Hypocrisy of Arctic biologists: fossil fuels for me but not for thee

It takes a special kind of gall for biologists to plead for more funds to count and study Arctic marine mammals they claim are endangered by the use of fossil fuels, when their proposed field work cannot be done without the use of fossil fuels.

Polar_Bear_Biologist_USFWS_working_with_a_Bear_Oct 24 2001 Amstrup photo

A new Arctic “policy” paper was promoted last week by academia (press release here), blogged about by those who were unimpressed (“Another ‘polar bears are in trouble’ story….yawwwn”) and highlighted by a few who were impressed (the magazines SCIENCE: Huge data gaps cloud fate of Arctic mammals” and SMITHSONIAN (“It’s Hard to Protect Arctic Mammals When We Don’t Know How Many Live There”) — but covered by only one media outlet that I could find (e.g., here).

The paper is a decidedly odd mix: a plea for more research funds for increased monitoring of animal populations plus strident advocacy for regulating “greenhouse gases.”

The authors repeatedly used the phrase “greenhouse gases” in their paper (seven times) but did not mention “fossil fuels” even once, despite the clear relationship between fossil fuel use and the phenomenon known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW), examples here and here. Are they self-deluded — or deliberately disingenuous about their own contributions to a problem they insist is the greatest threat to survival of Arctic marine mammals?

The fact is, most of the monitoring research on Arctic marine mammals requires helicopters and/or fixed wing aircraft (e.g. Aars et al. 2009; Speckman et al. 2011; Stapleton et al. 2014) — aircraft which use huge amounts of aviation fuel, as well as engine oil. There is also the fuel and oil consumed by commercial flights required to get field crews and equipment moved around the Arctic. And don’t forget the rocket fuel needed to launch the satellites that track animals like polar bears and walrus across the landscape, or the small and large ocean-going vessels that are used routinely for Arctic research (e.g., here and here, see below) — they use fuel and engine oil as well.

Pacific walrus tagging from a small boat.  UAF Seagrant News 2002.

Pacific walrus tagging from a small boat. UAF Seagrant News 2002.

Polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher admitted, in his recent book (2012:107), that:

“…the lifeblood of most polar bear research is jet fuel needed by helicopters stored in strategically placed caches.”

Arctic biologists would not have jobs without fossil fuels; they could not study Arctic marine mammals without emitting a huge amount of “greenhouse gases.” How much additional fuel and engine oil would be required for the thousands (or more likely, tens-of-thousands) of hours of aircraft and boat time needed to increase research monitoring of all ice-dependent Arctic species across the Arctic, as they suggest?

In my opinion, the polar bear and Arctic ice seal biologists who co-authored this paper1 have a lot of nerve asking for additional field research funds (“monitoring programs”) in the same paper in which they insist (Laidre et al. 2015: pg 9) that to save Arctic animals we must:

“…reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases, the driver of climate warming and associated sea ice loss.”

Do they really believe that referring to fossil fuel use as “greenhouse gases” absolves them from acknowledging and taking responsibility for their massive professional contribution to global CO2 emissions? Apparently, they are of the opinion (as are so many other vocal activists), that only other people should reduce their fossil fuel use to save the polar bears.

If these biologists are truly convinced that generating “greenhouse gases” is as serious a problem as they insist, each and every one of them is as big a hypocrite as Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Footnote 1. IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) members Kristin Laidre, Eric Regehr, Øystein Wiig, Dag Vongraven, and Fernando Ugarte; as well as Erik Born, Kit Kovacs, Steven Ferguson, Peter Boveng, Robyn Angliss, Lori Quakenbush, and Christian Lydersen.

Aars, J., Marques, T.A., Buckland, S.T., Andersen, M., Belikov, S., Boltunov, A., and Wiig, Ø. 2009. Estimating the Barents Sea polar bear subpopulation. Marine Mammal Science 25:35-52. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-7692.2008.00228.x/abstract

Derocher, A.E. 2012. Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to their Biology and Behavior. Photographs by Wayne Lynch, in association with Polar Bears International. Johns Hopkins University Press. [see my review here]

Speckman, S.G., V. Chernook, D.M. Burn, M.S. Udevitz, A.A. Kochnev, A. Vasilev, and C.V. Jay. 2011. Results and evaluation of a survey to estimate Pacific walrus population size, 2006. Marine Mammal Science 27 (3): 514-553. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-7692.2010.00419.x/abstract

Stapleton S., Atkinson, S., Hedman, D., and Garshelis, D. 2014. Revisiting Western Hudson Bay: using aerial surveys to update polar bear abundance in a sentinel population. Biological Conservation 170:38-47. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320713004618#

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