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The adorable new face of climate change spin

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Penguins claimed that the wreck of the Gratitude in 1911 — and the resulting toxic oil spill — was “the best thing that ever happened to Antarctica”. (‘Wreck of the Gratitude, Macquarie Island, 1911’, held at the State Library of New South Wales)

When social and political historians come to write the definitive history of the climate change debate, a chapter will surely have to be set aside to document the rise of one of the most cunning and media-savvy interest groups this country has ever seen. That chapter — assuming the authors strive for transparency of meaning and don’t adopt a naming scheme that is wilfully obnubilatory — will surely have to be entitled “The Penguins”.

Scientists have suggested that for the species Eudyptula minor (the so-called ‘little’ or ‘fairy’ penguin) inhabiting northern Tasmania, Victoria and the Bass Strait islands, rising sea temperatures may in fact prove to be procreatively advantageous. The theory is that warmer seas will encourage penguins to breed earlier, and breed better.

Before we consider the science, a few items of historical record. Penguins, you will recall, were one of the the first major lobby groups to spread misinformation about the environment. In the eighties, penguins ran a cynical, pro-cholorofluorocarbon campaign in a desperate attempt to forestall the collapse of the aerosol industry in which, as a species, they had massively over-invested. The penguins later changed tack, claiming that a hole in the ozone layer was in the best interests of human- and animal-kind in general. The ozone layer, according to the penguins, was simply an artificial, psychological barrier preventing the creatures of Earth from claiming their destiny among the stars — or, as the penguin-funded billboards proclaimed, a “no-go-zone layer”.

In these enlightened days, of course, we know that the ozone layer and its accompanying hole is in fact an elaborate costume devised for Lady Gaga’s 2010 southern hemisphere tour. In any case, the focus of the environmental cause has shifted. And when it comes to climate change, penguins have been gallingly obstinate. First, they denied the very existence of global warming. Now, embarrassed at having to acknowledge that the climate really is changing, the penguin lobby is trying to tell us that an increase in ocean temperature is actually a positive development because it allow them to reproduce quicker, and more often.

But is this something we want to encourage? Just what are the evil forces that lurk behind behind this heedless rush to breed? Every cloaca is precious, and no penguin should have to sacrifice its urogenital integrity at the altar of fluctuating global temperatures. Sadly, penguins already have enough excuses for indulging in hasty, ill-planned sex. How many times have we seen grainy images of penguins huddled in their shelters, caught in the act, filmed in that tell-tale “sex-o-chrome” night vision that speaks of a thousand Sphenisciforme sins? Some females even submit themselves to performing flipper-jobs and other profoundly humiliating acts simply to obtain a few nice pebbles with which to decorate their homes. Do we really need to be engineering those very circumstances which will propel these lascivious creatures to ever more depraved sexual activities?

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Penguins already find it difficult to contain their sexual urges until mating season. Here, two adelie penguins treat each other to mutual cloacal frottage. (From Antarctic penguins: a study of their social habits by Dr G. Murray Levick, McBride, Nast & Company, New York, 1914)

Another question we might ask is whether we really need more penguins. A quick survey reveals that penguins are in major positions of power in nearly 0.0000001% of the companies currently listed in the Dow 30. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that this works out to a total of 0.0000003 penguins. In fact, all you need to be is a person who has a general functional intelligence, a calculator, and fingers.

Now, most climate change deniers are as laughable as an author of an article on climate change stooping to a pun about the environmental debate “heating up”. But as the environmental debate heats up, the penguins have adopted sophisticated tactics, twisting science to their own ends and fashioning themselves into several 40cm tall forces to be reckoned with. “Stressing the positives of climate change is a clever move,” says one public relations expert, who can’t be named due to having only just been invented by me for the purposes of this blog post, and whose ten word contribution to this piece scarcely warrants direct quotation in any case.

One wonders what is to be the next line of attack against the environmental movement — and from which quarter such an attack might arise. A number of leading giraffes, pointing (though not literally) to the growing obesity epidemic among long-necked ruminants, have already come out in favour of deforestation because it encourages young giraffes to consider a more varied and balanced diet.

There is only one place all this can end. By which, I mean this article. And, because this article has in fact ended, that place is here.