The Plight of Polar Bears Shows Us the Dangers of Climate Change
The impacts of climate change are evident in every corner of our planet, but in recent years the plight of the polar bear has become especially apparent. For conservationists, Feb. 27 is a chance to highlight the decline of polar bears and call for conservation actions through what has become known as International Polar Bear Day.
The sea ice across the Arctic has been decreasing at a rate of 14% per decade, and this rapid loss deprives polar bears of their natural habitat used for building dens and catching seals, their main source of nutrition.
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As a result, polar bears have been increasingly pushed to the brink of starvation. Alaska and the Northwest Territories have already documented a loss of 40% polar bear population between 2001 and 2010 from 1,500 to 900 bears.
Effects of climate change in 2018 were felt everywhere: Africa, South America, Asia-Pacific, and Southeast Asia all suffered severe droughts; Indonesia and Canada experienced destructive wildfires; 70 tropical cyclones and hurricanes hit the Northern Hemisphere, compared to the long-term average of 53; parts of US suffered great economic damage caused by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.
But despite the fact that the 50 least developed countries in the world contribute only 1% to the overall greenhouse gas emissions, 99% of total fatalities and 90% of economic losses resulting from the effects of climate change directly affect the residents of these countries.
Climate change also puts more than half of plants and animal species across the world at risk. The polar bear and its declining habitat, however, have recently garnered more documentation and gained more momentum in conservation circles.
Over the past few years, viral photos and videos of polar bears highlight the need to address climate change immediately.
In 2017, National Geographic photographers Paul Nicklen and Cristina G. Mittermeier spotted a starving polar bear on Somerset Island. The video quickly went viral and helped start a conversation.
“I can’t say that this bear was starving because of climate change, but I do know that polar bears rely on a platform of sea ice from which to hunt,” Mittermeier wrote in a personal narrative published in the National Geographic magazine one year later.
Mittermeier also emphasized that the disappearing ice leading to loss of habitat, could lead the animals to wander on different lands.
“More bears will get stranded on land, where they can’t pursue the seals, walruses, and whales that are their prey and where they will slowly starve to death,” she said.
Another viral video from Novaya Zemlya, a Russian archipelago, aligns with what Mittermeier pointed out.
The video shows about 52 polar bears breaking into the remote region of Russia, likely searching for food.
Scientists suggested that climate change could be the reason for aggressive behavior displayed by polar bears in a similar invasion at a weather station in the Arctic.
The US Geological Survey warned in 2007 that two-thirds of the global population of polar bears could be wiped out by 2050 because of thinning sea ice.
Whether or not social media has proved to be a useful platform to raise awareness about climate change is still debatable, but it is now increasingly being used by scientists to debunk myths about the alarming global issue. And they believe not all hope has been lost.
Countries around the world are taking steps to help conserve the Arctic and save polar bears. Maybe it’s time we all do.