The Bigger Issue

We’ve seen several photographs recently highlighting the trauma inflicted upon many animals due to the unprecedented rate of change in the world’s climatic systems (from the already iconic photo of a koala from the Australian bushfires to starving polar bears). This shocking imagery kicks our empathetic system into gear as we sympathise with the animal’s pain, and our subconscious may be overcome with an urge to help them. This is where wildlife rescue is an extremely fulfilling endeavour, and is critical to helping animals in urgent duress. What we must not lose sight of however is that these photos can serve as a window into the thing responsible for this suffering in a very confronting way – by seeing a koala suffering from third degree burns, we are inadvertently gazing into the unwavering face of climate change.

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An injured koala given water by David Tree. Photograph: Mark Pardew/AP

Climate change is sometimes right in front of our faces, as was the case with the recent Australian bushfires and the many other human-influenced extreme weather events around the globe. But often the issue with global warming is that it is a slow burn – and the human psyche was never developed to deal with challenges which unfold over the course of several decades. What we are good at on the other hand is being empathetic. And nothing hurts more than witnessing an animal’s immense and unjust suffering.

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Enter a This is what climate change looks like. This starving polar bear was spotted by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen on Somerset Island.

The power of media being able to provide some insight into the very real and deadly effects of climate change is unparalleled and is crucial in kicking us into sustained action. The need to protect the Earth’s diverse ecosystems as well as all of its inhabitants is not only our responsibility, but our mandate. Ultimately, animals serve as our window to the dangers of climate change, and hopefully inspire us into action to combat anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

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