If the most tragic irony of the border wall is that it will degrade natural landscapes that wildlife depends on — all while not doing what it’s meant to do — its most heartbreaking consequence will be the sense of futility it’s seeded in many of the people who can actually help.
“Many of my closest colleagues are from Mexico, and everyone just laughs,” Ehrlich says. “You put up a 30-foot wall, the coyotes, the smugglers, will build themselves 34-foot ladders. As long as the riches of the world are flowing into the United States, people are going to flow along with them, and walls aren’t going to make any big difference, as we’ve already seen with drugs.”
Despite the worldwide support garnered by Ehrlich and his colleagues in their biological assessment of the border wall, he’s not too optimistic about the positive change that will come from it. “I think it’ll have very little impact,” he says.
But not all the scientists involved have such a bleak outlook. Some, like Rodolfo Dirzo, Ph.D., an evolutionary ecologist at Stanford University and another co-author on the new paper, are encouraged by the amount of global support the effort has received.
“It is my hope that, by having this large response from the scientific community, that that might percolate to the public in general, that more attention is going to be paid,” Dirzo tells Inverse. By raising attention to the gravity of the environmental threat posed by a border wall, he’s hopeful that the general public will understand just what it means for people, plants, and animals on both sides of the border.
Dirzo, Ehrlich, and their peers in the scientific community represent a glimmer of hope in the midst of what seems like an unstoppable political will to not only bulldoze ecosystems but to divide people.
“These are challenging times, given the selfishness and lack of solidarity,” Dirzo says. But pointing to the success of international popular movements, like the one led by Mahatma Gandhi in colonial India, as evidence that people can unite in the face of injustice, he says, “We have to be hopeful. We have to be cautiously optimistic.”