World heritage and ‘that wall’.

Why, when science gets it right, do our leaders for political reasons get it wrong?

In democracies we choose our leaders. Our attitudes are revealed by our choices.

World heritage sites are established because there is something amazing, remarkable, irreplaceable that stirs our capacity to wonder. We can study and learn from them. A case in point. In Australia, is the Great Barrier Reef. A coal ship corridor for 50 kilometres is being established from Abbot Point on the Queensland coast. Our reef can be seen from space! Global warming is having its impact but political decisions like this intensify the problem. David Attenborough has made clear how destructive our political actions have been. We need to be custodians of these extraordinary sites. Slowly or swiftly, we take from the world a living wonder.

In America, the following is an example of swift destructive decision making.

This example comes from Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos staff, Sunday, October 6th 2019 – 3:27 AM Australian Central Daylight Time.

Trump is destroying an irreplaceable world treasure in an effort to speed up building his ‘wall’

Portions of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument were already crossed by a border fence in 2017 – but now they are destroyed. RSS

“Since 1976, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has also been the Organ Pipe Cactus Biosphere Reserve, a world heritage site sanctioned by UNESCO as the most pristine examples of intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The otherworldly beauty of the monument brings visitors who come to gawk at the towering forms and hike the gravel-strewn trails. It also attracts scientists from around the globe who study the inhabitants of the desert and their adaptation to this incredible environment.

Mark Sumner calls this decision “one of the greatest acts of ecological vandalism in a century—carried out in an effort to hurry construction of the President’s border fence.”

The author makes clear why he thinks the President of the United States has chosen to move into sites of national, and international significance. It appears to be, this way, he can avoid “potential lawsuits from private landowners that could tie up progress for months.” The President, it also appears, is expecting “the EPA and Interior Department to ignore every law and regulation concerning construction, environmental impact studies, and protection of archaeological artifacts.” It is important to realise that some of the areas targeted already had an existing barrier. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument had such a barrier set up between 2012 and 2017. Mark Sumner reminds his readers.

“Even after miles of border fence were erected in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument between 2012 and 2017, the striking beauty of this Sonoran Desert jewel was preserved. There is no question that original fence was destructive. Following the border as closely as possible meant that not only were saguaro and other cactus that had grown over a space of centuries removed to provide highly questionable ‘security,’ but the ranges of rare and endangered desert animals were permanently altered. Disturbing as it was at the time, that initial fence was placed with some care, often without disturbing ancient, towering examples of cactus within just a few feet of the fence. Images from 2017 show a relatively low fence that, while it certainly doesn’t vanish into the landscape, is also not a jarring disruption of the otherwise gorgeous scenery.”

“Now those ranges, and cactus older than the nation, are simply being bulldozed aside as [he] carves a scar across the desert. That original fence was in no sense attractive, and the damage it caused to the site was real. But compared to what [he] is doing in an effort to claim miles for his ‘wall,’ it’s a paper cut.”

The image shows a section of the border fence as it existed in 2017.

Now, in 2019, this.
Saguaro cactus being bulldozed in advance of building his border ‘wall’.

“In video shot by Kevin Dahl, senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, bulldozers can be seen cutting through the Saguaro and heaping them like rubbish.

These cactus can obtain a weight of tons, and an age of centuries. Even the more modest-sized examples being bulldozed in these images likely have an age of over 100 years, as growth comes slowly in the water-starved desert. 

In September, the defense department claimed that saguaro in the path of the barrier construction would be ‘relocated’ to other sections of the monument. But Dahl’s video reveals that this is a flat-out lie. The rare and iconic cactus are instead shown being pushed along by bulldozer and piled into heaps with other ripped-up plants. 

These areas of desert will not be repaired in the lifetime of anyone now looking at their events. Or their children’s lifetime. Or their children’s. Even if [his] pointless, useless, ugly barrier were ripped down tomorrow, it wouldn’t begin to repair the damage that’s underway — damage that is expected to stretch 78 miles across the ecological fragile park.”

“Sorry, world.”  This is the way Mark Sumner finishes his article.

In Australia, Judith Wright, one of our finest poets, warned us about the dangers to the Reef in the 1970s. Rachel Carson tried to alert America to the terrible impact of thoughtless or deliberate political decisions. Aided by global warming, in Australia, despite the efforts of those who work tirelessly to conserve this world heritage site we are allowing this to go on. Its condition now is considered ‘very poor’. The decision to establish that coal ship corridor was made in 2017.

I thought this example of how swiftly the damage can be done worth sharing. Democracies do not have the excuse of those living under totalitarian regimes. We can find out. But how often is it – when such extraordinary natural and often equally important cultural world heritage sites are not close to us – that we, the citizens of our democratic nations, wake up too late? What is getting in the way? We need to be thinking about that.

3 thoughts on “World heritage and ‘that wall’.

  1. I remember Tony Abbott remarking that his Modus Operandi was “do it, then apologise”. Seems to be pretty normal behaviour these days.


  2. I remember Tony Abbott once remarking that his Modus Operandi was “do it, then apologise”. Seems pretty normal these days, although Trump seems to leave out the “apologise” part.


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