The latest episode of the Roundness podcast series from The Queen’s Library highlights the grave unintended consequences that can arise from man-made changes to the environment.
Podcaster Surya Bowyer, QE’s Head of Library Services, warns that we disregard the “interconnectedness of the world’s natural systems” at our peril in a 36-minute episode that features a variety of expert voices and spans the globe, from Egypt and Ethiopia to France and Spain, and from the Amazon to the US.
But he begins the episode in one particular location, inviting his listeners to consider the extraordinary case of the pupfish – in fact, of one specific pupfish whom he names ‘Steve’. Steve, he explains, is a Sonoyta pupfish, a rare and threatened breed that is specially adapted to cope with the harsh conditions – extreme heat, very salty water and lack of oxygen – found in the waterways of the Sonoran desert straddling Mexico and Arizona. It is thought to live in an area covering only around four square miles.
“What Steve ‘knows’ is that during the breeding season, his scales turn an intense bright blue in an attempt to try and woo Linda, Brenda and the other pupfish,” Mr Bowyer says.
Understanding Steve’s remarkable metabolism – including his ability to produce alcohol – could hold benefits for medical science, Mr Bowyer says. “By considering the pupfish we could gain a better understanding of cancer cells.”
Yet, he says, the Sonoyta pupfish’s very existence is threatened by the damage done to the environment by the construction of the border wall ordered by former US President Donald Trump.
Mr Bowyer then looks at the negative effects that overlooking environmental issues has had across the world and throughout history. He recounts the fatal outcome for one 12th-century French nobleman poisoned by another type of fish living in a polluted environment.
And he reflects on the changes in economics – a discipline which used to characterise environmental concerns as mere ‘negative externalities’, but is now increasingly understanding that the unexpected knock-on effects of pollution make it impossible to regard environmental factors in isolation.
The Consider the pupfish episode of the Roundness podcast is available from the Library pages of the eQE online platform and from normal podcast providers, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.