THE CANARY IN THE COALMINE
Dee Chadwick
04 Oct 2020
Oh boy, do I ever feel that we could make use of a good supply of human canaries at present. Someone who is sensitive to the behaviour of COVID-19. Someone who is also sensitive to the feelings of their fellow human beings, especially when they decide that they will do what they choose to do. Someone who has the sensitivity to get us back to a WW2 mentality of all being in this together, supporting each other no matter who they are, what they do, their age, colour, creed.

THESE ‘SOMEONES’

We probably have someone to fulfil each of these stipulations, but sadly, these human canaries do not seem to be down the same coalmine. They are separated from those of us living and working at the coalface, in so many ways, leaving we miners to plunge on, hopefully waving our Davy lamps to show us the way as we go. They also seem to have a different set of rules applying to them, though hopefully this has improved following previous public outcries when this has happened. However, I feel that there remains a lack of empathy for the populace around many issues COVID related... or maybe it is not just related to our current situation ... or am I just getting more cynical with age?

BACK TO THE CANARIES

Those poor mites were called upon to unknowingly risk their lives, and in many cases, give their lives for human beings. The caged birds were taken down into coal mines as they were, due to their diminutive size, more sensitive to the presence of the lethal methane gas than the miners. Their act of dying gave the miners an early alert to the danger and allowed them to escape. Just one example of animals helping humans – as with the many horses sacrificed during WW1 and the amazing dogs assisting with locating bombs, especially IEDs in the areas of conflict throughout the world. I am aware that some dogs are amazingly able to sniff out cancer in a human – and that there are even some who are able to do the same for COVID-19. How good it would be to have them walking through crowds as they often do at airport arrivals and departures. Doing the same but sniffing out COVID-19 at airports, or in any other gathering of people, especially those seemingly hell bent on denial of its existence, or at least insisting that THEY will hardly be affected if the virus wends its way to them.

The  sensitivity of those canaries saved others by serving as an early warning system, presumably saving many lives over the years whilst losing theirs. We have no coal mines left in the UK, and the practice died out (no pun intended) towards the end of the 20th century in both the UK and USA. However, Grammarist.com tells us that ‘The phrase canary in the coal mine lives as a metaphor for any warning of serious danger to come. The canary is not prophetic until it is brought in the coalmine, so the metaphor works especially well if the prophetic thing is small, innocent, and not prophetic under normal circumstances.’  

Back to those ‘someones’ with relation to our struggles with CPVID-19. I get the feeling, and not just in the UK, that we have a whole plethora of much more showy birds than the canary. They are either preening their plumage, or at times pulling out their feathers in frustration. But amidst this preening and plucking, are they also able to enable themselves and us to be proactive rather than reactive to the virus? I believe not. Maybe they are away from the coal mine, though there are several politicians, including leaders, who have first hand, or close experience of being at that metaphorical coal face and succumbing to COVID-19. Maybe we need some inter-breeding, via communication between other ‘someones’ from further afield, from other disciplines. I feel this as there seems to be talking of the talk, but is there actually consistent walking of the walk?

MOVING AWAY FROM COVID-19

... and, oh boy, how I wish that we could do that!....

There are circumstances in which other living species act as indicators of our problems. There are the coral reefs. Areas filled by many varieties of coral, small individual beings together making a large mass and acting as shelter and home for many other species; a huge symbiotic relationship. Sadly, due largely to the acidification of our oceans, the algae within the coral are struggling to feed, so the coral dies. So, those tiny algae feeders within the small polyps of the coral reefs are acting as an early warning to us to buck up our ideas around how we mistreat our planet home. What was the habitat for others no longer offers that succour.

What is happening to cause this?

The temperature within our atmosphere is gradually increasing, along with our oceans. Corals are sensitive to temperature change.

Our oceans have soaked up most of the excess carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, along with the trees (which ‘man’ seems intent on continuing to fell at an alarming rate). The increase in carbon dioxide has led to the increasing acidification of our oceans. This is being signalled by the coral reefs but will be increasingly affecting all marine life. A major source of food for many.

Throw into the mix the plastics which are very slowly disintegrating in them, producing the micro plastics which we are finding within marine fish. I have to say that I do have concerns that, through our food chain, said micro plastics are also beginning to be a part of ‘us’. At the very least, they will be circulated through our sewerage systems and back out into the oceans. More small things of which we need to take notice.

In fact, it is estimated that half of our tropical reefs have died in the past thirty years. Some researchers believe that, unless we humans make drastic changes to our way of being and our way of adversely affecting the climate, that they could all be lost by 2050.  I have included a link through to a short presentation on coral reefs and climate change that is well worth checking out.

THEN, DON’T FORGET THE BEES (and other insects)

I have to say that as a proud Mancunian, I love the fact that the hard working bee is very much our emblem. It has long been seen throughout the city etched into posts, the town hall’s mosaic floor and as a part of the coat of arms dating back to 1842. Their presence in the city became increasingly well known, and also more popular when used, as described by the Manchester Evening News, as a symbol of unity following the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing.

Whilst Manchester continues to see an increase in its number of bee representations dotted around the city There are also many bee images on cushions, tea towels, clothing etc. However, it has long been said that we are losing honey bees and other varieties of bees and insects that act as pollinators for so many of our food crops.

These small creatures, by their declining numbers, no matter what the cause, are indicative of possible future crop shortages or failures. There is also the threat of a decline in what is a current buzz word – pun very much intended! -  the biodiversity of individual countries, but especially of the planet as a whole. I have included a link to an infograph produced by the European Parliament in December 2019 concerning the decline of our pollinators.

BIODIVERSITY

At university, over 50 years ago, I recall learning about biodiversity. How very rich and varied it was, how it helped with balancing our various ecosystems. Today’s students will be hearing a different story.

Those who care are already aware of the loss of species and the fragile clinging on of others – witness the mother and daughter who are the only 2 remaining white rhino. They were shown in a recent television program aimed at bringing the message of our struggling planet home to us. We may be aware of a loss of biodiversity when this involves large creatures that make news stories, and we may regret the demise of such large creatures, those at the top of the food chain – if we exclude man, the hunter, of course. Loss of very obvious species makes those news programs whether they are hunted to extinction or struggle, as do the polar bears, due to a lack of habitat caused by climate change. But we generally don’t miss those small, seemingly insignificant creatures that form the vital base of the food chain. Until their demise affects us directly, as with a possible future hike in price and drop in availability of our favourite honey.

Then we have the loss of trees and of the many insects and mini beasts that call these trees home – we don’t generally notice these particular canaries though they are indicative of a healthy forest or woodland. However, we can’t ignore the disappearance of the trees. That is unless we live close by that particular coal face. Or we choose to ignore the situation as we are profiting from the creation of more ranch land, agricultural land. Then, it becomes a case of ‘none so blind as those who will not (or cannot) see’.

But we will miss the decreasing biodiversity of our planet, and our ecosystems will be thrown out of kilter. But this is science, something that many choose to ignore. Their reason – scientists change their minds. True, they do. They do so as more knowledge is gained, more information is shared. That is what science is all about. To maintain any great degree of biodiversity we need those ‘someones’ to get together and make their voices heard and the canaries – no matter what species they are in reality – need also to be heard and seen with their warning voices and demises.

The implications for our species, which amazingly considers itself to be far more intelligent than any other, cannot be ignored, though by many, it is. It seems that whilst in some ways we are intelligent, yet in so very many other ways we are ignorant, lacking understanding of our own species and its needs, as well as the needs of other fauna and flora. For how long can we ignore the canaries and the many warning signs which are changing from amber to red!

 

By highlighting the canaries in our past and our current variations on this theme, including the bees and the coral reefs I am hoping to encourage others to find out more about the way things are. Much better this than have a continuation of so very many ostrich-like folk with their heads in the sand. Don’t be an ostrich!

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