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5 January 2018

Florida’s frozen iguanas are more than just a sign of extreme weather

The reptiles represent a longer story of humanity meddling with nature. 

By India Bourke

Florida’s green iguanas thrive – bask, even – in the state’s normally temperate conditions. But an unusually severe winter storm on America’s East coast, Storm Grayson, is causing them to enter a form of paralysis, tip off their perches and fall into the streets.

Images of the surreal phenomenon have gripped Twitter and been seized on by climate-change deniers, who’ve used it to attempt to undermine the fact man-made climate change is causing global temperatures to rise. “The planet is so hot iguanas are freezing,” taunted the former Fox News columnist Steve Milloy in a tweet on Thursday.

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Yet the attempt to play down the consequences of humanity’s impact on nature could not have picked a less apt image.

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Florida’s green iguanas are themselves an example of the chaos mankind has already unleashed on the natural world. Native to Central and South America, the lizards were not recorded in Florida till the 1960s, where they were perhaps first introduced as pets, according to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Since then, the invasive species has exploded in size, and munched their way through an endangered species of tree snail, as well as a plant which is central to the diet of the endangered Miami blue butterfly. They’ve also dug burrows through sidewalks, despoiled swimming pools and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

Thus, far from undermining the links between nature and human activity, Florida’s frozen iguanas doubly represent just how tightly connected we are – something climate scientists also agree on.

According to this article by the Union of Concerned Scientists, there is still debate over the exact degree to which events like Storm Grayson’s “cyclone bomb” have been impacted by man-made climate change – but there is agreement that global warming is altering the jet stream’s behaviour in multiple ways.

With climate change already affecting most species on earth, our own paralysis – in acting to reverse everything from global warming, to species invasion and pollution – cannot end soon enough.