When some koalas needed friends, these farmers stepped up.

A new coal mine would uproot 2,000 acres of woodland the koalas depend on for food and shelter.

The Liverpool Plains of Australia are a tawny green stretch of land in New South Wales, Australia.

Nestled between two mountain ranges, the land is incredibly rich, with fertile soils, a large aquifer, and large swaths of woodland.


Image via Tim J Keegan/Flickr.

It's also sitting on tons of coal.

Something the Australian government and the Shenhua Group — a Chinese mining company — would love to get their hands on. Australia is positively addicted to digging the stuff out of the ground — it's one of the largest coal exporters in the world — and depends on it for 70% of its electricity.

"Coal is good for humanity, coal is good for prosperity, coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world," said then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2014.

But farmers don't want to live next to a coal mine.

The Anglesea coal mine in nearby Victoria is an example of Australian pit mining. Image via Takver/Flickr.

The government's approved a massive 1,000-foot-deep open-pit mine right in the Liverpool Plains to get at the coal. The mine would raze large swaths of land and could pollute the aquifer that locals depend on to live, farm, and ranch.

The land's already bought and sold and the government's already signed the approval. However, farmers have now challenged the government's approval of the mine in court.

They say the miners didn't think about the koalas.


Image via Marc Dalmulder/Flickr.

The mine would uproot 2,000 acres of woodland the koalas depend on for food and shelter.

The Liverpool koala population are already in trouble from the recent droughts and brush fires. Koalas aren't good at keeping cool and need big shady trees to protect them. If the trees are cut down, the koalas overheat.

"They are large animals that live in trees, they can't burrow down or fly away to get away from the heat. We could see a huge reduction in numbers if habitat is not kept properly."

"If we don't plant enough big trees, we will find koalas perish if heatwaves increase," Matthew Crowther, a researcher from the University of Syndey, told Guardian Australia in 2013. More than a quarter of the local Liverpool Plains koala population died in a 2009 heat wave.

"They are large animals that live in trees, they can't burrow down or fly away to get away from the heat. We could see a huge reduction in numbers if habitat is not kept properly."

And climate change is only going to make things harder.

Koalas eat nothing but eucalyptus leaves. But as the weather gets hotter and drier and carbon dioxide levels rise, eucalyptus trees are changing how their leaves grow. They'll have less protein, less nutrients, and more bitter, toxic tannins. Koalas may start to starve.

This is serious enough that the IUCN — the International Union for the Conservation of Nature — specifically named them as one of the animals most at risk from climate change.

Of course, the animals could just eat more or be more picky about which trees they live in, but there's only so much to go around. This'll mean that many koalas may need to travel long distances to stay fed. Scientists are predicting that koala populations may need to move to the south and east.


Koalas are not particularly fast or agile, so being on the ground puts them in a lot of danger from dogs and other predators. Image via Frankzed/Flickr.

And though traveling on the ground is something koalas could do, there's one particular problem the Liverpool koalas will have.

Namely, a giant freaking mine in the way.

Not only would the mine be, you know, a giant barren pit full of giant, dangerous machinery, it would also require new roads and railway lines to be built, which would only make it harder for koalas to migrate.

Plus the fact that burning this coal would release more carbon makes this mine a double whammy against koalas.

"Scientists are not optimistic of the ability of this highly specialised species to adapt to a changing climate," said a 2009 report by the IUCN (PDF). Though koalas are still widespread, they may not stay that way in the future.

The Australian federal government does not currently protect koalas as a threatened species, but farmers hope that by highlighting their plight, they can stop the construction of this mine and save their land (and an Australian icon) while they're at it.

Image via Kate Ausburn/Flickr.

If you're interested in lending a hand not just to koalas but to all animals threatened by fossil fuels and climate change, you can help by signing the League of Conservation Voters' petition telling Congress to support the Clean Power Plan.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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