I think we are all familiar with the exploits of Ms Wincy, of order Araneae. But, just in case you are not, I will recap: Apparently, said spider climbed up a waterspout only for the rain to come down, thereby washing her out (the details are unimportant). Fortunately, or perhaps inevitably, the sun returned, resulting in the drying up of the aforementioned rain. Re-emboldened, the redoubtable Incy then returned to her erstwhile waterspout machinations.
A simple enough story, told no doubt to instil a sense of resilience and fortitude into generations of pre-snowflake rug-rats. But hold the front page!
In the New York Times we have:
“To the list of things we’ve learned to fear from hurricanes — high winds, storm surge, floating islands of fire ants— a new study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution suggests that we should add another: aggressive spiders.”
And from Wired we have:
“Add skittering groups of extra-bold spiders to the list of post-storm delights…”
But it falls to The Burn-in to cut to the chase with:
“Climate change may be making spiders more aggressive, are humans next?”
At the time of writing, the news has yet to reach The Conversation (I await its arrival with heaving bosom). But in the meantime, a quick survey of the broader internet coverage reveals that the editorial consensus has already settled firmly upon the obligatorily alarmist narrative – global warming is washing spiders away and Incy Wincy is pissed. It is only a matter of time before the human race goes the same way and starts tearing lumps out of each other.
As always, there is a ‘scientists-have-shown’ basis for the journalists’ hyperbole. This kind of fear-mongering doesn’t normally promulgate unless there is a scientific germ available, giving the journalists ample opportunity to misunderstand and misrepresent. So what is it this time, you may ask, that is providing them with their opportunity to weave such tales of climate-driven angst? I’ll spare you all of the gory details, but the essence is as follows:
Apparently, an academic who specializes in arachnid psychology has been storm-chasing in order to study the effect that recent hurricanes have had on the levels of aggressiveness shown by a particular species of sociable spider found in the Gulf of Mexico. So far, so quotidian. What he discovered, and hastened to share with the world, however, is that several months after the storms had passed, the spiders appeared to have developed anger management issues. This heightened aggression was measured by the willingness of the spiders to respond to the simulated struggling of a prey held within their webs (simulation having been initially provided by a judiciously planted dildo, subsequently upgraded – by way of experimental refinement – to an electric toothbrush). Only the boldest of spiders would jump to action, whilst the timid ones would remain in their barracks, wondering what the hell they could have possibly ensnared. I should point out at this juncture that our arachnid psychology expert had previously ascertained that spiders have only one of two personality types: bold and timid.
The point one is invited to take away is this: Here we have clear evidence of a lasting (nay, evolutionary) impact resulting directly from the stresses related to resource depletion. Placed under heightened natural selection, the species responded by becoming inherently more aggressive, since only the aggressive had the wherewithal to cope. And here is the rub: Extreme storms were to blame for all of this – and, as we all know, global warming is to blame for extreme storms. Worse still, as with the spider, so with the human. If aggressiveness worked for the former, we can only expect it to be the go-to strategy for the latter. Hold onto your seats. We are in for a bumpy ride.
Everything I have written so far would make perfect sense to most journalists. So let us see if we can help them regain a healthy state of self-doubt.
Firstly, I am no expert, but I would have thought that arachnid psychology was a niche subject, and little could be inferred from examining a spider’s take on aggression when thinking about human aggression. In fact, the particular measure used to determine levels of arachnid aggression maps most closely onto the psychological state I have experienced when standing outside a kebab house following a night out on the town. Yes, I am highly motivated to indulge, but not particularly because of a surge of testosterone or because of anything my amygdalae are up to.
Secondly, what our spider expert has really observed is an evolutionary adaptive response that just happens to be characteristically aggressive for that particular species of spider placed under those particular natural selective pressures. Based upon this evidence, it is more than a leap of faith to assume that humans will invariably, and solely, respond with aggression in order to adapt to any global warming impacts coming their way. I’d like to think we are a lot more psychologically sophisticated than your average spider. In fact, when I introspect, I become ever more convinced of that fact.
Thirdly, why are we all taking about evolutionary development? The guy only waited a few months to send out post-storm questionnaires to his spidery subjects. This is not nearly long enough to draw conclusions regarding long-term impact on gene pools. Presumably, prior to the storms, an evolutionary stable state (ESS) existed between aggressive and timid spiders. The storms had pushed the species away from that equilibrium, but there is no telling whether or not the ESS will be re-established in the future, for example due to conflict between the aggressive dudes (and before anyone writes in – yes, I know this is actually female arachnid aggression that we are dealing with here).
And finally, there is the big one. Why are the journalists taking as read that the number of storms has recently increased due to global warming? Where are they getting their data from? Presumably, each other, because they certainly won’t find it in IPCC AR5.
Of course, none of this will impress any of the MSM; they have their editorial stances and style guides to inform their headlines. So they are free to chill us with the spectre of a new breed of hyper-aggressive spider out to get ya! Indeed, why stick with the one species? Why not just imply that all spiders will mutate into a Mr Hyde version of themselves? And if that doesn’t put you in the same boat as Greta, then how about extending the results to the human race? We’ve all seen the film World War Z. Wasn’t that really a documentary? Alas, faced with the choice of presenting a positive story about species resilience under climate change, versus a story of horrible transformation that portends of our own self-destruction, there was only ever going to be one outcome.
So, it seems that the exploits of Incy are ripe for the re-telling. No longer a tale of adaptability and resolve. Instead, one of aggression and desperation. Might I suggest:
Incy Wincy spider climbed up a waterspout
Along came global warming
To flush the bugger out
Out came the sun
To turn flood into drought
And Incy Wincy spider – went cruising along the high street with a baseball bat in hand looking to beat the living shit out of the first climate change denier she could grasp within her hairy little arms
Okay, the last part doesn’t scan. I’m still working on it.