The koala is an engaging, docile, cuddly and lovable animal. It is also, tragically, undergoing a rapid decline in numbers. To the extent climate change and a degraded environment are responsible, we can be blamed for not heeding the warnings of scientists and others.
Warnings to humanity are much in the news again as the latest, signed by over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries, appeared in the journal Bioscience not long ago on November 13. But before, much before, there was an earlier one, now a quarter century past.
The late Henry Kendall was the winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, a founding member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the chairman of its governing board. He spearheaded the effort leading to the 1992 warning signed by 1700 eminent scientists, including then a majority of science Nobel Laureates. It appealed for the help of the world's peoples, its scientists, religious, industrial and business leaders.
Earlier still, there was Rachel Carson's 1962 canary in the coal mine, The Silent Spring, famous for its attack on pesticides like DDT.
While these warnings caution us on the degradation of our planet, there is one area that might be implied but is not specifically mentioned: the negative impact on the quality of our food. Noted first by Irakli Loladze, the relatively new discovery was hypothesized in 2002.
In the parts of the world relying on a plant-based diet, people cannot easily compensate for the loss of nutrients. The proven decline of protein, iron and zinc in grains, potatoes and vegetables will inevitably lead to stunted growth, anemia and more disease.
This distressing and unhappy prospect is not confined to humans. Bees rely on the goldenrod plant. It flowers late, and the protein in its pollen is vitally important for them to build themselves up to weather the winter. Unfortunately, as scientists have learned, the protein content in goldenrod has suffered a drastic loss of about a third as atmospheric CO2 levels have increased. There may be other causes like pesticides and parasitic mites but lack of nutrition has to be a major candidate.
On the other side of the world lives the harmless Koala bear. A marsupial, it is truly unique for feeding only on eucalyptus leaves. Most unusually the female has three vaginas, the outer two leading each to a separate uterus while the center passage is for delivery of its young. To complement this anatomy, the male is endowed with a double-pronged penis.