Future

Climate Change And Chlamydia May Be Too Much For Australia’s Koalas To Bear

Attacked by dogs, victims of drought, devastated by a disease that is sexually transmitted in humans, Australia’s iconic koala bears are struggling to survive. But government authorities still have not granted the species official “endangered” status.

Koala bears could eventually enjoy
Koala bears could eventually enjoy
Marie-Morgane Le Moël

SYDNEY – Although they appear in just about every Australian postcard, koala bears are actually quite hard to spot in the wild, where their numbers are gradually declining. Scientists are now sounding the alarm – and urging Australia's senate to declare the iconic, sleepy-eyed marsupials an endangered species.

Scientists estimate Australia's koala bear population at somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000. "We cannot be totally sure because we don't receive enough public subsidies to thoroughly study the subject. But it is clear that the number is dropping," says Alistair Melzer, a senior researcher at Queensland University. In the Gold Coast region, the number of koala bears seems to have decreased by as much as 80% since the 1990s.

There are several factors that might be pushing koala bears close to extinction. Topping the list is urbanization and farming, which have destroyed the cuddly creature's natural habitats. For both food and shelter, koalas rely on large eucalyptus trees that grow in only specific places.

"Unfortunately, the places where koala bears thrive are also the best spots for human beings, namely places with fertile soil," says Melzer. Koala bears are in real trouble when their habitats shrink and they have no other choice but to live near cities. Proximity to humans can mean attacks by domestic dogs, or fatal run-ins with automobiles.

Moreover, the tree-dwelling animals suffer from heat waves and drought, which are likely to be more frequent because of climate change. Koala bears cannot cope with high temperatures, and they need to get moisture from eucalyptus leaves. "If climate change predictions play out, koala bears won't migrate to the South, where temperatures are lower. As a result, they will just die," says Melzer.

Finally, koala bears suffer frequently from Chlamydia, a bacterium. "This is yet another among a multitude of threats that koala bears have to face," says Mathew Crowther, a biologist at the University of Sydney.

But while scientists agree that the koala bear could eventually die out, the Australian government has not yet recognized the animal as an "endangered species." Each Australian state has its own list of endangered species. In New South Wales, the koala bear is listed as "vulnerable" statewide, whereas in Queensland, the species is only considered to be at risk in certain specific areas.

Scientists say it's time the government create a national endangered species list. "That is a vicious cycle," says Melzer. "The government has not listed the koala bear as an ‘endangered species' because it lacks precise figures. But we don't have enough public subsidies to carry out a long-term research."

To make things even more complicated, there are some areas where the koala population has actually not decreased. That's the case for South Australia, were the animals have been re-introduced in certain areas. But that too poses potential problems for the species, according to Melzer. "Koala bears had almost disappeared in those regions. Only koalas from a narrow segment of the overall population were re-introduced there. As a result, there is no genetic diversity," he says.

The koala issue is now being examined by a special senate committee, which is expected to issue a recommendation by August over whether or not to list the animals as "endangered."

"If the koala bear is listed as an ‘endangered species," it will be good not only for this particular species but also for others that share the same habitats," says Matthew Crowther.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - chem7

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Society

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation

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Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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