Tag Archives: climate change

Still waiting for two thirds of polar bears worldwide to disappear due to lack of summer sea ice

It’s hard to believe that a polar bear specialist would claim that their predictions have come true, given the facts of the matter: that polar bears arguably number over 30,000 worldwide and regions with the most dramatic sea ice declines have not documented reduced polar bear health or survival. But in mid-July this year, Andrew Derocher – one of the field’s most vocal promoters – did just that: proclaimed on twitter that “virtually all of our predictions are coming true.” Except, none of them did, especially the most widely-promoted one, which failed spectacularly.

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Svalbard polar bear paper falsely assumes that loss of genetic diversity has negative consequences

A new paper published today deals with an animal conservation issue I’ve addressed twice before: the theoretical assumption that loss of genetic diversity must be detrimental to species survival despite there being little evidence that this has been the case in real life. For this new study, the authors carried out some complicated measuring of genetic diversity loss and inbreeding amongst and between Svalbard region polar bear populations between 1995 and 2016 (see map below), and then modelled what this could lead to in 100 generations (1210 years), with the over-anxious hand-wringing we’ve all come to expect from such prophesies. As far as I can see, it’s all meaningless number-crunching without relevance to the real world of polar bears.

To support their claim of harm from loss of genetic diversity, the authors of this paper (Maduna et al. 2021) cite four theoretical papers that assume as fact that loss of genetic diversity is harmful but not the evidence to back up the claim. They apparently never bothered to look at species that have actually suffered dramatic loss of genetic diversity. Northern elephant seals, for example, reduced to 20-30 animals more than 100 years ago, have rebounded to a population of about 170,000 with extremely low genetic diversity but no apparent health or survival repercussions. Similar genetic bottlenecks and recoveries have been documented in Guadalupe fur seals, San Nicolas Island foxes, mouflon sheep, and North Atlantic right whales (among others), which I discussed in detail here (with references). I discussed the issue again in regards to a similar polar bear ‘genetic diversity’ paper in 2016.

Conspicuous by its absence in this new publication is a citation of the recent paper that revealed the body condition of female Svalbard polar bears had increased significantly between 2004 and 2017 despite a pronounced decline in summer and winter sea ice extent (Lippold et al. 2019: 988). Nor did the paper cite data collected by the Norwegian Polar Institute that show the body condition of adult males in Svalbard has not changed since 1993 or that population numbers have not declined. Instead, the authors mention only that reduced numbers of pregnant females have reached traditional denning areas due to lack of ice and that bears have spent less time feeding at glacier fronts than they used to do (Maduna et al. 2021: 2), as if the only polar bear data available in relation to sea ice decline was negative.

Figure 1 from Maduna et al. 2021

Population bottlenecks during the Last Glacial Maximum when suitable habitat was scarce and another in the late 1800s/early 1900s due to wanton overhunting left polar bears with remarkably low genetic diversity but no apparent ill-effects to their overall heath. Oddly, this recent work by Maduna and colleagues assumes without evidence that a bit less genetic diversity could be devastating to Svalbard bears more than 1000 years from now. While the media expectedly promote this as scary new evidence of what climate change has wrought (here and here), I am not impressed.

This is conservation biology done WWF-style: loss of genetic diversity sounds bad to people who don’t know better, but real-world evidence shows it isn’t.

References

Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., Andersen, M., Polder, A., Lyche, J.L., Bytingsvik, J., Jenssen, B.M., Derocher, A.E., Welker, J.M. and Routti, H. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.8b05416

Maduna, S. N., Aars, J., Fløystad, I., Klütsch, C. F. C., Zeyl Fiskebeck, E. M. L., Wiig, Ø. et al. 2021. Sea ice reduction drives genetic differentiation among Barents Sea polar bears. Proceedings of the Royals Society B  288 (1958): 20211741. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1741 OPEN ACCESS

Tipping points, Attenboroughesque narratives of climate doom and dying polar bears

Outlandish ‘tipping point’ rhetoric is about to be regurgitated once again during the promotion of the latest IPCC report, due today. Tipping points are those theoretical climate thresholds that, when breeched, cause widespread catastrophe; they are mathematical model outputs that depend on many assumptions that may not be plausible or even possible.

Polar bears often get caught up in motivational tales of sea ice tipping points.

Tipping points are not facts: they are scary stories made to sound like science.

This is why Sir David Attenborough has totally embraced the tipping points narrative. He even made a movie fully devoted to them, called, Breaking Boundaries – The Science of Our Planet. Tipping points are the animal tragedy porn of mathematical models and Attenborough has adopted them both.

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A literary review of my polar bear attack thriller, with all the condescending attitude you’d expect

For your amusement, I present a book review of Eaten from an Austrian academic specializing in contemporary literature by the name of Michael Fuchs. I came across his book chapter last week, buried deep within Google offerings, while looking for something else. I laughed all the way through it.

Here is the abstract:

This chapter draws on Margaret Atwood’s vision of Canada as a Gothic space, examining how contemporary texts continue to invoke imagery of human and animal as antagonists competing for the same space. Fuchs analyzes a corpus of three “bear horror” fictions, the horror film Backcountry (2014) and two novels, The Bear (2014) by Claire Cameron and Susan J. Crockford’s near-future polar bear-themed Eaten (2015). It argues that animal predation on humans provides a powerful symbolic vehicle for bridging the human–animal divide, as it overrides the theory of human exceptionalism, offering a critical view of the entanglement of humans and nonhumans in the Anthropocene.”

A friend that I shared the essay with commented:

“My favourite sentence (new word of the day, class, please use “diegetic” in a sentence):

These constant slippages between ontological levels puzzle the reader in ways similar to how Anna is confused by the goings-on in the diegetic reality.” [pg. 263]

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Surprising sea ice thickness across the Arctic is good news for polar bears

This year near the end of May the distribution of thickest sea ice (3.5-5m/11.5-16.4 ft – or more) is a bit surprising, given that the WMO has suggested we may be only five years away from a “dangerous tipping point” in global temperatures. There is the usual and expected band of thick ice in the Arctic Ocean across northern Greenland and Canada’s most northern islands but there are also some patches in the peripheral seas (especially north of Svalbard, southeast Greenland, Foxe Basin, Hudson Strait, Chukchi Sea, Laptev Sea). This is plenty of sea ice for polar bear hunting at this time of year (mating season is pretty much over) and that thick ice will provide summer habitat for bears that choose to stay on the ice during the low-ice season: not even close to an emergency for polar bears.

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Wandering polar bears are the new starving polar bears, falsely blamed on climate change

Back in 2017, we famously had National Geographic falsely blaming a starving polar bear on climate change but since then we have been inundated (relatively speaking) with stories of ‘wandering’ bears sighted far from Arctic coastlines. These wandering bears are oddities to be sure but are not in any way an indicator of melting Arctic sea ice or lost habitat, as The Times (UK) has claimed in this latest example (Polar bear treks 1,500 miles south as Arctic hunting zone melts away).

Similar to three other recent examples, from 2019 – in Alaska in winter, in Chukotka in early spring, and Siberia in late spring – this month’s example cannot rationally be blamed on lack of sea ice. This year’s bear took at least eight weeks to travel from the Lena River Delta area of the Laptev Sea to a small village in Yakusk, Russia where it was captured on 11 May, shown below on the map of the route it took included in the story at The Daily Mail (11 May).

From The Daily Mail, 11 May.
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Attenborough twisted the truth about dying walrus: why believe him on climate change?

Sir David Attenborough hid the truth about hundreds of walrus falling off Siberian cliffs to their deaths a few years ago – he insisted this was due to climate change, but we now know he was well aware the tusked beasts fell because they were being stalked by predatory polar bears. Since he was willing to tell outright falsehoods about dying walrus to powerful elites at the 2019 World Economic Forum, I expect he’d say anything to advance his agenda with members of the UN Security Council.

Headline quotes from Attenborough’s address to the UN Security Council today:

“Climate change a threat to global security

Climate change could, within a lifetime, destroy “entire cities and societies

“Climate change is biggest threat modern humans have ever faced”

In other words, lots of emotional hyperbole from a showman who wants to leave a legacy. This is not the dispassionate science we require to make sensible decisions about the future. Attenborough spouted contrived nonsense about walrus and now spouts contrived nonsense about climate change.

UPDATE 25 February 2021: UN Security Council rejects the notion that climate change is a global security issue (Politico, 24 Feb 2021), with Russia and India objecting strenuously. H/T GWPF.

Fact: polar bears are thriving despite sea ice loss according to the scientific literature

Is Facebook now an expert on polar bear conservation status? Apparently they have decreed themselves the last word for online content. There is a plan afoot to label anything that says polar bears are not being harmed by recent sea ice declines as ‘disinformation’ – but on whose authority? Thanks to Josh for the cartoon below.

A new section of the Climate Science Information Center, launching alongside the labelling trial, debunks common myths such as the false claim that polar bear populations are not suffering due to global heating, or the widespread belief that excess carbon emissions help plant life. Facebook is working with climate communication experts from around the world, including at the University of Cambridge, to produce the content.

Ah, they’re consulting ‘climate communication experts‘! Those experts surely must be up on all the latest papers and not trusting the word of obviously biased conservations organizations like the WWF or PBI whose real reason for existence is the generation of as much money in donations as possible?

The peer reviewed literature supports the claim that polar bears are currently thriving despite recent ice declines – especially in the Chukchi and Barents Seas – regardless of what computer model predictions say about what might happen in the future. This is a fact, not a ‘myth’. See my paper from 2017 and my 2019 book for most of the citations (Crockford 2017, 2019) and others in the reference list below. Check them out yourself before you believe Facebook. Ask me for any paper you’d like to see via the ‘contact me’ form and I’ll send it along. Also, look for my State of the Polar Bear Report 2020 next week.

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Top six polar bear stories of 2020

Here are the six most important polar bear stories I wrote about in 2020 that are worth reading if you missed them.

 

These posts cover new evidence that polar bears are thriving (including more populations stable or increasing) despite recent declines in summer sea ice blamed on climate change, an explanation of why the simplistic ‘less ice, fewer bears’ is false and a short post that shows a much-publicized new model predicting future extinction of polar bears is scientifically implausible. Honourable mention goes to a story refuting the claim that Alaskan polar bear cubs are at risk from oil exploration in coastal Wildlife Refuge.

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Polar bear research on hold in Western Hudson Bay due to COVID-19 restrictions

After spring polar bear research was cancelled in Western Hudson Bay (and pretty much everywhere else) this year because of Covid 19 concerns, it now transpires that fall research is out as well. Travel restrictions implemented by government departments and university administrations (not the health department) apparently mean fall programs to assess the health and status of polar bears in Western Hudson Bay have been put on hold.

Triplet litter of polar bear cubs spotted in Wakusp National Park, Western Hudson Bay. 23 October 2020. Courtesy Explore.org.

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