Climate change seems to be an attack of the cute. Polar bears, honey bees, bats (well, I think they’re cute) and now koala bears? According to MSNBC, Professor of Biology at Sydney University, Ian Hume, has found that CO2 pollution reduces the nutrients in eucalyptus leaves and raises their toxicity, thereby adversely affecting the koalas main source of food. Basically, not only are the koalas getting less nutrients from their food, they are also getting toxins that interfere with nutrient absorption when they feast on their regular diet of eucalyptus leaves. The results may be less available food as eucalyptus species die out from temperature changes, less nutritious feed, a lot of emaciated koala bears, less koala babies and a drastic reduction in their numbers over the next 5 decades.
Koalas already have it rough. Eucalyptus leaves are not particularly nutritious, so they have to eat a lot and sleep even more to save their energy. Eucalyptus trees, their main source of food, are also very susceptible to temperature changes. Koalas breed only once a year and have just one joey at a time. In recent decades, they have been displaced from their native habitats in Australia by suburban growth and agricultural developments. And now, add climate change to their list of woes. It’s a story we keep hearing over and over again. We are careless with the environment, over consume resources and ignore warning signs of catastrophe while other species and far away people pay the price. When people drive SUVs or leave their lights on or consume fast food hamburgers, they do not set out to hurt koala bears, or polar bears or the now extinct Chinese River dolphin -- but that is the result. Unfortunately, we can’t trace one dead bat or suffering koala bear or stranded polar bear to one person’s individual actions. We hold collective responsibility, which also leaves room for collective irresponsibility. i.e., the car I drive makes little difference in a world filled with inefficient cars. The meat I consume is no different than the meat everyone else consumes. The packaged goods I buy are what’s available to me, at least I recycle. Hume presented his findings to the Australian Academy of Science where they also met last week to discuss whether dangerous climate change is inevitable or can be avoided. It seems that if you are any of the host of animals that are already suffering and dying as a result of climate change, or any of the number of people that are suffering and dying as a result of climate change, the inevitability threshold has already been passed. The more pertinent question is whether we will address it in time to stop further decay. Remember how those images from Greenpeace of adorable baby seals being clubbed rallied people to the cause? Perhaps the koala bears can do the same and help us find our individual will to change.