June 1, 2009

Polar Bears

As follow-up to this post, I have done further investigation into the plight of the polar bear. As the picture on the right suggests, we are told polar bears are dying due to their habitat being destroyed (melting) from global warming. This has always struck me as odd.

Polar bear population data has always been a “best guess” by scientists. Because of the remote locations, solitary life, large roaming areas, and constantly moving sea ice, counting polar bears is aggravating to say the least.

In 1965, scientist gathered for their first international meeting. Chief of wildlife research at the US Dep. of Interior opened the meeting by quoting Sen. Bob Bartlett, “I am informed that at the present time there are no accurate or reliable figures available on the total world polar bear population or on the size of the annual kill". At the time, polar bears were hunted from aircraft, icebreaker boats, as well as from indigenous people. Hunting was not regulated and it wasn’t known how many were killed each year. Killing a polar bear was a status symbol for the rich and they would show the stuffed bear as a trophy.

In the 1960’s world polar bear populations were estimated anywhere from 5000 on the low end to 19,000 on the high end. To stop the polar bear from being hunted to extinction, the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears was signed on November 15, 1973 in Oslo by the five nations with polar bear populations: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the U.S., and the former U.S.S.R. This agreement outlawed the unregulated sport hunting of polar bears and required each nation to protect the denning areas and share research on the bears. The polar bear seems to have bounced back quickly once hunting was stopped, if it was ever struggling to begin with. Today, it seems, scientists are comfortable with an estimation of 20,000 – 25,000 bears living in the wild worldwide. Of the 19 recognized polar bear subpopulations, 5 are declining, 5 are stable, 2 are increasing, and 7 have insufficient data.

So it seems there is exactly zero data to support the claims that polar bears are being driven to extinction due to global warming due to too much carbon dioxide in the air due to humans burning fossil fuels. It is all based on assumptions that IF lots of sea ice melts, and IF the bears get stuck on the mainland or away from the seal populations, then they will start dying due to starvation. This seems like quite the odd correlation. Polar bears eat mainly ringed seals. Ringed seals eat small fish like arctic cod and herring. Herring and cod eat plankton. And plankton “eats” carbon dioxide and sunlight. So the base of the food chain is actually carbon dioxide!
It has been shown that plants will grow up to twice as fast in 2000ppm carbon dioxide (we are at 350 now). So isn’t it logical to assume that higher levels of carbon dioxide would result in larger plankton blooms, more arctic cod and herring, more seals, and thus more polar bears? I don’t know, but it seems like less of a stretch then arguing there would be less polar bears (given the fact that ringed seals also use sea ice to rest on and will routinely move farther north to find denser ice). So even if the ice melts further north the seals and bears will go up north with the ice.
Unless someone shows me some data that large numbers of bears are dying because of higher carbon dioxide levels, I remain a skeptic.
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