A recent news article from the Guardian Environment Network provides a textbook example of how environmental and ecological news is spun to link it it with global warming and make it appear as though every problem faced by wild animals is caused by modern capitalism.
The article, headlined “Climate Change Compounds Rising Threat to Koalas” starts off in the typically breathless angst-ridden voice of the modern environmentalist, warning us that
Koalas are now struggling to survive as habitat destruction caused by droughts and bushfires, land clearing for agriculture and logging, and mining and urban development conspire against this cuddly creature
It then elaborates on the scary threat posed to these cuddly creatures with reference to some suitably scientific-sounding (but ultimately meaningless) numbers and statistics:
In the past decade, we have experienced the hottest temperatures on record followed by floods and cyclones. The koalas are highly susceptible to heat stress and dehydration,” University of Queensland koala expert Dr. Clive McAlpine told IPS.
Our climate envelope modelling found that koalas occur at a maximum temperature of 37.7 degrees centigrade. Across western Queensland and New South Wales, temperatures remained in the mid to high 40-degree centigrade (range) for consecutive days, pushing them beyond their climatic threshold.
Really? How have the managed to survive previous previous heatwaves, floods and cyclones for thousands of years then? Despite what the media would have you believe, there is nothing unusual in Australia’s recent droughts, or its floods. Speak to anyone in Australia over fifty and they will be able to tell you stories about previous droughts and heatwaves that make the ones they’ve had recently seem insignificant.
To add to that, apparently increasing urban sprawl in Australia is being blamed for a dramatic decline in koala numbers in Queensland. Why did the koala cross the road? To escape suburban sprawl, apparently:
Koalas’ continuous move into urban areas makes them highly vulnerable to road (accidents) and attacks by dogs. In the rapidly developing region of southeast Queensland, the species has suffered a 60 percent decline in the past decade due to the combination of disease, dog attacks, but mostly collisions with cars,” Darryl Jones, deputy director of the Environmental Futures Centre at the Queensland-based Griffith University, told IPS.
Now Australia isn’t just a big country, it’s a massive country. It’s hard to believe that space is so restricted that development alone would lead to a 60% drop in the koala population. Indeed, with a population of around 4.5 million in a state that measures a mind-boggling 1,852,642 square kilometres, this seems extremely dubious to say the very least.
And here’s the beauty of spin: it’s only when you get to the end of the article, to the last two or three paragraphs in a surprisingly long story that the real reason for the decline is mentioned, as though it were no more than an incidental problem. After paragraph on paragraph blaming mining, development, climate change and all those other problems caused by wicked capitalists, we’re told that “Two other deadly threats to the koalas’ survival are chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, and the koala retrovirus (KoRV), an HIV-like virus”.
Oh really? You didn’t think that two fatal STDS, including the koala version of HIV might be worth mentioning earlier on as perhaps the prime suspect in the koalas’ decline?
Compare the Guardian’s spin to another article on the problem from the BBC. Evidently this story wasn’t selected for heavy rotation on its climate change alarmism schedule, so it’s received the scientific reporting treatment so far. The BBC headlines their report “Koala Chlamydia: the STD Threatening an Australian Icon”. They report that the disease is at “epidemic” levels and causes infertility and even death in koalas:
In people, chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease. A different strain infects koalas, but it too can be spread sexually, and it’s causing a devastating epidemic. In some parts of Australia, koala infection rates are as high as 90%
The BBC report also notes that the HIV epidemic is perhaps even more prevalent among koalas, with incidences perhaps nearing 100% according to raw field data:
And another threat comes in the form of a koala retrovirus, which – much like HIV in humans – suppresses a koala’s immune system. It is also having a devastating impact.
Paul Young, a virologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane says every koala he has tested in the northern part of the species’ range has been infected with the retrovirus. And, he says, the “invading” virus is gradually making its way south.
The report doesn’t ignore the other problems faced by koalas. It observes that “It’s not just chlamydia that’s threatening koalas. Many are struck by cars, or attacked by dogs. Others are pushed off their land due to urban sprawl”. But given the obvious scale and severity of the two epidemics sweeping through the koala population, it places them in proper perspective, mentioning them as an incidental, but rightly devoting the bulk of the article to analysis and discussion of the real issues.
So by comparison, you can see what an unmitigated piece of spin the Guardian offering is. From the headline – “Climate Change Compounds Rising Threat to Koalas” – which makes an entirely theoretical and unproven link between two unrelated issues, to the relentless focus on what are at most tertiary problems affecting koalas, the whole article is 90% spin and only 10% straight reporting.
The facts are very, very clear: two epidemics are sweeping through the koala population, as epidemics do with all animals from time to time. Numbers are declining. From this, the Guardian somehow manages to wrench a tale of capitalist greed and exploitation that blames everyone from the mining companies to loggers to developers to just normal folks driving their cars. Along the way, truth becomes roadkill.