The Polar Bear is extremely unique in that it moves within two worlds; the land and the sea. With an almost mystical presence the Polar Bear is also called the "Sea Bear". Polar Bears are captivating in their beauty, magnificent
in their adaptability and a true Icon for the Polar North. Polar Bears live only in the circumpolar north (Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway) and are the world's largest land predator and marine mammal. Polar Bears
are completely dependent on sea ice. The sea ice provides openings called "leads" for the polar bear to hunt seals, provides the terrain for the raising of their young, and allows the Polar Bear to move from hunting grounds to
seasonal summer resting areas. The stark reality is: No ice..........no Polar Bear. No Polar Bear.......no Arctic. As little as 25 years ago, more than 100,000 Polar Bears graced the Far North. Due to rapidly declining sea ice, in 2008,
scientists estimated that there are 20,000 to 25,000 Polar Bears left on the Earth. Because of the potentially catastrophic loss of the Polar Bear it has become the icon for climate change and global warming.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Polar bear litters are declining because their mothers are too malnourished to bring cubs to term or nurse them as infants. Historically, triplets and twins would commonly emerge from
maternity dens, but now twins and singletons are the norm. According to a study published in Nature Magazine on February 8, 2011, the reason is loss of sea ice resulting from climate change. As the sea ice melts at a faster
pace, polar bears have less chance to build up the necessary body weight they need to come to land and hibernate – this is especially true for pregnant females. The survival of cubs during pregnancy and infancy is closely linked
to the amount of energy pregnant females have stored up before denning during the winter months. Higher temperatures mean that sea ice is forming later and melting sooner, forcing polar bears ashore before they can build up
sufficient body weight to stay healthy, breed and raise their cubs. If this trend continues as predicted, the polar bear population will be in serious jeopardy. The Arctic is especially hard hit, with winter temperatures in
northeastern Canada now more than 18 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, and continuing to climb. The same situation faces polar bears throughout the entire north.
“Species everywhere are feeling the heat, but none more extreme than polar bears and other Arctic species,” said Geoff York, World Wildlife Fund's Polar Bear expert. The disappearance of sea ice is a particularly dire threat to
the polar bear, a super specialist in the Arctic environment. Polar bears rely on the ice to hunt seals, their main food source, and also to rest between hunts out on the ice. Trapped, drowning and starving bears have become such
a concern that in September 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a series of studies that led its scientists to conclude that “future reduction of sea ice in the Arctic could result in a loss of of the world’s polar bear
population within 50 years.” As sad as such a fate for this majestic creature would be, the consequences would extend far beyond the bear. A polar bear decline could trigger what biologists call a “trophic cascade,” or a
complete uncoupling of the Arctic food chain.
As with all mammals at the top of the food chain, the Polar Bear oversees an intricate and rare ecosystem of wildlife and plant life that will be profoundly affected by prolonged warming in the Arctic. According to the NOAA, it is
important to understand that ice thaw will have immediate effects on everything in the marine food chain, from benthic invertebrates to marine mammals. What will be the fate of the ringed seal, bearded seal, bowhead, beluga,
and walrus — all creatures that depend on the ice for habitat or food? Warming not only affects sea ice, it alters the Arctic’s entire terrestrial landscape. Scientists all over the world are watching the Arctic carefully because the
fragile and specialized Arctic ecosystem is telling the global warming story for the entire planet.
According to NASA, The polar bear could become the first mammal to lose 100 percent of its habitat to global warming. Scientific data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that over
the past three decades, more than a million square miles of sea ice(1,609,344 kilometers)—an area the size of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden combined—has disappeared. In some areas, the sea ice that is left is melting about
three weeks earlier than in the past—a loss of critical weeks that leaves the bears less time to hunt and store up fat for the five to seven months females spend ashore in summer, preparing to enter their maternity dens.
Scientists at the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research predict that, if the current rate of global warming continues, the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer by 2040. As a result, wild polar bears could face global extinction by
the end of this century.
WHAT IS CAUSING GLOBAL WARMING AND THE MELTING OF THE ARCTIC?
There’s no doubt the Arctic is warming. Arctic sea ice has been melting at alarming rates in recent decades and projections show no sign of it slowing. The National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that, in January 2010,
Arctic sea ice was at its lowest January level since satellite records began in 1979, while the air temperatures over much of the region were 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal. In fact, this extreme region has
warmed faster than any other on earth, with the Arctic temperature increasing three to five times faster than the Earth as a whole over the past 100 years. Climate models predict that the Arctic will become an additional 7 to 12
degrees Fahrenheit warmer during the next century. With the Arctic experiencing the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth, the plants and animals that have evolved to survive in this extreme habitat come increasingly
under threat. Like the canary in the coal mine, the Arctic can serve as our early warning sign of impending climate change. Observing the tumultuous change its inhabitants are experiencing can be a lesson to us about the
changes in store for the rest of the world. “Unless we take action to curb climate change and transition to low-carbon energy sources like renewable energy, we will consign our planet to a very perilous path,” say lead scientists
for Arctic Climate Assessment.
Worldwide demand for oil, gas and electricity is killing the Arctic. The Arctic being an "indicator" ecosystem exemplifies what could potentially happen to the entire planet. As our population pushes toward 7 billion it has
reached its "carrying capacity" meaning it can no longer sustain the rapidly growing demands of our industrial growth society. When we burn fossil fuels -- oil, coal and gas -- to generate electricity and power our vehicles, we
produce the heat-trapping gases that cause global warming. The more we burn, the faster churns the engine of global warming. Thus the most important thing we can do is save energy and invest in renewable energy sources,
such as solar, wind and biomass.
The 5 top Global warming causes according to the Environmental Protection Agency are:
1. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants . Our ever increasing addiction to electricity from coal burning power plants. 40% of US CO2 emissions come from electricity production, and burning coal accounts
for 93% of emissions from the electric industry. Every day, more electric gadgets flood the market, and without widespread alternative energy sources, we are highly dependent on burning coal for our personal and commercial
2. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning gasoline for transportation.
3. Methane emissions from animals and agriculture such as rice paddies. Methane is another extremely potent greenhouse gas, ranking right behind CO2. When organic matter is broken down by bacteria under oxygen-starved
conditions (anaerobic decomposition) as in rice paddies, methane is produced. The process also takes place in the intestines of herbivorous animals, and with the increase in the amount of concentrated livestock production, the
levels of methane released into the atmosphere is increasing.
4. Deforestation, especially tropical forests for wood, pulp, and farmland. The use of forests for fuel (both wood and for charcoal) is one cause of deforestation, but in the first world, our appetite for wood and paper products, our
consumption of livestock grazed on former forest land, and the use of tropical forest lands for commodities like palm oil plantations contributes to the mass deforestation of our world. Forests remove and store carbon dioxide
from the atmosphere, and this deforestation releases large amounts of carbon, as well as reducing the amount of carbon capture on the planet.
5. Increase in usage of chemical fertilizers on croplands.In the last half of the 20th century, the use of chemical fertilizers (as opposed to the historical use of animal manure) has risen dramatically. The high rate of application of
nitrogen-rich fertilizers has effects on the heat storage of cropland (nitrogen oxides have 300 times more heat-trapping capacity per unit of volume than carbon dioxide) and the run-off of excess fertilizers creates ‘dead-zones’ in
our oceans. In addition to these effects, high nitrate levels in groundwater due to over-fertilization are cause for concern for human health.
For more on Global Warming go to 350.org.
POLAR BEAR LEGISLATION
In 2005, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) classified polar bears as vulnerable on the IUCN World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species noting that extinction could occur due to sea ice changes.
Polar bears were listed as a "threatened species" under the Endangered Species Act during the Bush administration in 2008. The listing is a clear indication that climate change impacts are already threatening the survivability of
animals and habitats, and illustrates the urgency of preparing for and adapting to a rapidly changing climate.
In 2010, conservation groups, scientists, biologists and climate change experts spurred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect 120 million acres of the species’ habitat, the largest critical habitat designation in Endangered
Species Act history. The Endangered Species Act prohibits federal agencies from authorizing activities that will destroy or harm a listed species’ critical habitat. The Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the state of Alaska are
challenging this 2010 designation. The plaintiffs complain that the protections for polar bear habitat
will be an impediment to oil drilling in the Arctic. See the following article.
“If polar bears are going to live to see the next century, we have to rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the Arctic, not turn it into a dirty industrial zone,” said Rebecca Noblin, the Center for Biological
Diversity’s Alaska director. “To protect polar bears we must protect the places they live, both from dangerous climate change and from oil spills. “With their homes literally melting beneath their feet, polar bears need all the
protection they can get,” said Jason Rylander, an attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “If polar bears are to survive the impacts of climate change, we have to protect the habitat that is critical to their ability to find food and raise
In 2010, the Obama administration dealt a painful blow to polar bears in approving an offshore oil and gas leasing program in the species’ habitat. In December 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a revised offshore
plan allowing drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea — putting polar bears and the entire Arctic ecosystem at risk. This decision was finalized after the disastrous April 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico!!
To date, the polar bear doesn’t have complete federal protection. In 2011, due to high demands for more fossil fuel and unrest in the middle east, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing regulations that will allow oil
companies to drill in sensitive Arctic areas (despite listing polar bears as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act) thus harming Polar Bears and their habitat over the next 5 years. The Obama Administration and Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar have refused to upgrade the bear’s status from threatened to endangered (an endangered listing would allow full protection of Polar Bear habitat) and have issued a revised offshore plan allowing oil drilling
in the heart of the polar bear’s Alaska Arctic habitat. In doing so, the Obama administration has ignored hundreds of thousands of citizen petitions to save the bear, as well as requests from more than 1,300 scientists, more than
50 prominent legal experts, dozens of lawmakers and more than 130 conservation organizations. See article one. See article two.
The Polar Bear has become a political pawn in a government pandering to big oil and corporate climate change critics. The Polar Bear is not viewed as a valued species within a unique and highly diverse ecosystem that is under
siege. The Polar Bear is receiving very little protection under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It is viewed as an obstacle to securing future energy reserves. Protecting the Polar Bear and the
fragile Arctic ecosystem means limiting offshore oil drilling, natural gas exploration and the emission of carbon gases. These very issues threaten our culture's "consume at no cost" psychology. Today, the Polar Bear has
become a universal symbol for humankind's endless consumption of natural resources and our unwillingness to live within the Earth's limits.
WHAT YOU AND I CAN DO TO PROTECT THE POLAR BEAR
Mitigating and removing direct threats from industrial activity such as offshore oil, mining and gas development is complex. It is obvious that much of what confronts you and me is out of our individual hands. Protecting critical
Polar Bear habitat is a big job for scientists, biologists, environmental lawyers and respected conservation groups. And you can help! Here are a few highly respected and devoted groups to research and get involved with:
Center for Biological Diversity
World Wildlife Fund
Along with the burning of fossil fuels the Arctic faces an uncertain future as oil and gas exploration escalate. Deep sea drilling would likely undermine the entire Arctic Ecosystem. While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf
of Mexico last April was a disaster for the people and wildlife in the Gulf region, it was a stark reminder of the negative impact offshore oil and gas drilling could have on America’s Arctic, home to 20% of the world’s polar bears.
Frigid temperatures, powerful ice and the remoteness of the Arctic would make it challenging – perhaps impossible – to stop or clean up an oil spill there. Tell Congress and President Obama to protect polar bears and other
Arctic wildlife by addressing the “serious concerns” the President’s National Commission has about drilling in America’s Arctic. Below is the presidents comment line and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's office number. Call, leave
a message and do it as many times as you feel inclined. It has an impact and you are using your voice to support and protect the Polar Bear.
Presidents comment line: 1-202-456-1111
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (see his role under legislation) 1-202-208-3100
Check out the US Government website for important names and numbers.
Support groups and conservation efforts to get the Polar Bear upgraded from "threatened" to "Endangered". The groups to consider are the same as above.
Act now to reduce global warming pollution: Global warming is not only the biggest threat to polar bears, but it is also the leading environmental threat to our planet as a whole. There are so many small steps we can take
individually to reduce our carbon footprint:
1. Eat less meat! The meat industry is the third largest contributor of green house gases. In addition, farm factories and slaughter houses are known for their inhumane, but "efficient" animal practices. When you eat meat, eat
organic and free range. You are supporting organic farming and humane animal practices. Each person can have a huge impact with this simple and kind act. See article.
2. Carpool and condense your use of fossil fuels by doing errands once a week instead of twice or three times per week.
3. Each time you turn out the lights in an empty room, reduce laundry loads, ride your bike, unplug electronics and take a shower versus a bath......... just say to yourself, "this is for the Polar Bears!"
4. Recycle, compost and reduce your use of plastics. All of this benefits the oceans, the soil and reduces green house gas emissions.
5. Calculate your carbon footprint. Go to carbon footprint calculator.
Reducing CO2 emissions, mediating climate change and moving from off shore drilling to sustainable energy seems a huge order for a world addicted to oil, consumerism and technical growth. It is extremely vital that you and I
not feel that we are responsible for fixing all of these problems. We are one strand in a intricate web of Life. We are asked only to do our part, speak up for what will heal the planet and not fall prey to apathy! As eco-justice
activist and prophet Joanna Macy so beautifully reflects, "Yet of all the dangers we face from climate change to nuclear wars, none is so great as the deadening of our response." The plight of the Polar Bear can feel overwhelming and bleak because it questions the very foundation of this industrial age: the anthropocentric paradigm of humans first. But, each of us can contribute in our own way and have an important impact on waking our planetary society to the perils of our ways.