Activists who use polar bears as a symbol of climate change are out of touch with reality

Young activists like Ollie Nancarrow from the UK need to find another symbol for their messages of climate change. Polar bears are thriving despite recent dramatic declines in summer sea ice: they have not been devastated as predicted by declining summer sea ice blamed on climate change. Anyone who uses a polar bear image to further a message of climate change, as Ollie has done, is simply out of touch with reality.

Standing bear_shutterstock_751891378_cropped web sized

UPDATE 4 June 2019: Police instruct activist teen to remove ‘rude’ message from UK field. He turned the penis into a turtle but apparently, the polar bear remains.

Here are the facts, references provided.

In September 2007, Arctic sea ice hit a low never before seen since 1979 and panic set in about the future of polar bears. Biologists from the US Geological Survey had just insisted that when sea ice declined 42% below 1979 levels, which was expected at mid-century, 2/3 of the world’s polar bears would be gone (Amstrup et al. 2007; USGS 2007) – a drop from about 24,500 to only 8,100.

Summer sea ice had declined to the dreaded 2050 levels decades before it was expected and has been at those levels ever since (Crockford 2019; Perovich et al. 2018; Stroeve et al. 2007), as the graph below shows.

Arctic_September_Sea_Ice_Extent_NSIDC_Stroeve_Wikimedia_to Sept 2007

Simplified predictions vs. observations to 2007 provided by Stroeve et al. 2007 (courtesy Wikimedia).

Below is a NASA sea ice map showing the extent at September 2012 was ‘reduced by nearly 50%’ compared to 1979.

Sea ice extent_2012_Sept low_reduced by more than 50pc_NASA Ice Imagery

Given the state of the summer sea ice since 2007, there should have been thousands of bodies every year. USGS biologists predicted that all bears in the green and purple areas of the Arctic shown in the map below would be gone – extirpated – when mid-century-like sea ice levels prevailed:


We should have witnessed a catastrophe but nothing like that ever happened!

Polar bear numbers have not plummeted as predicted.

Instead, even the most conservative estimates show a slight increase since 2005: from about 24,500 bears to 26,000 in 2015 (Amstrup et al. 2007; Crockford 2017, 2019a; Regehr et al. 2016; Wiig et al. 2015). A more plausible estimate that accounts for new estimates published since 2015 and for subpopulations that have never been surveyed or recently updated shows a moderate increase to about 39,000 bears (Crockford 2019b).

Polar bears simply don’t cut it as an icon for climate change.

Eighteen year old activist Ollie Nancarrow has his facts wrong: a polar bear is one of the least appropriate symbols of climate change he could have chosen for his insulting lawn-mower message to US President Donald Trump, as reported by the BBC (3 June 2019), headline below:

BBC message to Trump headline_3 June 2019

From this Bishop’s Stortford Independent report on the incident (3 June 2019), my bold:

“Alongside the greeting “Oi Trump”, the teenager – who is taking A Levels in art, product design and business studies at The Bishop’s Stortford High School – has crafted a cock and balls.

This is followed by the message “Climate Change is Real” and accompanied by a polar bear.

Ollie, who runs online marketplace, connecting buyers with eco-friendly traders, said: “Donald Trump and his denial of climate change are not welcome and I want him to be fully aware of that when he flies in to Stansted on Monday.”

Visitors to Ollie’s Born Eco website are greeted with the message: “Join a marketplace connecting you with eco-friendly traders, keeping human connection at the heart of any sale.

We have a goal, a goal to raise awareness of the need to become a more sustainable society. Together we can make a difference. Every eco-friendly purchase, every plastic bottle refused, every paper straw used brings us one step closer to achieving that goal.”


Amstrup, S.C., Marcot, B.G. & Douglas, D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. US Geological Survey. Reston, VA. Pdf here

Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access.

Crockford, S.J. 2019a. State of the Polar Bear Report 2018. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 32, London. pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2019b. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Perovich, D., Meier, W., Tschudi, M.,Farrell, S., Hendricks, S., Gerland, S., Haas, C., Krumpen, T., Polashenski, C., Ricker, R. and Webster, M. 2018. Sea ice. Arctic Report Card 2018, NOAA.

Regehr, E.V., Laidre, K.L, Akçakaya, H.R., Amstrup, S.C., Atwood, T.C., Lunn, N.J., Obbard, M., Stern, H., Thiemann, G.W., & Wiig, Ø. 2016. Conservation status of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to projected sea-ice declines. Biology Letters 12: 20160556.

Stroeve, J., Holland, M.M., Meier, W., Scambos, T. and Serreze, M. 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast. Geophysical Research Letters 34:L09501.

US Geological Survey (USGS). 2007. Executive Summary, USGS Science Strategy to Support U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Polar Bear Listing Decision. Administrative Report, US Geological Survey. Reston, Virginia. Pdf here. Note all of the 2007 USGS reports are archived here.

Wiig, Ø., Amstrup, S., Atwood, T., Laidre, K., Lunn, N., Obbard, M., et al. 2015. Ursus maritimus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T22823A14871490. Available from [accessed Nov. 28, 2015]. See the supplement for population figures, pdf here.

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