Tag Archives: science

Communicating polar bear science requires a rational approach

My most requested public lecture, Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change, has been hugely popular with audiences in my Canadian home town of Victoria, British Columbia, and my newly-released book with the same title (based on that lecture) promises to be similarly successful. Here are some thoughts on both.

crockford_outstanding-survivors_lecture-vs-book-jan-2017

Recently (5 January 5, 2017), I gave another free lecture about polar bears to a local non-profit organization through my university’s Speakers Bureau. I’ve been doing this since 2009, although the shear volume of requests has been much higher this past year than previously. As before, my lecture was warmly received and audience members asked questions indicating they had been listening with an open mind. A colleague I spoke to expressed surprise at that outcome, given where I live.

Keep in mind that Victoria is home to litigation-prone IPCC climate scientist turned BC provincial Green Party politician Andrew Weaver (in whose riding I happen to reside) as well as one of the many targets of fake Nobel Laureate Michael Mann and his over-sensitive ego, veteran climate scientist Tim Ball (who defends the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Mann at trial in Vancouver, B.C. 20 February 2017,  an event which defender of free speech and fellow defendant against Mann’s litigious wrath, Mark Steyn,  has said he’ll be attending). And yes, in a sort of home-town science brawl, Weaver also sued Tim Ball, but that case has not yet gone to court. Victoria is also the constituency of our lone federal Green Party Member of Parliament, Elizabeth May. Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise once described Victoria as “one of the most left-leaning corners of the country.

So it is into this virtual lion’s den of anthropogenic global warming champions that I venture, several times a month, to enlighten adults, teachers, and students who have been left with the impression that there are only a few hundred starving polar bears left in the world.1

The secret to the kind of reception I receive – even in my town – is to present the relevant facts without emotional overtones and let audiences make up their own minds about what they think of the situation.

This latest lecture was not only well received but several audience members bought copies of my kid-friendly Polar Bear Facts and Myths that I had for sale (reviewed here by Kip Hansen).  One member came up afterwards to say he’d been dreading what he’d anticipated would be another polar-bears-are-doomed diatribe but was very pleased at my even-handed, scientific approach.

That’s why I decided to fashion my first fully referenced polar bear science book – and take it’s title – from my most successful public lecture. Audience responses over the years indicated to me that a simple summary would be an appealing approach. Questions from audience members over the years suggested which topics might need a more detailed explanation in the book. The lesson I learned from my lecturing experience was that my book needed a focused style, plenty of color images, and an affordable price.

Consider the table of contents for the new book, where each chapter covers only a few pages:

1. Polar bear & sea ice basics
2. Feasting/fasting life of polar bears
3. Evolution & climate change
4. Conservation & protection
5. Failure of the polar bear predictions
6. Biggest threat to polar bears
7. Summary
8. Conclusions

I expect I’ll get some negative fake reviews posted on Amazon for Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change from the self-appointed moral-high-ground troll network (as they did for Polar Bear Facts and Myths). That’s to be expected for a topic like this. Honest criticism from readers might also be generated, of course, and that’s something all writers can expect, and should welcome.

That said, the best way to counter biased or unconstructive reviews is with honest, heartfelt reviews from readers who have actually read the book. If any of you that have ordered a copy of this book but would like to see a pdf review document in order to post an immediate review, use the contact me form at “Comments/Tips.”

Both Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change and Polar Bear Facts and Myths are now available in paperback and various ebook formats, including epub and pdf. The little spin-off for preschoolers (Polar Bears Have Big Feet) – because why shouldn’t the little kids have a fear-mongering-free polar bear book with great pictures too? – is available in paperback only.

Footnote

  1. Without exception, every teacher of every school class I have spoken to in Victoria in the past year has been absolutely astonished to learn that the official global population estimate for polar bears is now 22,000-31,000, the highest estimate in 50 years. Virtually all expressed their appreciation for pointing out that simple fact. Hence, Polar Bear Facts and Myths is aimed at those misinformed children, while Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change is aimed at their teachers, parents, and other influential relatives.

Coming soon: the polar bear science books you’ve been requesting

It’s just past the first anniversary of the publication of my science-based novel, EATEN, so satisfied readers may be pleased to learn that I have a pair of polar bear science books set to be released.

Finally – books for adults and children that present the facts about polar bears without spin and fear-mongering about model-predicted futures: reference books that include the most up-to-date information that show polar bears have the innate ability to adapt quickly to changes in sea ice.

Barring major revisions, the covers will look like this:

os-and-fm-cover-drafts-14-dec-2016

One is a fully-referenced book for adults and high school kids called Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change.

The other is a fabulous companion or stand-alone summary volume (ages 7 and up), called Polar Bear Facts and Myths: A Science Summary for all Ages..

Both books are full-color and relatively short. With luck, they should be available next week, so stay tuned for details. Each will sell for well under US$20 (exact prices unknown).

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WWF and the International Bear Conference

The 24th International Conference on Bear Research and Management is coming up mid-month (12-16 June, 2016) in Anchorage, Alaska, and local media outlets are already gearing up. This conference is about all species of bears but the Arctic icon is apt to get most of the attention.

APM_The Science of Bears_June 7 2016 radio screencap_at 5 June marked

 

First up on the media roster appears to be an APRN Talk of Alaska radio talk show entitled The Science of Bears that will feature, among others, Steve Amstrup (spokesperson for Polar Bears International, of “Save Our Sea Ice” fame) and Margaret Williams (WWF, with a Masters in Environmental Studies), scheduled for Tuesday, June 7 at 10:00 AM Alaska time (that’s 11 AM Pacific).

Calls will be taken from the public and comments via email are invited (see below). It could be worth a listen, so mark your calendars. I’ll post a link to the audio podcast here if and when one gets published.

As for the ethics of such a close relationship of international bear scientists with the environmental activists at WWFone of the richest ‘charities’ around (and one might suppose, plans to stay that way), you’ll have to make up your own mind. Maybe the radio host will ask…

UPDATE 8 May 2016: Here’s the link to the podcast of this Talk of Alaska program from yesterday, which is provided in iTunes format (if you don’t have an iPhone or Apple tablet, you’ll need to down the iTunes program to your PC – a link for which is provided automatically. I did it and it works just fine. On the list of programs provided at the link, just click on the forward arrow to the left of “The Science of Bears”): https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/talk-of-alaska/id264469515?mt=2
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More Churchill polar bear captures due to increased vigilance not global warming

Polar bear specialists just don’t get it: virtually no one except the ever-gullible media believes their exaggerated stories of doom. Yet they keep trying and with every lie and misrepresentation of fact, they erode the confidence of the public. Unfortunately, it’s not just trust in polar bear specialists that’s being eaten away, it’s trust in science generally.

Churchill polar bear encounters up in 2015_CBC headline Feb 28 2016

This time, it’s a head-line grabbing piece about the number of problem polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba (written by Chinta Puxley) that made the usual media rounds yesterday (CBC News, CTV News, Global News, Huffington Post, Winnipeg Sun, The Globe and Mail). The main culprits are Daryll Hedman, regional wildlife manager for Manitoba Conservation, and polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher.

However, it’s hard not to see that the increased number of bears captured by Manitoba Conservation officers around Churchill can be best explained as a natural reaction by officials to a particularly frightening polar bear attack in 2013. Continue reading

Polar bear capital of the world stuck between fear-mongering and science

CBS News published a predictably one-sided “Cover Story” this morning (14 February 2016) about Churchill, Manitoba – the self-proclaimed Polar Bear Capital of the World. 

This is the online version of a Sunday morning TV special that’s not available where I live. It’s yet another example of how the media feeds the politics of polar bears and prevents the advancement of science. Here’s my take on this CBS effort.

Amstrup vs IUCN science_Feb 14 2016_PolarBearScience

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Polar bear myths perpetuate from the mouth of stuck-in-the-past Ian Stirling

In my last post, I complained about “vague and misleading statements” made by polar bear specialists and conservation advocates. Here’s a recent example of that phenomena, from veteran polar bear biologist Ian Stirling.

 

stirling_UA faculty page photo accessed July 22 2012

The magazine of Canada’s North, UpHere, published an interview with Ian Stirling this month. The piece begins:

“No fear-mongering. No exaggeration. For Ian Stirling, it’s purely about the science.”

Yeah, well – judge for yourself. Here’s a sample:

“We have lost on average about half the sea ice that we had in 1979, which is the first year that satellite coverage of the Arctic was taken [he’s talking about September ice here]. Places like Hudson Bay are breaking up three weeks earlier than they used to and freezing up a couple weeks later. We’re going to have even more significant effects over a much wider area in the Arctic. We’re likely to lose another 30 or 40 percent, or even half of the bears that we have today in the middle of the century, and unchecked, we will likely have very few bears left at the turn of the next century. In 2100, we’ll probably just have a few small remaining pockets in the northern Canadian Arctic islands and northern Greenland.”

Read the rest here.

Stirling’s opinion about polar bears and climate change hasn’t changed since at least 2004 despite the following scientific developments: Continue reading

Polar bears are not hungriest in summer when scientists are busy in the Arctic

Polar bears are leanest – and therefore, hungriest – at the end of March, not in the summer, as chemist Crispin Halsall stated in a recent article about working in the Arctic.

Polar bear feeding budget_PolarBearScience_6Sept2015

Recent September 1st stories by CNN and the BBC, based on a press release by WWF Russia on 27 August 2015, that five bears in the southern Kara Sea were hanging around a weather station and frightening workers there, apparently prompted chemist Crispen Halsall to make a nonsensical statement about polar bears being at their “hungriest” in summer (first here, reproduced here and picked up yesterday (September 5) by The Guardian here).

“In the path of the polar bears: what it’s like to be an Arctic scientist” (4 September 2015; Crispin Halsall, Reader in Environmental Chemistry at Lancaster University) had this to say:

“The case of Russian scientists trapped in their remote Arctic base by a group of inquisitive yet hungry polar bears does not come as a surprise. By late summer, Arctic sea ice is at a minimum and polar bears are effectively landlocked in coastal areas eagerly awaiting the return of ice during the autumn freeze and the chance to hunt seals again.

The Arctic summer is also the time of year when scientific activities are at their maximum, with bases operating at capacity and fieldwork operations at full flow, particularly in tundra and coastal regions. Polar bears are hungriest when scientists are busiest – “encounters” are inevitable. [my bold]

Polar bears are leanest – and therefore, the hungriest – at the end of winter (when it is more likely to kill with the intent to consume human prey) as stated clearly by Stirling and Øritsland (1995:2603):

Polar bears reach their lightest weights for the year in late March, just prior to the birth of the next cohort of ringed seal pups, which also suggests that it is the success of their hunting in spring and early summer that gives them the body reserves they need to survive through the rest of the year.” [my bold]

A polar bear that has not fed properly in spring – because it was young and inexperienced, too old or too young to defend its kills from bigger, stronger bears, or simply sick or injured – it might be unusually hungry in summer but it’s not the norm.  Polar bears eat nothing or very little over the summer (whether on land or on the ice) because they live off their stored fat – the physiological condition known as ‘fasting.’

The photos and video in the September 1, 2015 BBC story of the Russian bears shows this: the bears are fat, not skinny (“Video caption: Five bears settled near the weather station on the north Russian island of Vaygach, as Frankie McCamley reports”):

Beseiged by bears Russia BBC video Sept 1 2015

Polar bears might approach humans working in the Arctic during the summer because they are curious and/or bored, and they might attack and even eat humans because they have a drive to eat whenever the opportunity arises. But it’s not because they are “hungriest” in the summer.

References
Stirling, I. and Øritsland, N. A. 1995. Relationships between estimates of ringed seal (Phoca hispida) and polar bear (Ursus maritimus) populations in the Canadian Arctic. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 52: 2594 – 2612. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/f95-849#.VNep0y5v_gU