“Polar bears miss the message on global warming” – my article in RANGE Magazine

Here’s an excerpt of my article “Polar bears miss the message on global warming,” just out in the Fall 2014 issue of RANGE Magazine.

AK PB N Shore-USFWS Barrow_labeled

The caption for a copy of the photo above, included in the article, says:

“In a recent TV ad campaign, the Center for Biological Diversity said, “global warming is pushing polar bears to the absolute brink.” Results of recent research show this to be a lie – fat, healthy bears like this one from near Barrow, Alaska, are still common and many of the assumptions used by computer models to predict future disasters have turned out to be wrong.”

Excerpt, from the Fall 2014 issue of RANGE Magazine:

Last summer, one of the most experienced polar bear researchers alive, Ian Stirling (formerly of the Canadian Wildlife Service), speculated at The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom that the death of a single old bear on Svalbard, Norway could be blamed on global warming. “This 16-year-old male polar bear,” said the caption of a photo of an emaciated bear splayed out on the tundra, “died of starvation resulting from the lack of ice on which to hunt seals, according to Dr Ian Stirling.” The story was picked up by news outlets all over the world.

Most disturbing was that there was no disclaimer from Ian Stirling pointing out that 16 years is near the maximum life expectancy for polar bear males in the wild, or that starvation is the primary cause of death for very old and young bears alike, whatever the state of sea ice coverage.

Many people picked up on the irrationality of the claim that one old bear had “died of climate change,” even committed conservationists who accepted the tenets of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW). Some of the criticisms of Stirling in social media were harsh.

For example, one reader of the Facebook page of Polar Bears International (PBI) responded to PBI’s explanation that Stirling only said the bear ‘likely’ died of starvation, replied:

“”Likely” does not cut it in science. This bear could have been injured or ill. I admire much of the work you do; but science is science. A hypothesis needs empirical evidence in order to be confirmed. You cannot try and make the science match your cause. No one is a bigger advocate for animal rights than I am; but I am also an advocate for the truth.”

(Note, sometime before April 28, 2014, the original post on this story plus a follow-up one (along with all of the comments) were deleted from PBI’s Facebook page.)

And from the original Guardian story, the day it was published: “Is it a scientific fact that polar bears never suffer from any illnesses at all and would live forever if it were not for climate change?

Similar criticisms could be found at all outlets that carried the story. The polar bear as an icon for CAGW lost significant value that week and I suspect, so did respect for Ian Stirling.

Non-profit conservation organizations – like the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and Polar Bears International, may still be hawking “save the polar bears” as a marketing tool, but its value is lost on all but the eternally gullible. Unfortunately for those hoping to profit from fear-mongering, polar bears have already been saved from the most serious threat to their existence – wanton overhunting – and recent sea ice declines have so far had no definitively negative effect on their numbers.

See the rest here [open access; pdf format, Pg 22-25 in the “Critters” section].

[http://www.rangemagazine.com/features/fall-14/range-fa14-polar_bears.pdf]

 

 

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