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Wings of Paradise: Drawing Attention to Rainforest Destruction

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Wings of Paradise: Drawing Attention to Rainforest Destruction
Artist Ricky Lee Gordon paints his mural, Wings of Paradise, on a building in Long Beach, California. David McNew / Ricky Lee Gordo / Greenpeace

By Alexander Navarro

For too long the story of Indonesian forests has been painted with the darkness of burning rainforests, disappearing species and displaced communities. Greedy palm oil companies, that only seem to be driven by the bottom line whatever the cost to humanity or biodiversity, have played a major role in this.


Little or nothing is known about the beauty of the spectacular Birds of Paradise that call the forests of Papua home. So far, around 40 different species of these birds have been found, and they're considered by some to be among the most beautiful creatures on earth.

After ravaging the forests of Borneo and Sumatra, the palm oil industry has reached the final frontier, Papua, home to these Birds of Paradise. Both the birds and the forest could be lost if we allow these companies to continue.

That's why street artists and volunteers from all over the world, from Melbourne to Taipei, Vienna, Oakland and LA, are taking matters into their own hands.

Artist Vogue poses in front of his mural, Wings of Paradise, on a building in Oakland, California.Wings of Paradise is a global street art intervention drawing attention to the devastating rainforest destruction at the hands of palm oil giants in Indonesia.

Their mission is simple—to re-create the essence of the extravagant, brightly colored plumage, crazy courtship dances and bizarre behaviors of these birds in our cities through huge artworks on walls. To remind us of the constant threat to Indonesian wildlife, but also inspire us to act to protect it.

It's time for us to stand together for the future of Indonesian forests. Artists, students, bird enthusiasts or consumers buying palm oil products in supermarkets, we need to come together and act.

Join this massive movement. Admire and get lost in the #WingsOfParadise artworks in your home city or on social media, or share your favorite piece with friends and start your own conversation about protecting the future of the forests and our planet.

Street Artist Scottie Bonsai, paints a mural depicting birds of paradise in Geelong. Part of the Greenpeace event, 'Wings of Paradise" highlighting deforestation in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

Street artist Urbanimal Jean pastes up images of Birds of Paradise in Bondy, France. To highlight deforestation in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

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Artist Sokar Uno creates a mural of a bird of paradise on a wall in Tempelhof, Berlin. The event is part of the Wings of Paradise campaign, which calls attention to the beauty and vulnerability of the forests of West Papua. Kuenstler Sokar Uno malt ein Paradiesvogel auf einer Mauer im Tempelhof, Berlin. Das Kunstwerk ist ein Teil der 'Wings of Paradise'-Kampagne, die die die Schoenheit und Verletzbarkeit und damit das Schuetzenswerte des Waldes im West Papua Aufmerksamkeit schenkt.

Japanese artist Tsukasa Suzuki paints a Birds of Paradise mural at the Ryozan Park Sugamo community space in central Tokyo. Part of the Greenpeace event, 'Wings of Paradise" highlighting deforestation in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

Street artist Ano paints a mural depicting birds of paradise close to Taipei 101, in the centre of the city. Part of the Greenpeace event, 'Wings of Paradise" highlighting deforestation in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

Street artist Ano paints a mural depicting birds of paradise close to Taipei 101, in the centre of the city. Part of the Greenpeace event, 'Wings of Paradise" highlighting deforestation in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

Street Artist Sean Duffell, paints a mural depicting birds of paradise in Wellington, New Zealand. Part of the Greenpeace event, 'Wings of Paradise" highlighting deforestation in the Indonesian province of West Papua.

Wings of Paradise mural by artist Matt Sewell. The image includes a large Goldies Bird of Paradise taking flight away from a bulldozer and forest fires, and smaller images of the King of Saxony and Rifle Bird in the remaining trees. It is located on the Shoreditch Art Wall, Great Eastern Street, London, and marks the start of a worldwide push by Greenpeace to shine a light on the destruction of Indonesia's rainforests for palm oil.

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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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