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How We Are Making Latin America Frack-Free

Energy
How We Are Making Latin America Frack-Free

By Nicole Figueiredo de Oliveira

Earlier this month in Argentina, the people gave another big step in the fight against fracking in the country: legislators, church and civil society representatives, environmental experts, climate scientists, trade unions and human rights activists, along with indigenous and community leaders from various countries met in Buenos Aires to discuss the threats posed by the use of fossil fuels in Argentina and Latin America.

Uruguay Sen. Carol Aviaga; Ignacio Zavaleta, Assembly of Territories Free of Fracking; Juliano Bueno de Araújo of 350.org; Argentina Congresswoman Alcira Argumedo; Nicole Oliveira of 350.org; and Juan Pablo Olsson of 350.org.COESUS / 350.org Latin America

In a full room at the National Congress, the speakers were unanimous: There are no benefits that the fossil fuels industry can bring now or in the future. In the South of Argentina fracking has been polluting the water and the air, damaging the economy, harming people's health and destroying the environment. It's wrecking a whole region and the only way to stop it starts by taking local action together.

Victories against fracking are already coming from many places. In Brazil, for example, more than 200 cities have already prohibited fracking in their territories and the state of Paraná has just placed a ban on this technique for the next 10 years.

The conference in Argentina was the second event organized by the No Fracking Coalition Latin America, emphasizing the need and the will for alliance and collective actions throughout the continent. Participants expressed a shared regional concern for the preservation of the Guarani aquifer, exchanged experiences and vowed to unite forces across Latin America to prevent the expansion of hydraulic fracturing and foster a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy for all.

Fracking tower in the midst of an apple orchard near the city of Allen, in the province of Neuquén.COESUS / 350.org Latin America

There is still a lot more to do to make Argentina and Latin America fracking free, but the event showed that communities are organized, strong and keeping the pressure on this deadly industry.

Fighting fracking is just one side of a major battle against the fossil fuel industry. During the last UN Climate Summit in Marrakech, more than 375 nongovernmental organizations delivered a letter to global leaders with an urgent yet simple new demand for climate action: no new fossil fuel development.

With climate impacts hitting hard communities all over the world, and the recent announcement that 2016 is probably going to be the warmest year ever recorded and the potential carbon emissions from reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone, even with no coal, are enough to take the world beyond 1.5 C.

Stopping mining, digging and investing in fossil fuels are fundamental steps to keep the planet from warming. Countries need to meet the promises they made to the whole world with the Paris climate agreement—and that includes Argentina and Latin American countries.

Following the conference, the coalition headed to Neuquén and Vaca Muerta, in the North of Patagonia, where the fracking industry is leaving it's mark of great destruction. Fracking wells can be found right in the middle of natural reserves and fruit plantations.

Fracking well by the Mari Menuco dam, in Argentina's Neuquén province.COESUS / 350.org Latin America

In the words of the president of the fruit growers association in Allen, the apple and pear orchards of that region have become "expendable," as the produce are no longer apt for export due to the contamination from the fracking wells that have been installed by their fields.

If we want to keep the planet from warming 1.5 C there is no more room for fossil fuels in the energy mix. And we need to freeze any sort of fossil fuel investments if we want to prevent the devastating impacts of climate change.

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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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