The environmental costs of Trump’s wall

Shonil Bhagwat, The Open University

It looks like Donald Trump’s “great, great wall” is actually going to happen. Its likely impact on human society has been well-noted, but in the longer-term a barrier across an entire continent will also have severe ecological consequences.

The US-Mexico border is around 1,900 miles (3,100 km) long and some of it has already been fenced off. According to Trump the proposed wall will cover approximately 1,000 miles and “natural obstacles” such as rivers or mountains will take care of the rest.

Aside from the debates over whether or not the wall will do much to stop drug trafficking or illegal immigration, how much it will cost the US taxpayer, or whether Mexico will pay for it, a 1,000-mile wall has significant environmental costs. For a start, all that concrete will generate millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. And then you have the fact the wall will ravage a unique desert habitat that straddles the two countries and will prevent the movement of local animals.

US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has estimated that the wall will threaten 111 endangered species as it passes through four key wildlife reserves on the US side of the border and several nature reserves on the Mexican side.

Some of the affected species are obvious: animals with cross-border populations include bighorn sheep, ocelots and bears. Splitting plant and animal populations by building a concrete wall promotes inbreeding and a decrease in genetic diversity, which makes many species susceptible to diseases and epidemics. The wall is also likely to wipe out the few jaguars still lingering in Arizona and New Mexico by cutting them off from breeding populations south of the border.

There are fewer than 200 Sonoran pronghorn left – and the wall would run right through their home.
Florin Chelaru, CC BY-SA

Other species are more unexpected: the bald eagle, America’s national bird, can obviously fly over any barriers yet the disruption to its habitat means it makes the FWS’s list of affected migratory birds. Even marine animals such as manatees or sea turtles can’t escape the wall’s impact.

Long division

The Trump wall may never become anything more solid than a metaphor for increased border surveillance, aided by technology, to keep illegal immigration under control. However, if a vast concrete wall really is built, and if it is as tall and impenetrable as Trump hopes, it will presumably last for thousands of years. This will have long-term ecological consequences.

July 2100 on the US-Mexico border if we maintain high carbon emissions.
climateinternational.org / NASA

The glacial and interglacial cycles of ice ages and warm periods unfold over thousands of years. Over the past 11,000 years we have had a relatively stable climate, but anthropogenic warming is delaying the arrival of the next ice age.

As species start to feel the pressure of a warming climate, they will need to move towards the poles as their habitats shift. Plants and animals currently found in central Mexico may find their “natural” home moves north of the border. The wall will make such movement impossible and will make these species vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Equally, in the much longer term, if or when the next ice age eventually begins and ice sheets start to expand southwards, species from the north of the wall will need to move south to escape the freezing temperatures. The Trump wall will pose a significant obstacle for such movements.

On evolutionary timescales of millions of years, such an obstacle in the movement of animals and plants will drive extinctions and the emergence of new species. A political act of this kind can have far-reaching consequences for the ecological and even evolutionary landscapes.

Build bridges instead

Preexisting security barriers across the US-Mexico border are already making life difficult for local wildlife, according to peer-reviewed research.

Researchers found fewer racoon-like coatis in areas with border fences.
francesco de marco / shutterstock

Scientists across the world consistently call for more permeable border fences in order to allow animals to move through them. One 2011 study even looked specifically at the US-Mexico border. The authors warned species were being forced into risky unfenced “bottlenecks” and called for better planning tailored towards wildlife movement.

Our knowledge of how to conserve animals across international borders has come a long way. Many nations have embraced shared responsibility for shared wildlife, and a number of international legal instruments also set out the “dos and don’ts” for conservation in transboundary regions.

If Trump really wants to show his prowess in construction, and wants to leave a long-term infrastructure legacy, then he should build bridges for wildlife on the US-Mexico border – not walls.

The Conversation

Shonil Bhagwat, Senior Lecturer in Geography, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Book Launch: Conservation and Development (Routledge)

Book launch webpage

Conservation and Development (Routledge)

Speakers: Dr Andrew Newsham (SOAS University of London), Dr Shonil Bhagwat (Open University), Prof Sian Sullivan (University of Bath Spa)

Chair: Colin Poulton, Head of the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, SOAS

Date:9 March 2016 Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes:9 March 2016 Time: 6:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: L67

Type of Event: Book Launch

 

Conservation and development share an intertwined history dating back to at least the 1700s. But what are the prospects for reconciling the two, and how far have we come with this project? This book explores these questions through a detailed consideration of the past, present and future of the relationship between conservation and development. Bringing to bear conceptual resources from political ecology, social-ecological systems thinking and science and technology studies, Conservation and Development sets this relationship against the background of the political and economic processes implicated in environmental degradation and poverty alike. In this launch and discussion event, building on the concluding chapter of the book, the speakers will discuss the future of conservation and development, drawing upon their own experience of this relationship and fielding questions from the audience.

Green and Pleasant Lands on “Plants: From Roots to Riches”

Shonil Bhagwat talks to Kathy Willis about sacred natural sites, their cultural ecosystems services and their value for conservation of biodiversity

Green and Pleasant Lands on BBC Radio 4 at 13:45 British Summer Time on 21 August 2014

Image for Green and Pleasant Lands

Photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04dqngm

Prof. Kathy Willis examines the different kinds of spiritual, physical and intellectual links that we have with the landscape and their diverse ecosystems and the extent to which they contribute to our health and well being.

As well as providing a source of inspiration and recreation there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that green spaces can make a positive contribution to our health, but what kinds of landscapes are of greatest benefit?

Kathy Willis assesses the some of the latest research assessing physiological and psychological benefits that ecosystems can provide from manicured botanical gardens to wild open countryside

With contributions from Richard Barley, director of horticulture Kew Gardens; Rachel Bragg researcher in Green Care at Essex University, Shonil Bhagwat environmental geographer at the OU, and historian Jim Endersby

Producer Adrian Washbourne.

Podcasts and Downloads from the series

Plant Invaders on “Plants: From Roots to Riches”

Plant Invaders on BBC Radio 4 at 13:45 British Summer Time on 31 July 2014

Podcasts and Downloads from the series

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Photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04brrjg

The Victorians’ pride at the effortless movement of plants around the world during the late 19th century was having an unwelcome side effect. Invasive species were beginning to wipe out native populations of plants. With no natural predators to control them, one man’s flower was turning into another man’s weed.

Prof Kathy Willis hears how during the late 1800s, many invasive species from Japanese knot weed to Himalayan balsam to water hyacinth came from deliberate introductions and asks if today, trying to control them is ultimately futile?

As historian Jim Endersby explains both Charles Darwin and Kew’s director Joseph Hooker were the first to examine the impact of invasives, having noticed on the island of St Helena and Ascension Island the effect on native plants.

One of the current biggest invaders is lantana, familiar to British gardeners as a small pot plant. As Shonil Bhagwat of the Open University reveals, since its introduction to Kolkata Botanical garden in the 1870s it decimated native teak plantations. But today opportunities exist to exploit its presence for the wood, basketry and paper industries.

And Kathy Willis hears from Kew conservationist Colin Clubb on the extent to which we should view invasive plants in our ecosystems as part of a strategy to maintain resilience to environmental change in the future.

Credits

Presenter: Kathy Willis
Interviewed Guest: Jim Endersby
Interviewed Guest: Shonil Bhagwat
Interviewed Guest: Colin Clubbe
Production Coordinator: Elisabeth Tuohy
Assistant Producer: Jen Whyntie
Producer: Adrian Washbourne
Editor: Deborah Cohen

Reconnecting faith and forests

List of publications on faith and forests to supplement Mongabay.com article “Next big idea in forest conservation: Reconnecting faith and forests

Sacred-forest-grove-in-Kodagu-South-India

Entrance to a sacred forest grove in Kodagu, India

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Nogué, Sandra and Willis, Katherine J. (2014). Cultural drivers of reforestation in tropical forest groves of the Western Ghats of India. Forest Ecology and Management (In press) http://oro.open.ac.uk/39316/.

Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2012). Sacred groves and biodiversity conservation: a case study from the Western Ghats, India. In: Pungetti, Gloria; Oviedo, Gonzalo and Hooke, Della eds. Sacred Species and Sites: Advances in Biocultural Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 322–334. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37001/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Dudley, Nigel and Harrop, Stuart R. (2011). Religious following in biodiversity hotspots: challenges and opportunities for conservation and development. Conservation Letters, 4(3) pp. 234–240. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37003/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Ormsby, Alison A. and Rutte, Claudia (2011). The role of religion in linking conservation and development: Challenges and opportunities. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 5(1) pp. 39–60. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37007/

Massey, Ashley; Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Porodong, Paul (2011). Beware the animals that dance: conservation as an unintended outcome of cultural practices. Society, Biology and Human Affairs, 76(2) pp. 1–10. http://oro.open.ac.uk/36958/

Dudley, Nigel; Bhagwat, Shonil; Higgins-Zogib, Liza; Lassen, Barbara; Verschuuren, Bas and Wild, Robert (2010). Conservation of biodiversity in sacred natural sites in Asia and Africa: a review of the scientific literature. In: Verschuuren, Bas; Wild, Robert; McNeely, Jeff and Oviedo, Gonzalo eds. Sacred Natural Sites: conserving nature and culture. London: Earthscan, pp. 19–32. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37011/

Ormsby, Alison A. and Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2010). Sacred forests of India: a strong tradition of community-based natural resource management. Environmental Conservation, 37(3) pp. 320–326. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37005/

Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Palmer, Martin (2009). Conservation: the world’s religions can help. Nature, 461(7260) p. 37. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37018/

Bhagwat, Shonil A. (2009). Ecosystem services and sacred natural sites: reconciling material and non-material values in nature conservation. Environmental Values, 18(4) pp. 417–427. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37017/

Bhagwat, S.A. (2007) Church forests in Ethiopia: the author replies. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 5(2): 66–67. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37024/

Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Rutte, Claudia (2006). Sacred groves: potential for biodiversity management. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4(10) pp. 519–524. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37025/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Kushalappa, Cheppudira G.; Williams, Paul H. and Brown, Nick D. (2005). A landscape approach to biodiversity conservation of sacred groves in the Western Ghats of India. Conservation Biology, 19(6) pp. 1853–1862. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37029/

Brown, Nick; Bhagwat, Shonil and Watkinson, Sarah (2005). Macrofungal diversity in fragmented and disturbed forests of the Western Ghats of India. Journal of Applied Ecology, 43(1) pp. 11–17. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37028/

Bhagwat, Shonil A.; Kushalappa, Cheppudira G.; Williams, Paul A. and Brown, Nick D. (2005). The role of informal protected areas in maintaining biodiversity in the Western Ghats of India. Ecology and Society, 10(1), article no. 8. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37030/

Boraiah, K. T.; Vasudeva, R.; Bhagwat, Shonil A. and Kushalappa, C. G. (2003). Do informally managed sacred groves have higher richness and regeneration of medicinal plants than state-managed reserve forests? Current Science, 84(6) pp. 804–808. http://oro.open.ac.uk/37031/

Emergence of sacred forests at Resilience 2014

Capture

A session on community forests, ecosystem services and resilience of smallholder agriculture at Resilience 2014

Handout of talk on emergence of sacred forests: Bhagwat_Resilience-2014_2014-05-06

Description of the session:

Reconnecting culture and agriculture: community forests, ecosystem services and resilience of smallholder agriculture

Do community forests in farming landscapes make smallholder agriculture more resilient? This session will examine the social-ecological system of community forests in the context of resilience of agriculture. This topic is important and urgent because it addresses the relevance of cultural institutions for food security, nutrition and wellbeing of some of the poorest people in the world.

Research thus far has suggested that community forests are ubiquitous in the rural landscapes in many developing countries and due to their cultural significance to local people many of them are considered sacred (Bhagwat and Rutte, 2006). In addition to their cultural role, sacred forests also provide a variety of ‘ecosystem services’. They are known to conserve biodiversity, preserve watersheds and store carbon alongside their cultural, religious or spiritual importance to local people (Bhagwat 2009). Furthermore, community forests provide services that are particularly beneficial for agriculture: habitat for pollinating insects and pest-control agents, and sources of green manure and non-timber forest products. These ecosystem services are particularly important for subsistence agriculture, which is increasingly under pressure to increase the productivity and variety of crops within small landholdings. Community forests are often the last remnants of native vegetation in many developing countries and are also under increasing pressure from land use change. In some parts of the world the area of community forests has reduced dramatically due to the expansion of agriculture. For example, in Ethiopian church forests are now the last remnants of afromontane tropical forest ecosystem (Bhagwat 2007).

If community forests are important for supporting smallholder subsistence agriculture and ensuring food security, nutrition and wellbeing of some of the poorest people in the world, then land use policies need to recognise their importance and the benefits of these forests for farmland (Bhagwat et al. 2008). This has further repercussions for international and national policies on food security. In Africa, for example, despite large-scale foreign land investments, 80% of people are still smallholder farmers. How can international and national policies support these farmers in a culturally-sensitive manner? In the face of rapid social-ecological transformation in developing countries, there is need to examine contemporary relevance for cultural institution for smallholder subsistence farming. This session will bring together researchers working on community forests in developing countries to collectively review the findings of research to date, and to discuss policy options for conservation of community forests. The session will examine these forests from the lens of resilience and social-ecological systems, and discuss their contemporary relevance for smallholder subsistence farming.

Cultural traditions, environmental conservation and international development

Picture1

Community mosaic, Edgbaston, Birmingham (Source: Jackie Nash Art)

This mosaic is an example of living with difference in a multicultural society and forms a good analogy for the co-existence of cultural traditions, environmental conservation and international development

Abstract of my International Development Seminar at Development Policy and Practice at the Open University on 30th April 2014

Cultural traditions, environmental conservation and international development: conflict, cooperation and coexistence

Local cultural traditions do not always sit easily with the global missions of environmental conservation and international development. Many conservation and development organisations see cultural traditions as an impediment to their projects. Cultural traditions are also often linked to faith groups with whom conservation and development organisations are reluctant to form partnerships. Yet, conservation and development both have certain ‘moral agendas’ just as many cultural traditions have their own moral frameworks. This possible overlap of moral agendas provides opportunities, but also challenges. Drawing on literatures in environmental conservation and international development, this talk will identify conflicts between cultural traditions and contemporary conservation and development, explore opportunities for cooperation, and discuss prospects of coexistence in a rapidly changing society. It will make use of examples from the literature on sacred forest conservation in agricultural landscape settings in the Global South.

Handout of PowerPoint slides: Bhagwat_DPP-seminar_2014-04-30