
‘The concrete bridge has a weight limit of nine tons,’ said Husband, who tends to obey rules, and whose hecklerism doesn’t arise out of disdain for them.
‘Oh, we can’t read,’ said one man, nudging the other.
When we returned home at the end of the water delivery day, we were happy to see the bridge was still there.
Today we had an unscheduled visit from the câmara, who examined the pool and the surrounds and declared it all good, and said our pool licence would be with us within a week to ten days. The pool was only just complete and we hadn’t even had the chance to swim in it. So, after they’d gone, we swam for the first time in the pale jade water. We looked at the hills all around us, and decided there could be no greater joy than this.