When the world’s climate negotiators meet in Bonn in about three weeks from now, the mass deaths of Adélie penguin chicks in Eastern Antarctica is unlikely to take up much of their time. The shooting down of more than 80 bears over one week in the Russian island of Sakhalin is even less likely to catch their attraction.
It’s a testimony to the Anthropocene that even when we try to find out ways to make the epoch a little less hostile to nature, human imperatives take centrestage: The business of not letting global temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees C — or 2 degrees C — is concerned with seas, oceans and forests only to extent that they continue to make life congenial for humankind.
Extensive amounts of sea ice — way more than what is usual during the breeding season — around their colony forced the adult Adélie penguins to travel further than normal to forage for food. Their babies — all except two — did not survive the journey. Four years ago, rains and an untimely cold snap froze all chicks to death in the same colony. News isn’t too good for the adults: Research by oceanographers has shown that more than 50 per cent of their colonies may become unsuitable for the Adélie penguin by the end of this century because of warming seas.
Links between the shooting down of the bears in Sakhalin and climate change is a lot more tendentious. But what we do know is that the animals turned aggressive because they could not find enough fish, berries and nuts in forests, and mauled two people to death.
There have been demands to cordon off the bears’ habitat in Sakhalin, and the seas that are home to the Adélie penguins. But correcting the fallout of human interventions in the habitats of the penguin and the bear — the hilsa, shark, snow leopard and many other creatures for that matter — will require far more than such piece-meal efforts.