In Chapter 2, we learned about the idea of sustainability. Sustainability is the ability of something to be maintained at a certain rate. At the rate we are currently going, our earth is not sustainable for the population that is living on Earth. Our use of fossil fuels is pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an alarming rate. Our CO2 concentration recently passed 400 parts per million (ppm). Our planet has not been above 400 ppm for the last 3 million years (Mason). Our “business as usual” philosophy is polluting our environment and killing our planet. This way of doing business is not sustainable and will lead to our destruction. Climate change is a direct correlation of human activity. 97% of scientists agree that anthropogenic factors are the main cause of changes in our climate. The fact of the matter is clear, without humans, global warming would not happen due to natural variability. We are polluting our world and harming things that we hold dear. But our impact goes much further than affecting other humans.
Humans are affecting things that have been on this planet for much longer than we have. The loss of sea ice has proved to be an unsustainable situation for polar bears. Sea ice is a critical part of a polar bear’s survival. Since polar bears are unable to outswim their main food source, seals, they sit on top of the ice and break through it to access seal dens (NASA). So, less ice means that polar bears are going for longer periods of time without food, and many are starving. This is causing extreme weight loss among bears, resulting in cannibalistic behavior (“Global Warming and Polar Bears”). Polar bears rely on sea ice not only for hunting purposes, but for a place to live and rest between their hunts (PBS). One example of this is the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf. It has been reported that the 3,000-year-old ice shelf split in half in 2002, and it continues to break into smaller sections (Bright Hub). This has caused polar bears to lose a lot of hunting and resting ground, and has also caused a decrease in food supply (Bright Hub). Perhaps one of the most alarming findings, related to polar bears habitat sustainability, is “the trend for an earlier spring ice melt and a later fall freeze up” (NASA). These periods of time are directly related to breeding seasons, and when there is good ice for polar bears to hunt on (NASA). It is reported that there has been seven weeks of total loss of this time over the past 35 years, and there will be another seven week loss within the next 35 years (NASA). Scientists have predicted that within the next 50 years, the population of polar bears will decrease by two thirds (PBS). This of course is devastating news for polar bears, but it will be the beginning of a much larger problem. Biologists believe that this drastic decrease in the polar bear population will ultimately result in a trophic cascade of the Arctic food chain (PBS).
It is not all doom and gloom when addressing polar bears however. WWF is committed to helping protect polar bears and their natural habitats in the arctic. The organization supports research to “identify high value habitat areas – areas where the bears feed, den and give birth – and work with partners to conserve these places (“What WWF is Doing for Polar Bears”). This relates to chapter 4 in class and “Collective Action” to work to save certain things that are threatened by human actions. WWF is one of many organizations that are involved in saving polar bears.
Polar bears also have an impact on the economy. “Sport hunters pay up to $30,000 for the chance to bag a bear. Inuit hunters can get up to $400 a metre for bear hide” (Rennie). In addition, many communities rely on polar bears for economic benefits. Churchill, Manitoba, in Northern Canada refers to themselves as “Polar bear capital of the world.” Churchill relies on polar bears as a tourist attraction that brings thousands of people per year into the small town (Rennie). When people come into town for a chance to see polar bears up close, they spend a lot of money around town and helps local businesses. With the polar bear population decreasing, towns such as Churchill are in danger of losing valuable profits from the bears. This will have extreme negative economic impacts to the city of Churchill as well as other places in Northern Canada which is home to about two-thirds of the world’s 25,000 polar bears (Rennie).
Another topic from the class that can be tied to the issue of polar bears and climate change is that of environmental ethics, namely the land ethic described by Aldo Leopold. In this line of thinking, actions taken by humans are good considered good actions if they further benefit the wellbeing of an ecosystem, and they are considered bad actions when they degrade the health of the ecosystem (Peppler). This applies directly to polar bears and climate because our decisions and actions have a very direct affect on the wellbeing of the polar bears, whose existence is strongly tied to the wellbeing of the whole ecosystem through trophic levels. They are the predators, which is an extremely vital role in any ecosystem that keeps it balanced. Leopold’s thinking also relates to this issue by addresses the “moral extensionism” with which this ethic encourages us to view our surroundings (Peppler). We must consider the polar bears as individual beings with the ability to suffer. It is not their choice to go extinct. They are fighting for survival. It is however our choices that are harming them, and consequently, their whole ecosystem.
In conclusion, action is needed to be taken to slow the impact of climate change on polar ice caps. This change is harming polar bear habitats and is unsustainable in regards to both bear and human populations. Action is being taken by many organizations and there is still a chance to reverse course before it is too late. Many economies benefit off polar bears and their extinction will cause an enormous blow to many communities that have relied on polar bears for generations. We must consider what is best not only for us, but also for the polar bears.
Mason, John. “The Last Time Carbon Dioxide Concentrations Were around 400ppm: A Snapshot from Arctic Siberia.” Skeptical Science. N.p., 14 May 2013. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.
“What WWF Is Doing for Polar Bears” WWF. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
“Global Warming and Polar Bears.” National Wildlife Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
Rennie, Steve. “Feds Studying Economic Benefit of Polar Bears.” The Globe and Mail. Ottawa — The Globe and Mail, 23 Aug. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.
Peppler, Randy. “Chapter 5 – Environmental Ethics”. Lecture. 2017