Worth watching if you haven’t seen it – and a second look if you have – a rare balanced documentary produced by the CBC in 2014 on polar bear conservation, with interviews with biologists Mitch Taylor and Andrew Derocher.
“In The Politics of Polar Bears, Reg Sherren will pick his way through the message track to help you decide what is really happening with the largest land carnivore on the planet.”
Short version here (about 18 minutes):
Entire version (45:30):
Online summary by the producer of the film, Reg Sherren (see excerpt below).
The most up-to-date discussion of polar bear numbers and the politics of polar bears are in my popular new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.
From Reg Sherren’s (2 September 2014) summary article:
“For some time now the suggestion has been that polar bears are in trouble and that many sub-populations of Ursus maritimus are decreasing, making them an iconic symbol in the fight against global climate change.
But there remains an ongoing debate within the scientific community that studies polar bears and their populations about whether the narrative of declining numbers is a stark reality or convenient myth.
Andrew Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, has spent his decades-long career studying polar bears, and has been more outspoken than most about the peril the big bear may face in the coming years.
“Our estimation is that we probably won’t have polar bears in Churchill once we get out to mid-century … They could be gone in a couple of years.”
“Our estimations are, if we had a very early melt, and a very late freeze, we could see up to 50 per cent mortality in a single year. You put a couple of years like that back-to-back, and things could happen very quickly,” says Derocher, in reference to a worst-case scenario about certain sub-populations he has studied. [SJC – see my post here on that issue]
But not everyone agrees polar bears are in trouble. Biologist Mitchell Taylor has studied polar bears and advised governments for more than thirty years, living in the high Arctic for much of that time.
“They’ve certainly been around through the last interglacial period,” says Taylor. “During that interglacial it was warmer than it is now: we had pine trees on Baffin Island, deciduous forests north of the Arctic Circle. Polar bears had to have survived that or we wouldn’t be seeing polar bears now,” he says.
Taylor asserts that polar bear populations “don’t appear to be declining” in any group that he is “aware of so far,” and that the science of estimating polar bear numbers has never been precise. He says that many of the current estimates are based upon a lacking methodology, admitting that some of his previous work incorporated the allegedly faulty technique as well.
Taylor says the problem lies in the way population estimates are extrapolated from samples.
“When you don’t sample the whole area you underestimate survival, you underestimate population numbers, and in fact the culmination of those biases can result in a scientific estimate that suggests a decline when none exists.” [SJC – See my post here about that issue]
It was just over a decade ago, says Taylor, that the notion that polar bears could be threatened by climate change gained traction. But he takes issue with the IPCC’s projection models for sea ice changes in the Arctic.
In 2008, he signed the controversial Manhattan Declaration on climate change, which argued that there was no conclusive evidence that carbon dioxide emissions from modern industrial activity was causing catastrophic changes in global climate.
“There was only one perspective, and that was what was provided by the IPCC,” says Taylor.
Taylor says that because he lived in the north he had direct contact with the people in the area, giving him a unique perspective on what was really happening on the ground.
“What they were describing was quite simply inconsistent with what I was hearing from local people, what I was seeing myself.”