Attenborough’s Arctic Betrayal: New video reveals that terrorizing young children about climate began with polar bears

My newest video released today summarizes the strong polar bear component to the terrorization of the world’s children about climate change, which began for many youngsters in 2006 with the BBC and Sir David Attenborough’s commentaries about the dire future of polar bears – and continues to this day. Kids get their climate change information from watching Attenborough documentaries at home and in school because they are trusted sources of information, but on the topic of Arctic victims of climate change, that trust has been betrayed.

Standing bear_shutterstock_751891378_cropped web sized

Many children and young adults worldwide, including 16 year old Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunburg, have been presented with such emotionally-charged and deceptive information about the Arctic through Attenborough’s productions that many have lost hope for the future. These despondent kids, as well as their parents and teachers, need reminding that while summer sea ice has indeed declined over the last few decades, polar bears, walrus, and other Arctic species are thriving (Aars 2018; Boveng 2016; Crockford 2017, 2018, 2019a, b; Kovacs 2016; Lowry 2015; MacCracken et al. 2017; Obbard et al. 2016; Rode et al. 2014, 2018).

Here is the video (13 minutes):

The press release issued by the Global Warming Policy Forum states:

It is the responsibility of teachers and parents to reassure these worried youngsters that polar bears and walrus are not suffering because of sea ice loss blamed on climate change. Children need to be told the truth: that whatever scary stories some biologists come up with about what might happen in the future, Arctic species have demonstrated that they are much more resilient to changes in sea ice than Attenborough’s films suggest.

The GWPF is sending copies of this video to all head teachers of UK schools together with a letter, telling them that they are responsible for the mental health of their pupils and that they have a responsibility to provide their pupils with accurate information about the state of wildlife in the Arctic.

The letter sent to head teachers will include a list of verifiable facts, with references, listed here.

Below is my timeline, with references, and below the references is a list of previous videos on this topic.


2006: In the BBC TV special, ‘The Truth About Climate Change: Part 1’ (available to teachers throughout Europe on DVD by 2008), polar bear researcher Nick Lunn is on screen and provides misleading information that suggests bears are being harmed by lack of sea ice in Western Hudson Bay. He tells broadcaster David Attenborough that females have been starving and their cubs dying because of reduced summer sea ice, in spite of documented evidence that similar phenomena happened in the 1980s and early 1990s before ice loss was an issue.

The Truth About climate change part 10_07 screencap cub

As I explain in my book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, the only way that Lunn got away with this slight-of-hand (e.g. Stirling, Lunn and Iacozza 1999) – which he and colleagues Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher are still doing – was by deliberately ignoring data collected in the 60s and 70s. Inclusion of those early years of data (e.g. Derocher and Stirling 1992) show weight loss and cub survival dropped inexplicably in the 80s and early 90s (before reduced ice was an issue) compared to the 60s and 70s, and then dropped again in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it was claimed climate change was to blame.

Stirling and Derocher 1992 fig 2

Derocher and Stirling 1992, Fig. 2 lower panel shows weight of adult female polar bears with cubs in autumn from 1965-1990.

2009 aside: After successfully getting polar bears listed as ‘threatened’ on the US Endangered Species List (which was international news in 2008), in 2009 polar bear scientists again exaggerated their evidence that bears were being harmed by lack of sea ice. Conservation organizations like PBI and WWF interpreted the 2009 IUCN PBSG report as saying that many regions of the Arctic now showed population declines. In reality, the report showed that only two populations surveyed that had shown a documented decline while four were either stable or increasing; several other populations were assumed to have declined because September ice extent had declined (e.g. Chukchi Sea) and the global population size had not changed (Obbard et al. 2010).

2011: In the climate change episode of his BBC Frozen Planet series called ‘On Thin Ice’, Sir David Attenborough repeated the above NGO misinformation from 2009 that polar bear numbers had been falling “in many regions” and told viewers that polar bear mothers and cubs were starving, even while showing fat healthy bears (below). This was shown in the UK and Europe early in the year, in December in the USA and was available worldwide on DVD by 2012.

Frozen Planet 10_56 Attenborough PB

2011: Greta Thunberg was about 8 years old in 2011 and says that’s about the time she began to be shown films of starving polar bears and other environmental calamities at school. These films caused her such distress that by early 2014 (at age 11) she had stopped eating and going to school. Below from the BBC (23 April 2019):

BBC video screencap with Thunberg video quoting starving pb images_23 April 2019

It was probably the BBC’s ‘On Thin Ice’ episode that Greta was shown but there were undoubtedly others, like the 2006 Attenborough-narrated BBC special from 2006. We cannot be certain exactly what films Greta was shown by her teachers (and it’s unlikely she knows herself) but the release date of the “On Thin Ice’ episode suggests it played a significant role even if it was not the only influence.

However, it seems Attenborough’s words about starving polar bears stuck with Greta more than the images of the fat bears that appeared in the film because published images of starving bears were rare over that 2011-2013 time period (see below): only one widely publicized incident falls within that period (and even then, only in the last six months of it) although there were at least two afterwards. In other words, I doubt Greta saw images of starving polar bears in 2011 or 2012 but she certainly heard about them in Attenborough’s films – which the 2013 incident would have reinforced.

Starving polar bear composite_11 Sept 2019

2015 aside: Summer sea ice had declined even further in the Arctic by this time, to about 42% less than was present in 1979. However, the estimate of global polar bear numbers rose slightly, from the ca. 24,500 cited by the USGS in 2005 to 26,000 (range 22,000-31,000) using similar methods. There had been no catastrophic decline in polar bear numbers as had been predicted.

2015: BBC Earth episode ‘The Hunt’ – about adapting to seasonal ice changes – features a Svalbard skinny bear hunting a bearded seal.

2017: BBC’s ‘Blue Planet II’ shows walrus mothers and calves on melting ice floes and so-called ‘desperate’ polar bears hunting them.

2019: Greta is enraged at political inaction on climate change and makes a speech to the UN in late September.

2019: BBC’s ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet: Asia’ (shown in November in the UK, scheduled for release in North America in January 2020) shows huge beach haulouts and several ‘hungry’ polar bears driving walrus over the cliff, all falsely blamed on climate change. Another episode of the series (‘North America’) shows fat polar bears hunting beluga from shore, which is falsely claimed to have never happened before (Smith and Sjare 1990) amid suggestions the bears are doing it because they are desperately hungry.

Seven Worlds One Planet NA A surprise attack trailer screencap

2019: In mid-December, seven-and-eight-year olds in Toronto are shown Greta’s speech to ‘inspire’ them to act on climate change and some are traumatized by it. Such actions by teachers give undeserved credence to Thunburg’s jaundiced view of the world and pass it along to younsters ill-prepared to assess its validity. As a consequence, the misinformation about polar bears that Greta received as a child from Attenborough’s films is causing many more young children to be terrified about the future of the world.

Second-last day of 2019: Greta is invited to be guest editor of a special New Years Eve BBC Radio 4 broadcast on climate change featuring Sir David Attenborough, in spite of long-standing accusations of BBC bias on this topic (Booker 2011), including very recent complaints: read here – listen here. For the first time, Greta is face to face with Attenborough (via Skype), the one person most responsible for providing the fake news about dying polar bears that so disturbed her back in 2011. In her interview, she acknowledged his role, saying,

…thank you for that, because that was what made me decide to do something about it.”

Conclusion: By early 2019, the misinformation fed to Attenborough by biologists had been exposed and most rational people realized that polar bears were doing fine despite declining summer sea ice. Hollow tales about a bleak future for polar bears had lost their power to impress the public and the use of starving bears to emotionally manipulate viewers backfired once people discovered that starvation is the leading natural cause of death for this species.

As a consequence, a number of climate change activists and their promoters declared the polar bear immaterial to their cause. The false starving polar bear meme had come back to bite them and it was time to move on. In May 2019, the New York Times proclaimed that “These Days, It’s Not About the Polar Bears” (showing a picture of fat Belushya Guba bears).  and by October, the Guardian announced a formal policy decision to eschew polar bear images when promoting their climate change emergency narrative. Activist biologists and their supporters were still frantically trying to keep the polar bear relevant but were rapidly losing ground: they over-sold their case and lost.

There is no indication Greta has ever questioned or thought critically about her initial impressions on the status of polar bears that she got from the films she saw in school when she was a very young child. Apparently, she believes every word Attenborough utters now, as she did then, as if he was some kind of messiah rather than the uncritical conduit for biased messages he truly is. Sir David Attenborough never questioned his sources and neither has Greta. Both are out of touch with reality on what is happening in the Arctic and it has tarnished their outlook on life: Attenborough, at 93, is no better informed than Greta, at 17. What a waste.

References

Aars, J. 2018. Population changes in polar bears: protected, but quickly losing habitat. Fram Forum Newsletter 2018. Fram Centre, Tromso. Download pdf here (32 mb).
Booker, C. 2011. The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report #5. London. Pdf here.

Boveng, P. 2016. Pusa hispida ssp. hispida. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T61382318A61382321. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T61382318A61382321.en.

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. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/

Crockford, S.J. 2018. State of the Polar Bear Report 2017. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report #29. London. pdf.

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

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

Derocher, A.E. and Stirling, I. 1992. The population dynamics of polar bears in western Hudson Bay. pg. 1150-1159 in D. R. McCullough and R. H. Barrett, eds. Wildlife 2001: Populations. Elsevier Sci. Publ., London, U.K.

Abstract. Reproductive output of polar bears in western Hudson Bay declined through the 1980’s from higher levels in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Age of first reproduction increased slightly and the rate of litter production declined from 0.45 to 0.35 litters/female/year over the study, indicating that the reproductive interval had increased. Recruitment of cubs to autumn decreased from 0.71 to 0.53 cubs/female/year. Cub mortality increased from the early to late 1980’s. Litter size did not show any significant trend or significant annual variation due to an increase in loss of the whole litter. Mean body weights of females with cubs in the spring and autumn declined significantly. Weights of cubs in the spring did not decline, although weights of both female and male cubs declined over the study. The population is approximately 60% female, possibly due to the sex-biased harvest. Although estimates of population size are not available from the whole period over which we have weight and reproductive data, the changes in reproduction, weight, and cub mortality are consistent with the predictions of a densitydependent response to increasing population size. [my bold]

Kovacs, K.M. 2016. Erignathus barbatus . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8010A45225428. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T8010A45225428.en.

Lowry, L. 2015. Odobenus rosmarus ssp. divergens. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T61963499A45228901. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T61963499A45228901.en.

MacCracken, J.G., Beatty, W.S., Garlich-Miller, J.L., Kissling, M.L and Snyder, J.A. 2017. Final Species Status Assessment for the Pacific Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), May 2017 (Version 1.0). US Fish & Wildlife Service, Anchorage, AK. Pdf here (8.6 mb).

Obbard, M.E., Cattet, M.R.I., Howe, E.J., Middel, K.R., Newton, E.J., Kolenosky, G.B., Abraham, K.F. and Greenwood, C.J. 2016. Trends in body condition in polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation in relation to changes in sea ice. Arctic Science 2:15-32. 10.1139/AS-2015-0027 http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/AS-2015-0027#.VvFtlXpUq50

Obbard, M.E., Theimann, G.W., Peacock, E. and DeBryn, T.D. (eds.) 2010. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 15th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 29 June-3 July, 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN. http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/meetings/

Rode, K.D., Regehr, E.V., Douglas, D., Durner, G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., and Budge, S. 2014. Variation in the response of an Arctic top predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. Global Change Biology 20(1):76-88. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12339/abstract

Rode, K. D., R. R. Wilson, D. C. Douglas, V. Muhlenbruch, T.C. Atwood, E. V. Regehr, E.S. Richardson, N.W. Pilfold, A.E. Derocher, G.M Durner, I. Stirling, S.C. Amstrup, M. S. Martin, A.M. Pagano, and K. Simac. 2018. Spring fasting behavior in a marine apex predator provides an index of ecosystem productivity. Global Change Biology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.13933/full

Smith, T.G. and Sjare, B. 1990. Predation of belugas and narwhals by polar bears in nearshore areas of the Canadian High Arctic. Arctic 43(2):99-102. DOI: https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic1597

Stirling, I., Lunn, N.J. and Iacozza, J. 1999. Long-term trends in the population ecology of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay in relation to climate change. Arctic 52:294-306.
http://arctic.synergiesprairies.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/935/960

Previous GWPF videos on the Arctic, polar bears and walrus

“Healthy Polar Bears, Less Than Healthy Science” — a 2014 interview
with Dr Susan Crockford. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg7R2GYvQz8

“The Walrus Fuss – Walrus haulouts are nothing new” — On the 2014
story that a large walrus haulout was a sign of climate change.

“A Brief History of Arctic Angst” — 2016. Dr David Whitehouse gives
an overview of Arctic sea ice alarmism in the climate debate.

“Polar Bear Scare Unmasked: The Saga of a Toppled Global Warming
Icon”. – 2017. Dr Susan Crockford argues that the use of the polar
bear as a symbol of climate change has no basis in facts.

“GWPFTV – Susan Crockford – The Death of a Climate Icon.” — Susan
Crockford explains why the polar bear no longer serves as an icon of
climate change. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCzwFalI8OQ

“State of the Polar Bear Report 2017” — Overview of the the GWPF’s
State of the Polar Bear Report.

“Dr Susan Crockford — White Lie: The Cruel Abuse of a Starving Polar
Bear” — 2018. A response to the images of a starving polar bear used
by campaigning organisations to advance their agenda.

“Netflix, Attenborough and cliff-falling walruses: the making of a
false climate icon” — A response to the WWF/Netflix campaigning
documentary which falsely claimed that walrus populations were
suffering from global warming.

“The truth about Attenborough’s falling walruses” — 2019. An update
to the story of the false claims in the WWF/Netflix documentary.

“Susan Crockford: No climate emergency for polar bears” — 2019. Dr
Susan Crockford argues that polar bears are not as vulnerable to sea
ice loss as campaigners claim.

“Susan Crockford | The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened” –
2019. A lecture by Susan Crockford on polar bear science and her
experience of challenging orthodoxy in academia.

“Falling Walrus: Attenborough Tacitly Admits Netflix Deception” –
2019. How the BBC’s Seven Worlds One Planet episode on walrus and
polar bear reveals that the WWF/Netflix Our planet eposide misled
viewers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5Ji6ME3Vlo

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