Values of an Arctic Beast

Chapter five in our textbook is about environmental ethics, and it includes a wide range of topics that can be related to polar bears. Some of these topics include anthropocentrism, dominion thesis, stewardship, ecology, preservation, ecocentrism, moral extensionism, holism, and intrinsic value. These terms differ in meaning, but they can all be related to one “big picture” question; should humans care about the wellbeing of other animals? This question has been the topic of intense debate for many years. Now more than ever the ethical treatment of animals, including polar bears, is considered by many to be one of the most critical issues on our planet.

According to the textbook environmental ethics is a new extension of ethics, which is the question of what is right or wrong (Robbins). This concept puts nature and all its inhabitants at the forefront of debates on morality. Polar bears are no exception to this, as we have discussed in previous blog postings. In recent decades, the public outcry for saving the polar bears has grown tremendously. Their species is in grave danger due to climate change, and there is overwhelming evidence that humans are causing climate change. Humans must decide if they should act or not. It is true that human concern for polar bears has grown in recent years. However, there has not been any improvement when it comes to saving the habit of polar bears. Why is this?

Basically, every aspect of human life is a detriment to the planet, including what we eat, what we buy, and how we travel. It is not just the issue of what we are doing, but the rate at which we are doing it. All of these things are related to climate change, which is the direct cause of the troubles that polar bears are currently facing. So, in order to save the polar bears humans would have to change their way of life. We would have to start consuming less, and making a conscious effort to bring restoration to the polar bear’s way of life. This may sound like an easy fix, but it is not. Many people do not feel like they should have to alter their way of life in any way for the sake of other creatures. In fact, one could argue that most people feel like they are superior to other animals. This idea of human superiority has been imbedded into our way of life for centuries and has caused a great separation between us and the animals that we share this planet with.

Dominion Thesis, which was introduced in the Old Testament, states that “humans are granted ethical free reign to use nature in any way deemed beneficial”. Clearly, this is what the human species is living by. Humans view themselves as superior to all other living creatures, so it is only right that humans use the earth as they please. But what about the other creatures living on this planet? How do our actions affect them? For polar bears human superiority has caused them nothing but trouble. Putting Dominion Thesis into practice is literally destroying their way of life, and causing their population to dwindle. There are those who believe that since humans are superior, the lives of polar bears should not matter to us. However, one could argue that our superiority is the exact reason that we should be doing something. If humans claim ownership over earth, shouldn’t we feel obligated to make sure that all its inhabitants are thriving? The Bible discusses this concept, human stewardship towards nature. The book defines this concept as “taking responsibility for the property or fate of others… caring for creation.”

Chapter five also discusses a topic like stewardship, called moral extensionism.  This is concept gives moral standing to things that traditionally do not have moral standing, like polar bears. This concept puts polar bears in the discussion about the effects of climate change. This concept also comes into play when deciding if a killing of a certain animal is considered “murder”. All humans can agree that murder is wrong, but kill certain animals anyway as a means of either entertainment or food.  This can be applied to polar bears as well. Polar bears are hunted for food or for their fur. However, some people see polar bears as beautiful creatures that have feelings and should not be hunted. Native Arctic communities see polar bears as creatures that are an “essential part of culture and economy”. However, human expansion has deemed polar bears to be “harmful, ruthless killers” (Hickman).  Native communities use the polar bears in symbolic nature, with value, and see them as a central figure in their ecosystem (Hickman). Natives use a utilitarian viewpoint and base the bears value off their usefulness to humans.  With human expansion, bears are often viewed as violent and are used for commercial hunting. Their viewpoint is anthropocentrism where the importance is to protect human lives and safety (Hickman).

Conservation is the concept that humans should not have any impact on the environment or ecosystem.  In this way of thinking, humans must conserve the environment the best they can to what the ecosystem was before humans.  Things must be as natural as they can be.  In order to save some polar bears, zoos have taken them in and make sure they are taken care of and sustained (Hickman).  Zoos see bears as something with intrinsic value and use animal liberation to sustain them by putting them in man-made enclosures.  Zoos are man-made and should not be considered conservation.  However, some zoos try to preserve the natural habitat and make bears feel like they are in the arctic the best they can.  This is done to sustain life for the polar bears.  Zoo’s seem to be more preservation than conservation.  Preservation is the concept that ecosystems should be preserved, but used for human needs.  Humans are okay to change an ecosystem, but must preserve it where it is both beneficial for them and the ecosystem.  This is what zoos accomplish; providing a habitat for the bears that humans can also find enjoyment from.  

Chapter five also discusses something known as “intrinsic value”, which explains how nature and all of its parts are valuable in and of themselves. There is value in the existence of the polar bear and its surrounding ecosystem that has absolutely nothing to do with humans and how we could potentially benefit from said existence. The thought that nature has value only when it benefits humans is extremely problematic, and has led to exploitation of the earth and the beings who inhabit it. Colonialists used this thought process to defend the subjugation and oppression of entire cultures and peoples, explorers used it to over consume resources and destroy ecosystems in far off places where they would not have to suffer the consequences. Humans have ignored the intrinsic value of nature and even other humans for centuries. In order to successfully prevent the further destruction of polar bears and their ecosystems, along with many other species all over the world, we must come to recognize that they have intrinsic value unrelated to our wants and needs.

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Sources:

Hickman, Jenn. “The Arctic Threat: Polar Bears.” Prezi.com. N.p., 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

 

Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore. Environment and Society: A Critical Inroduction. Vol. 2. N.p.: Blackwell, 2014. Print.

 

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Bears Can’t Sustain Themselves

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.

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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

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/arctic-bears-the-melting-arctics-impact-on-its-ecosystem/780/

http://www.brighthub.com/environment/science-environmental/articles/49609.aspx

https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2499/polar-bears-across-the-arctic-face-shorter-sea-ice-season/

Generations of White Fur

 

polar-bear-map

Polar bears are found only in the arctic region, which consists of parts of Greenland/Denmark, Canada, Norway, Russia, and the United States (Pidcock). It is estimated that there are 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears worldwide (Defenders of Wildlife). There are nineteen subpopulations of polar bears, or nineteen regions where polar bears live (Pidcock). They are marine mammals, and they are also the largest carnivorous land animals in the world (Defenders of Wildlife). Their main food source is ringed seals and bearded seals (Defenders of Wildlife). Polar bears’ bodies have developed and adapted for survival in the arctic regions of Earth. They have very thick fur that keeps in their body heat (Defenders of Wildlife). They have small ears and tails which allows them to lose less heat. Their big paws are like snowshoes, and their feet have anti-slip skin which is like sandpaper (“History of Polar Bears”). Female polar bears can weigh as much as 700 pounds, and males can weigh as much as 1,760 pounds (Defenders of Wildlife). The average lifespan of a polar bear is 20-25 years (Defenders of Wildlife). Intuit people who used to live in the polar regions lived with the polar bears and hunted them occasionally for food or clothing. It was never a concern that the Inuit people would over-hunt the polar bears, because it was dangerous and weapons were scarce (“History of Polar Bears”).

Polar bears have thrived in the North for over 70,000 years until recently. As of May 2008, polar bears have been listed as a threatened species in the United States under the endangered species act (Pidcock). There is overwhelming evidence that climate change is the cause of this. There is evidence that three of the subpopulations, Baffin Bay, Kane Basin and the Southern Beaufort Sea, are currently in decline (Pidcock). Many polar bears are forced to go for very long periods of time without food because of the melting sea ice (Pidcock). Other effects that climate change has had on polar bears include more exposure to disease, and the collapsing of dens (Pidcock). Polar bears make these snow dens so they can have a place to birth their cubs, and hide or protect them if necessary (Pidcock). There have been recent reports of polar bears encountering humans and coastal communities during their hunts for food, and some of these encounters have been dangerous (WWF). Scientists predict that there is a 70% chance that the overall polar bear population will decrease by a third in the next three generations, or about 35 years (Pidcock).

Polar bears are creatures that have thrived in the arctic for generations and now because of anthropogenic climate change, their species is in deep trouble and on the verge of collapse. It is up to humans to take a stand against this to save the polar bear population and make sure they have many more years to thrive on Earth like they have done in the past.

 

REFERENCES:

“History of Polar Bears.” Endangered Polar Bear. N.p., Apr. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

“Polar Bears and Climate Change: What Does the Science Say?” Carbon Brief. N.p., 23 Dec. 2016. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

“Polar Bear.” WWF. World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

“Basic Facts About Polar Bears.” Defenders of Wildlife. N.p., 10 May 2016. Web. 04 Mar. 2017.

 

A Slippery Slope to Extinction

A young Polar Bear is huddled by its mother on a cold Arctic day in Southern Greenland. They are enjoying the fish that the mom just caught.  Something that has become rare to find in recent years as ice has become scarcer.  All of a sudden a crack comes in between the mother and young bear.  The ice breaks apart and the young Polar Bear is suddenly drifting away from the icy shore and into the dark Northern Atlantic.  The mom cries out to her lost son, but it is no use.  The young Polar Bear is gone forever.  The young bear travels for seven straight days on the drifted iceberg.  Finally, he looks up and sees the Statue of Liberty.  The Polar Bear is now lost in The Big Apple.  New York City is not the place for a young Polar Bear used to the icy conditions in Greenland.  Why did the Polar Bear get there in the first place?  Polar Bears are cold-weather mammals that rely on ice and snow in order to survive and thrive.  With climate change becoming very real, the bright days for Polar Bears may so long be history and their inevitable extinction may be nearer than people believe.

The lost Polar Bear was sent adrift by a crack in the ice and lost from his family forever.  Although most Polar Bears will not make it to New York City, the Polar Bear population is in serious trouble.  Climate change is causing ice to melt at an alarming rate and the Polar Bears are losing the place they have called home for their entire existence.  Their population sizes are decreasing at an alarming rate and swimming conditions are becoming very dangerous to their well-being.  Fewer hunting opportunities are leading to extreme scarcity of foods for the endangered mammals.  It is projected by the U.S. Geological Survey that two thirds of Polar Bears will disappear by the year 2050.  In some areas, near the Hudson Bay of Canada, all of the ice disappears in the summertime and the Polar Bears are forced to live on land, where they eat little to nothing.  The ice-less periods has caused the Polar Bear’s seal hunting season to be cut by 20 days.  Due to the low hunting season and loss of ice, average Polar Bear weight has dropped 15 percent.  If current trends continue, Polar Bears will become extinct within the next 30-40 years.  Action is needed to slow this trend and save the Polar Bear population before it is too late.  We can all make a difference and save the Polar Bears through small steps.  But unless we each do something, nothing will change.

References:

“Global Warming and Polar Bears.” National Wildlife Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.