The True Cost of Trump’s Wall

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The debate over President Trump’s wall with Mexico has unsurprisingly focused on the financial cost and who will pay for it, however from my perspective the real cost will be environmental.  A 2,000-mile wall that’s 50 feet tall with 15 feet underground and one-foot thick would require 19.4 million cubic meters of concrete and 4.6 billion kilograms of steel.  That equates to a carbon footprint of a staggering 15.6 million tons of CO2. Even if just half the border length is covered (recently proposed), it still comes in at 8 million tons of CO2, ignoring the impact of haulage, new roads, and accommodation required to complete such a mammoth task.

The term Carbon Footprint would hardly be within Trump’s lexicon I expect, given he’s claimed climate change is a hoax, he wants to withdraw USA from the Paris Climate Change Accord, and his newly appointed Chief of the EPA has previously sued them 13 times.  So 16 million tons of CO2 will barely rate a mention within the oval office.  But that is just the start of the environmental cost.

Trump’s wall poses significant risks for animals. A 2014 study found that security barriers on the Arizona-Mexico border were doing little to prevent crossings by humans, but were restricting the movements of native species like pumas and coatis, a raccoon-like creature, thus limiting their access to food, water and habitat.  US Fish & Wildlife Service 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.

Migration corridors are critical for the health and survival of wildlife along the border. Endangered animals like ocelots and jaguar only live in the U.S. because of movements out of Mexico. The wall will wipe out the few clinging on in Arizona and New Mexico by cutting them off from breeding populations south of the border.  Other species, including bighorn sheep, pygmy owls, gray wolves and black bears, travel back and forth across the border to access vital resources and to maintain genetic diversity.  Some species have been crossing the border for millions of years.  A physical barrier can fundamentally alter the health and behavior of these populations.

A wall also will stifle the ability of species to adapt to a changing climate. Imagine, for instance, if a herd of deer or an endangered species like the jaguar needed to move north or to a higher elevation in order to adapt to higher temperatures and lower rainfall. If a wall impedes their movement, that particular herd ― or even an entire species ― is put at risk.

The Ocelot would likely become extinct in New Mexico if the proposed wall goes ahead

The Ocelot would likely become extinct in New Mexico if the proposed wall goes ahead

Natural water flows across the Mexican border also would be affected. Existing barriers have already led to problems like erosion, flooding and sedimentation in border communities. In Arizona, for example, border fences have been the cause of significant increases in local flooding.

The final point I’d make is the wall will not help in any meaningful way in stopping people from crossing the border.  I doubt any senior managers within U.S Customs and Border Protection would even support it.  If you build a 50-foot wall, people will arrive with a 51-foot ladder.  Or they will dig a 16-foot deep tunnel.  CBP Personnel cannot see through a concrete wall, making it a hindrance in running their operations.  If you really want to secure this border, increases in manpower, vehicles, helicopters, drones, cameras, sensors, and NVG / FLIR will achieve it.  Building a concrete wall will not.

Trump made numerous pledges in his presidential election campaign and regardless of the protests, he is determined to follow through with them.  This is a refreshing change at a time when politicians increasingly say anything to get in power but then ignore their promises.  The problem with the wall though is it is just plain dumb.  It will also be an environmental disgrace.

In the end this wall requires the approval of congress to fund it.  If you have the details of any sitting members you may like to send them a gentle message that while you support your President’s desire to improve border security, you in no way support the wall because it:

a)  will threaten endangered species
b)  increase erosion and flooding
c)  put 16 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere
d)  there are better things to be spending billions of dollars on
e)  the wall alone will not improve border security

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