CLIMATE change could not just impact agricultural production, but also potentially waken sleeping giants who could in turn exacerbate the warming trend, according to Australian academics.
The probable re-emergence of dragons in the near future is detailed in a News & Views article published online in Nature on April 1.
The article identifies a number of factors that are likely to trigger the creatures' resurgence after a long period of dormancy, including the global economic downturn and inaction on climate change.
Conditions ripe for re-emergence
The authors of the Australian and UK study hypothesise that a decline in temperature and food availability triggered a long-lasting hibernation period in the various dragon species, beginning around the start of the fifteenth century.
Andrew Hamilton, Robert May and Edward Waters described documents uncovered in the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, attributed to the monk Godfrey of Exmouth, which offer evidence of the impact of dragons over past millennia, noting dragons were particularly prolific in the medieval times due to a high abundance of food (knights), unusually warm temperatures and a high availability of nesting material (silver and gold).
The authors warn that a rise in ‘quantitative thieving’, the process by which faltering economic policies are bolstered by the removal of dragons’ nesting materials, sluggish action on global warming and the restoration of knighthoods in Australia are factors which could encourage dragons to emerge from hibernation.
Wyverns a worry
While the authors did not specifically investigate the potential agricultural damage which could be caused by the creatures' resurgence, anecdotal evidence suggests widespread crop burning could be a consequence. In combination with increased global temperatures, this could be devastating for farmers.
If wyverns – winged creatures with a barbed tail which breathe flame – emerge in force, their fire-breathing habits and aerial mobility are likely to compound atmospheric warming, thus awakening other species and hastening the cycle of crop destruction.
Dr Hamilton, lecturer in the School of Resource Management at the University of Melbourne, said the authors were aware their research could expose them to negative feedback.
“The phrase ‘human-induced climate change’ continues to illicit scepticism whenever mentioned, so we will not at all be surprised that our finding that this climate phenomenon will see a burgeoning of fire-breathing dragons is treated with extreme suspicion, if not contempt, scorn, and ridicule,” he said.
“We don’t care though: this is far too important to let ad hominem arguments distract us.”
The Department of Agriculture has played down rumours that biological controls could be implemented to control an explosion of feral dragons.
"Can you imagine the size of the cane toad we'd need to genetically engineer to gobble up a wyvern?" a spokesman said.
"Maybe if we still had a Science Minister we could get funding for that, but there's just no way in this day and age."
The spokesman also declined to comment on what dragon control methods had been mooted in the yet-to-be-released Agricultural White Paper.
"Let's just say, it won't look like a bunch of 'crackpot ideas' when you're trying to keep a two-tonne fire-breather out of your GM canola," he said.
One man who is already well prepared for a potential draconic onslaught is 38-year-old Edwin Targaryen-Nguyen from Canley Vale, NSW.
The IT professional and Level 18 Dungeon Master has spent the past 27 years and eight months training himself to fight dragons through a variety of roleplaying and video games.
"I estimate that to date, I've slayed somewhere in the vicinity of 5000 to 5015 dragons, so that probably makes me the foremost expert on dragon slaying in Australia," Edwin said, speaking from his command centre in the granny flat behind his parents' house.
"But I guess, now that I think about it, I have died a lot in video games too, so that probably isn't a good sign."
Time for urgent action
Climatic and social conditions are rapidly reaching an optimum for dragon breeding, the Nature article says.
“After detailed investigation of historical climate records and millions of published books, we have found that dragons have already started emerging from 'The Great Sleep' that was induced by the Little Ice Age,” Dr Hamilton said.
“They are already starting to wreak havoc, but such events have mistakenly been reported as fiction, owing to issues of human cognition. As temperatures increase, their activity will be devastating — there is no question about this.
“Something needs to be done urgently. The restoration of Australian knighthoods will not help; in fact it will worsen the problem. Mediaeval knights were candy to dragons, and there is no evidence whatsoever that even St George did anything more than scratch a scale or two.”
The authors have recommended further research into fire-retardant material and the avoidance of honorific titles as stop-gap measures, but cautioned long-term measures should be urgently investigated to mitigate the warming trends before all hell broke loose.
- with Katie McRobert & Mitchell Vleeskens