Polar bears have become international symbols for the devastating effects of global warming amongst various environmentalist and conservationist groups. Images of them swimming long distances between melting Arctic sea ice are a sad reminder that our climate is changing. Blending in with their white, ice surroundings, polar bears are an example of what the world might be on the brink of losing.
When 97% of expert climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming with greenhouse gas emissions, it's clear that humans have a responsibility to take action.
For International Polar Bear Day, here are some important facts about polar bears and climate change to help raise awareness
1. Polar bears are categorized as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and endangered in the US. Source: worldwildlife.org
2. Polar bears are top predators and critical to balancing the arctic food web. When top predator populations go down, prey populations increase, while smaller prey and plant life decrease. Source: polarbearsinternational.org, nature.com
3. Polar bears are strong swimmers, but they prefer to catch seals only by waiting and grabbing seals from on the ice. Seals are key to polar bears' diets to maintain fat and muscle throughout the year. Source: arcticwwf.org
4. Melting sea ice means swimming faster, burning more calories, and losing muscle mass. Polar bears burn calories quickly - about 12,325 calories a day. The arctic is losing 1% of its sea ice every decade. Source: nationalgeographic.com, climate.nasa.gov
5. The US Government has announced plans to open oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which may:
- disrupt denning habits
- reduce the insulation of polar bears' fur
- cause organ damage and failure if ingested
Sources: theguardian.com, arcticwwf.org
Melting sea ice doesn't just concern polar bears, it concerns us all.
There are two main reasons:
- When the ice melts, global jet streams are thrown off balance, causing extreme weather patterns, persistent heat, flooding, and droughts. Arctic sea ice acts as a refrigerator for the Earth, reflecting the sun's rays into the atmosphere, keeping the Earth cooler.
- When sea ice melts, sea levels rise, potentially putting cities underwater. People living near coastlines, including about 40% of the US's population, are most vulnerable to sea-level rising. Even if we reduce global emissions, scientists predict sea levels will rise 12 inches by 2100. If our emissions continue to increase, sea levels may rise as much as 8.2 feet by 2100.
Given the near-constant disappointing news headlines about climate change and our global fossil fuel emissions, it's easy to become overwhelmed. However, with care and understanding, it is possible to reverse some of the effects of climate change. It's just going to take a collective effort.