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Powerful Earthquake Kills at Least Six in Mexico

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Powerful Earthquake Kills at Least Six in Mexico
Evacuated patients, medical workers and local residents on a street in Mexico City, Mexico, after an earthquake more than 400 miles away rattled the city on June 23, 2020. Francisco Canedo / Xinhua via Getty Images

A powerful earthquake rattled Mexico Tuesday, killing at least six people, Reuters reported.


Mexico's national seismological service said the quake had a magnitude of 7.5 while the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put it at 7.4, according to The New York Times. It struck around 10:29 a.m. local time and was centered about 14 miles off the Pacific Coast of the southern state of Oaxaca.

Around 200 houses near the epicenter were damaged, a local official told Reuters, 30 severely so.

"We lost everything in one moment to nature," Vicente Romero, a stationary store owner whose home was significantly damaged, told Reuters. "This is our life's work."

One of the deaths occurred at state-run oil company Pemex, when a worker fell off a refinery structure, The Guardian reported. The earthquake also sparked a fire at a Pemex refinery in the Pacific city of Salina Cruz. It injured one worker before it was snuffed out.

Another person died when a building collapsed in Huatulco, Oaxaca and a third when a house collapsed in the village of San Juan Ozolotepec. A fourth man was killed when a wall collapsed on him in the village of San Agustín Amatengo.

Despite these individual tragedies, the overall damage was relatively minor.

"Fortunately there was no major damage," Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a Twitter video reported by The New York Times.

Obrador said there had been 147 aftershocks as of early Tuesday afternoon.

"I hope and I wish with all my soul that there will be no more damaging aftershocks," he said.

Some of the buildings that were damaged included hospitals, The Oaxacan Health Services said, as CNN reported. Two of the damaged hospitals had been treating coronavirus patients.

"We are verifying [damages] because this hospital is also tending Covid cases on the Oaxacan coast," Oaxaca state Gov. Alejandro Murat said, as CNN reported.

The earthquake was felt in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and rattled buildings in Mexico City, more than 400 miles away.

"It really moved," Francisco Aceves, who owns an import-export firm in Mexico City and was on the 22nd floor of an office building when it started, told The Guardian.

Two people in Mexico's capital were injured and more than 30 buildings were damaged, Reuters reported.

Mexico is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, according to CNN, because it sits atop three tectonic plates.

Tuesday's quake comes less than three years after a 2017 earthquake killed hundreds in Mexico City and rendered thousands homeless, BBC News pointed out.

Also in 2017, Mexico was struck by the strongest earthquake to rattle it in a century when an 8.2 temblor was recorded off the Pacific Coast, according to The New York Times. That earthquake killed at least 90 and mostly impacted the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Eunice Pineda, a 26-year-old teacher in Juchitan, told Reuters that Tuesday's quake "was two minutes of torture," but she also had adopted a philosophical outlook about the earthquakes that rattle her home.

"We learn to appreciate, to treasure every moment," she said.

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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.

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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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