ClimateGate news

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Polar Bears on Thin Ice, Not Really!

Published In: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Satirist Stephen Colbert coined a term truthiness, which the online encyclopedia Wikipedia explains is "to claim to ‘know' something . . . ‘from the gut' without regard to evidence, logic . . . or actual facts." Truthiness is an emotional appeal meant to short-circuit intellectual examination of the claims being made.

A prime example of the effectiveness of truthiness came in late December when environmental lobbyists persuaded the Bush administration to recommend that the polar bear be listed as threatened due to global warming. In lieu of evidence, environmentalists offered mostly anecdotes that polar bears are at risk: isolated reports of a few polar bears drowning in Arctic waters normally containing sea ice as well as a few instances of cannibalism among polar bears. Then they posited first that human caused global warming will melt most of the ice at the North Pole within 50 years, and that without the ice, polar bears will be unable to hunt seals, their preferred prey.

Environmentalists presented only one study which shows that one population of polar bears in Canada's Western Hudson Bay had seen a decline of 21 percent following a loss of the average weight of female polar bears which led to reduced cub survival.

Fortunately, both for policy and the polar bears, the plight of this one population does not reflect the population trend as a whole. Indeed, since the 1970s -- all while the world was warming - polar bear numbers increased dramatically from around 5,000 to as many as 25,000 today (higher than at anytime in the 20th century). And historically, polar bears have thrived in temperatures even warmer than at present -- during the medieval warm period 1000 years ago and during the Holocene Climate Optimum between 5,000 and 9,000 years ago.

Polar bears have thrived during warmer climates because they are omnivores just like their cousin's the Brown and Black bears. Though Polar Bears eat seals more than any other food source at present, research shows that they have a varied diet when other foods are available including, fish, kelp, caribou, ducks, sea birds, the occasional beluga whale and musk ox and scavenged whale and walrus carcasses. In addition, Dr. Mitchell Taylor, a biologist with Nunavut Territorial government in Canada, pointed out in testimony to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that modest warming may be beneficial to bears since it creates better habitat for seals and would dramatically increase blueberry production which bears gorge themselves on when available.

Alaska's polar bear population is stable, and Taylor's research shows that the Canadian polar bear population has increased 25 percent from 12,000 to 15,000 during the past decade with 11 of Canada's 13 polar bear populations stable or increasing in number. Where polar bear weight and numbers are declining, Taylor thinks too many bears competing for food, rather than arctic warming, is the cause. That's right, the problem confronting polar bears may overpopulation not extinction!

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) while arguing that polar bears are at risk from global warming presented data which actually undermine their fear.

According to the WWF there are approximately 22,000 polar bears in about 20 distinct populations worldwide. Only two bear populations - accounting for about 16.4 percent of the total number of bears - are decreasing, and they are in areas where air temperatures have actually fallen, such as the Baffin Bay region. By contrast, another two populations - about 13.6 percent of the total number - are growing, and they live in areas were air temperatures have risen, near the Bering Strait and the Chukchi Sea. As for the rest, ten populations - comprising about 45.4 percent of the total number of bears - are stable, and the status of the remaining six populations is unknown.

For now the government will be taking public comments on the proposal - let's hope some science: facts, accuracy and truthfulness make an appearance before this goes too far. The polar bear is not threatened or endangered and should not be listed as such as a backdoor way to restrict energy use in the United States.


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