Two years old today, this polar bear video is more relevant than ever:
“The polar bear as an icon for climate change is dead because the distorted predictions made by polar bear specialists were wrong.”
Most polar bears that spend the spring feeding in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Basin (such as the Beaufort, Chukchi, Kara, and Barents Seas) remain on the persistent pack ice of the central Arctic during the summer and this August, that refugium is still larger than Greenland. Most of these bears do not use this July-September Arctic Basin ice as a hunting platform unless they are very lucky: the few seals available are hard to catch. For the most part, polar bears fast or eat very little during the summer whether they are on land or on ice (see references in this post).
Since early June, sea ice experts have been wringing their hands over the melting of Arctic sea ice and offering breathless speculation that this year’s September minimum could be – gasp! – as low as or less than 2012 or even less. But now, as the graph of ice cover at 28 August shows below, that outcome is looking not just unlikely but virtually impossible (the blue line is 2019 extent, red dashed line is 2012, and the brown line is 2016):
As expected, the failure of the ice to remain on track to set a new record September low due to global warming is shrugged off with a reminder that summer ice extent “is sensitive to changes in daily weather conditions.”
It’s week 7 of the Churchill polar bear season that began in early July and it’s been remarkably quiet: compared to 208 and 2016, there were half as many problem bear incidents in 2019. A few bears have come off the ice near the community and they’ve been in good shape, as are the bears to the east at Cape Churchill (see one captured on live cam 23 August shown below) and the north at Seal River.
But it looks like many more bears than usual may have decided to ride out the slow-melting ice that lingered well past the first week of August and came ashore further south, towards the Manitoba/Ontario border.
If so, these bears will have to make their way north over the summer so they can intercept the first ice forming along the northwest coast off Wapusk National Park near Churchill. That’s why Western Hudson Bay bears are said to undergo a migration: no matter where they leave the ice in summer, most bears head to areas around Churchill so that they can resume seal hunting on the early fall ice.
A paucity of bears around Churchill in late summer/early fall is not unprecedented, however. Stirling and colleagues pointed out that in 1972 and 1973, for reasons they could not explain, there had been fewer bears than usual around Churchill well before freeze-up and therefore, fewer problem bears (Stirling et al. 1977:17).
Below is a comparison of the Polar Bear Alert Program report for last week (Week 7, Aug 19-25) to previous years.
Despite a demand by radical protest group Extinction Rebellion that governments “tell the truth” about climate change, it’s apparent that when it comes to walrus extinction risk they prefer the contrived walrus tragedy porn compiled by David Attenborough and his Netflix cronies over scientific evidence.
For this group of radical protesters, ‘the truth‘ is a narrative that serves their traffic-disrupting purposes. Since many gullible people – young and old – were horrified by the Netflix claim that hundreds of walruses in the western Arctic had hurled themselves off a cliff because of human-caused climate change, Extinction Rebellion plan to exploit this emotional connection during upcoming protests, apparently believing that what Attenborough told them was a fact. But in accepting docu-drama content without question, they are rejecting the best available science produced in 2017 by biologists who determined that Pacific walrus are not being harmed by the effects of climate change and are not threatened with extinction.
Given the issues raised by the Nature Communications blacklist fiasco last week, I thought it might be useful to show readers who don’t work in science an example of the kind of not-so-subtle dissuasion that can be used by scientists-with-a-climate-message to keep their colleagues in line.
A male colleague I know from work in another field of biology recently sent me a cordial email that I’m sure he thought was simply helpful advice to a like-minded associate. I doubt he realized how outrageously patronizing and presumptuous he was being.
If I were a female scientist with less confidence and experience, a note like this might have intimidated me into silence. The fact that he thought it was an appropriate thing to do is one of the reasons we have such a problem in science right now. See what you think:
Along with hundreds of other people – 385 to be exact – I have been blacklisted [#181] by the science journal Nature Communications in a recently-published abysmal paper by three authors from University of California Merced, after I and a number of others were publicly defamed by a squadron of authors in a similarly-stupid paper less than two years ago in the general interest journal BioScience. This obsession that scientists-with-a-message have about silencing peers with other viewpoints (rather than constructing and communicating a winning argument themselves) is vile and utterly counter to what real science is about. Not surprisingly, they positively fawn over media stars like Al Gore and Greta Thunberg who have no science background but willingly repeat the accepted message of climate-change-doom.
Now we have two stupid papers that purport to uphold the sanctity of one particular view of climate change: the Harvey et al. “absolutely the stupidest paper I have ever seen published” (Curry 2017) – which we all truly thought could not be matched – and now the Petersen et al. “worst paper published in a reputable journal” (Curry, 2019).
Judith Curry: “Apart from the rank stupidity of this article and the irresponsibility of Nature in publishing this, this paper does substantial harm to climate science.”
Jo Nova: “Skeptics get banned, rejected, blocked and sacked from the mainstream media yet somehow Nature has a paper on Skeptics getting too much media. Believers don’t have to be an expert to control the news agenda, just a Greenpeace activist, or a teenage girl. Skeptics on the other hand, can be Nobel Prize winners, but the BBC won’t even phone them.”
UPDATE 18 Aug. 2019: Additional commentary on this new paper (new or previously overlooked in my initial story); do cruise the comments, some additional gems of analysis there:
Visibility and Invisibility (15 Aug 2019)
A thin bench (15 Aug 2019)
Nature Defamation (16 Aug 2019)
Inside The Sausage Factory 18 Aug 2019
ADDED 20 Aug 2019: See this scathing letter to the Editor of Nature Communications by President of the National Association of Scholars, Peter Wood. (15 Aug 2019). In part, he states:
“Nature Communications has published an article which forwards the technology of censorship in pursuit of political activism, but which does not even pretend to forward scientific knowledge.”
It’s been a slow summer for polar bear news to hype, so we shouldn’t be surprised that a local report that polar bears this summer have descended on the town of Kaktovik, Alaska one week earlier than 2017 has morphed into an international story that makes a 2016 research report sound like this year’s news, with headlines trumpeting: “polar bear encounters are increasing” due to a longer open water period. Nevertheless, it was reported just two weeks ago that Alaska has not had a polar bear attack since 1993.
This is a particularly blatant example of how the media skew polar bear ‘news’ for public consumption, aided by scientists with a particular message to sell. Not surprisingly, a number of essential facts have been left out of this sensationized account, in part because the polar bear specialist the media consulted left those facts out of his statement. This is the sort of bias displayed by polar bear specialists that I discuss in my new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.
Just out this morning:
“Today, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt unveiled improvements to the implementing regulations of the ESA designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the Act into the 21st century.” USFWS Press Release, 12 August 2019.
Although much hue-and-cry will be written by conservation organizations and the media (here is one), I am providing for easy reference here links to the original press releases and documents issued this morning by the Department of the Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I am also providing pdf copies of the official documents to appear shortly in the Federal Register and quote the above USFWS press release in full.
It remains to be seen whether polar bears or other Arctic species of interest to me and readers of this blog will be affected. The new changes affect both the listing and delisting process as well as designation of critical habitat.
Polar bear habitat update for the first week of August 2019 shows there is still more sea ice than average in Hudson Bay, the southern-most area of continuous habitation for this species. That certainly wasn’t part of the predictions of doom, especially since freeze-up in that region for the last two years has also been earlier-than-average which means a shorter ice-free season than we’ve seen for decades.
Despite ice coverage for the Arctic ice as a whole being marginally lower than it has been since 1979 for this time of year, sea ice for the first week of August was also above average around Svalbard in the Barents Sea and higher than the last few years in the Central Arctic, which is a critical summer refugium for polar bears that live in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Ocean, including the Chukchi (see photo below, taken in early August 2018).
One of two alarming headlines that caught my eye this week was the ‘news’ on Monday that the waters off Alaska were now ice-free because of climate change, courtesy a story in the online media outlet Mashable that was later picked up by The Weather Channel and the UK mainstream paper The Independent. In addition, a large number of mainstream news outlets, including the New York Times and Newsweek, have reported that walruses came ashore this year at Point Lay, Alaska two weeks earlier than any year since 2007.
No one claimed this late July onshore movement of walruses was the beginning of the end of walruses but it was still blamed on human-caused climate change because it was associated with the aforementioned ice loss in Alaska.
Neither event was truly ‘news’. Moreover, neither an ice-free Alaska in early August or walruses onshore two weeks earlier than 2017 will have any negative impact on local polar bear or walrus populations, whether due to human-caused climate change or natural variation. Well-fed polar bears everywhere are quite capable of going 4-5 months without food in the summer and a few thousand walruses at Point Lay will feed happily from this shore-based haulout for a few days to a few weeks as they have done many summers since 2007 before moving on to other Chukchi Sea beach locations – although the ‘leaving’ events never seem to get any media attention. Walruses will haul out on beaches in Alaska and Russia until the ice returns in October.