Polar bear doom and gloom from USGS vs. biologist Mitch Taylor’s reasoned thoughts

A few days ago polar bear biologist Mitch Taylor and Nunavut’s Gabriel Niryungaluk talked to Toronto radio host Roy Green about the recent USGS dire model predictions for the future of polar bears.

Taylor interview_5 July 2015 Polar bear numbers_radio

There’s an audio podcast and, courtesy of the valuable efforts of fellow blogger Alex Cull, a transcript. Links below, plus some excerpts of Mitch Taylor’s commentary.
Toronto, ON, Canada / Talk Radio AM640
The Roy Green Show
July 05, 2015 05:56 pm

“The U.S. Geological Survey just released a report this week “warning a third of the world’s polar bears could be in imminent danger from greenhouse gas emissions as soon as 2025…Greenhouse gases are blamed for the climate warming that’s reducing the polar bear’s summer sea ice habitat.” But is this talk complete nonsense?

We ask one of the world’s leading scientists dealing with polar bears. Dr. Mitchell Taylor, of Lakehead University has spent more than 30 years researching polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle both as an academic and government employee. Gabriel Niryungaluk is Nunavut’s Deputy Minister of the Environment. He has spent much time on the ice with Dr. Taylor, and also feels the bears are increasing in numbers.”

Podcast link, audio (July 5 2015): Polar Bear Numbers: Increasing or Decreasing?

Entire Transcript from Alex Cull

Transcript excerpt:

Roy Green: The US Geological Survey just released a report this week, quote, warning “a third of the world’s polar bears could be in imminent danger from greenhouse gas emissions as soon as 2025”, end quote. “Greenhouse gases are blamed for the climate warming that’s reduced the polar bears’ summer sea-ice habitat”, that’s another quote. Except… except… is that, in fact, the truth? In a moment, we’re going to ask one of the world’s leading scientists dealing with polar bears – Dr. Mitchell Taylor of Lakehead University has spent more than 30 years researching the status and management of polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle, both as an academic and a government employee. Dr. Taylor has spent much time on the ice with bears. And while he supports the view the Arctic has been warming over the past 30 years, he challenges the insistence that polar bear numbers are precipitously decreasing.

Remember that famous photograph of two polar bears standing stranded on a melting iceberg? Al Gore likes to show that one. Well, the fact is, it was just a photograph that was taken because the ice they were standing on was such a striking image. Who said that? The photographer said that. Oh, Dr. Taylor was also barred from attending a meeting of the Polar Bear Specialist Group in Denmark. Why was that? Um, because according to the chairman, it was – quote – “the position you’ve taken on global warming that brought the opposition.”  [SJC – details at the end of this post about this incident]

Dr. Mitchell Taylor joins me on the Roy Green Show, on the Corus Radio Network. We’re also, in a moment, going to be speaking with Gabriel Nirlungayuk from Nunavut, and he’s the Deputy Minister of the Environment for Nunavut. Mitch, good to have you on the show again – it’s been a while.

Roy Green: All right gentlemen, let me start – you were on the ice with the bears, you know the situation for what it is. When the US Geological Survey releases a report warning a third of the world’s polar bears could be in imminent danger from greenhouse gas emissions as soon as 2025, Mitch, what are you hearing? What’s the truth of this?

Mitchell Taylor: Well, I’m familiar with the methodology they’re using, and in essence it’s an expression of their opinion. I guess it’s heart-felt but it’s certainly not an established fact or anything that’s absolute – it’s simply their idea of what will happen if the carbon models are correct.

Roy Green: Do – er, Mitch, do – does the USGS – you said, earlier, when we talked, you said it was their “opinion”. You can’t be – you shouldn’t be releasing information warning a third of the world’s – world’s – polar bears could be in imminent danger from greenhouse gas emissions as soon as 2025, if you’re basing your – you know, that line on opinion, as opposed to true scientific research. And I don’t consider – sorry, but I don’t consider computer modelling to be true scientific research.

Mitchell Taylor: Well, the researchers themselves are being clear about what they’re basing their prognosis on, and it’s called a Bayesian network, sometimes called a belief network, and it’s just basically a group of people get together and they put together what they think “What would happen if…”?” and if they take their scenarios from the climate models… So the researchers themselves are not making claims that are being – that are false or hidden somehow in, you know, sort of, papers that are dishonest – it’s what people make of those. And partly, sort of, how it’s provided, as well, that’s where the problem seems to lie. Um, it’s – if you accept their arguments, what they say, you know, could come to pass but it’s not an empirical result, it’s not taken from data, it’s simply a collection of the people who contributed to this Bayesian network model.

Roy Green: So if I asked Dr Mitch Taylor –

Mitchell Taylor: Right.

Roy Green: – are the – based on your experience, based on your research, based on your time on the ice – and you were on the ice this spring, right?

Mitchell Taylor: Right.

Roy Green: If I asked Dr. Mitch Taylor to tell me his view of whether polar bears are in danger because of climate change, or in danger of massive population reduction because of climate change, what’s Dr. Taylor’s reply?

Mitchell Taylor: Well, I’d say: no, not at present. They appear to be as abundant and as productive as ever, in most populations. Again, my perspectives are a little bit dated now, Gabe has some more recent information, but he’s saying the same thing I would have said [laughs], eight to ten years ago, when I was more active in the north. Um, and there you have it – Gabe and I have made a Bayesian network model together [laughs] and we have an opposite conclusion to the one the USGS did. But I guess in the north country, where the polar bears live, we prefer to go by the data and by what local people say.

Roy Green: …. So, um, what is going on, then, Mitch? What’s the objective, here? Why are we getting this information if it’s, you know, it’s not – can’t back it up? What’s the objective, do you think?

Mitchell Taylor: Well, I don’t think you can just assume that the researchers that are coming forth with this information are doing so with an ulterior motive. Um, there is evidence of reduced body condition, some reduced survival rate in cubs associated with sea-ice decline. Sea ice has declined, carbon dioxide is increasing, there is a correlation there. I think a lot of, a lot of the researchers are concerned and feel that being precautionary is appropriate, and I think they’re, you know, frankly – most people, if you asked them on the street, would say that they believe it, that polar bears are in decline or in crisis because of climate warming. So they get a lot of positive feedback out of stepping up – it’s almost a cliche, the scientist steps up and warns of a bad thing happening. And nobody listens, and “Oh no”, and then it happens and the scientist saves the world. You know, it’s a movie theme.

Roy Green: Well it is, but again, if I’m listening to both of you, there’s no evidence to support the position that climate change is causing a precipitous decline in polar bear populations – not now.

Mitchell Taylor: Well once again, they’re not saying that it has declined, they’re saying that it –

Roy Green: – will, in ten years.

Mitchell Taylor: Yeah.

Roy Green: But the evidence would be noticeable already, I would think… in ten years down the road.

Mitchell Taylor: As Gabe said, they’ve, they’ve said that polar bears were declining in Western Hudson Bay, subsequent surveys showed they were wrong… said polar bears were declining in Western Hudson Bay and polar bears are not declining there, polar bears are staying about the same. Local people came forward with that information before the second survey was done. Um, they’re suggesting, you know, all these, sort of, dire events but they’re – the evidence for them is very weak or when subsequent research is done, you find out that the evidence was in fact wrong. So it’s a problem when the dominant perception of most of the people working in a field is inconsistent with the underlying reality. So –

Roy Green: Well, exactly. And then there’s also the perception on the street – as you said, where people, by majority, because they hear this information, will say “Well, yeah – polar bears are in decline, because that’s what I heard. They’re in decline because of climate change”. They don’t hear the other side of the equation.

Mitchell Taylor: Well, that’s true. I speak to students all the time. By the time they enter university, they’ve already been, sort of, convinced that polar bears are dying out, that the “canary in the coal mine” is dying. And they’re, sort of, shocked to find out that not even the people working on polar bears agree with that. They’re – they’re warning that this will happen, that no-one is seeing it happen yet, it’s – they’re saying it will happen 25 or 10 years or 50 years into the future, and it’s based entirely on carbon model projections. So, it’s – it’s a different way of, I guess, talking about the world. Sort of a – kind of almost like a crystal ball approach.

Read the entire transcript here. Gab Nirlungayuk’s thoughts are worth reading as well (I just didn’t want to copy the whole thing).

Contrast, if you like, with a radio interview featuring Eric Regehr and Todd Atwood, broadcast 7 July 2015.

NOTE: Details here (pdf Nova 2009) on Mitch Taylor’s expulsion from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group in 2009 (the same year they added WWF and Polar Bears International activists as full voting members).

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