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Watch Bulldozers Plow Protected Cacti for Trump's Border Wall

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Watch Bulldozers Plow Protected Cacti for Trump's Border Wall
Kevin Dahl who works at the National Parks Conservation Association shot the video. Kevin Dahl / NPCA / Screenshot

There is an outcry in Arizona after footage captured border wall construction bulldozers plowing over iconic cacti that are protected in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument — a monument created to protect Organ Pipe and Saguaro cacti, as Newsweek reported.


The video depicts the bulldozers running roughshod over the national monument and clearing saguaros in a rush to build a costly and unnecessary wall on the U.S. southern border.

"Saguaros are being bulldozed for the #BorderWall in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument," wrote Laiken Jordahl, Border Lands Campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, on Twitter with a video of the destruction. "Trump's reckless border hysteria is destroying our environment and killing the very species this national monument was designated to protect."

Kevin Dahl who works at the National Parks Conservation Association shot the video. He told Newsweek that he was heartbroken and outraged by what he witnessed.

"At that point, what they were doing was destruction, not construction," he said.

The actions Dahl witnessed stand in sharp contrast to a video posted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that shows an appropriate relocation process, where a cactus is carefully removed with designated extraction tools, as opposed to a bulldozer plowing it over, according to Newsweek.

"We're watching the destruction of Arizona's most iconic species to make way for a useless border wall that most Arizonans oppose," Jordahl wrote to EcoWatch.

Dahl watched the crews level saguaros and several other desert plants and then pile them up into slash piles. The destruction he witnessed was on the west side of the park where a 78-mile strip of Trump's wall is slated to stand.

However, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which runs up against the border with Mexico already has a significant amount of fencing. As the Earther blog at Gizmodo reported, that includes five miles of fence to keep pedestrians out and another 25 miles of posts that act as vehicle barriers. Earther classified the actions as "wanton destruction."

"The Department of Homeland Security says they're relocating cacti, but the videos we shot at the construction site tell a very different story: one of flattened earth and total devastation," Jordahl wrote to EcoWatch. "Even if they do relocate some specimens, any remediation will pale in comparison to the severe and lasting damage done by the wall, stadium lights and enforcement zone."

While the current fencing respects the wildlife and the migratory patterns of native desert animals, Trump's border wall does not.

"So the wall that's currently under construction is 30 feet tall it's made up of a 6 foot wide steel bollards and they're drilling 10 feet into the ground in order to set the foundation for this wall and…will stretch for almost 50 miles," Jordahl said, as NBC Tucson reported. "So that means any migrating wildlife will be completely unable to make it around this barrier."

The National Park Service and Customs and Border Patrol offered a statement to Newsweek that ran counter to what Jordahl said, stating that they have ensured there will be "locations for small wildlife passages within the new border barrier that would allow for the continued passage of small mammals."

However, that seems like a dubious claim to environmentalists who have seen the Trump administration trounce over environmental regulations and manipulate environmental impact statements.

Running roughshod over the fauna in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument presents another set of problems since the site is both a U.S. National Monument and a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The park is also sacred land to Indigenous groups like the Tohono O'odham Nation, as Dahl told Newsweek.

"The Tohomo O'odham [Nation], in their taxonomy of life saguaros are very close to humans," Dahl told Earther. "And you know, they have a majestic presence, they are the iconic symbol of this part of the world. You know you're someplace different when you're in a saguaro forest."

Jordahl summed it up succinctly on Twitter.

"Trump's #BorderWall is under construction through the most pristine Sonoran Desert ecosystem anywhere on the planet — Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument," he wrote. "Endangered species, Indigenous sacred sites & wilderness lands are being destroyed before our eyes."

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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