Reducing the impacts of climate change to help the decline of the population of polar bears

 

Tim Griffin – BCT

Christian Boucher – NRC

One of the largest mammals in the arctic, the polar bear, may not be around for too much longer, as climate change is slowly melting away their habitat and forcing them to move more inland and come into contact with humans more often. The polar bear is one of the most elegant but dangerous animals on the face of the planet. We may enjoy looking at these creatures from afar, but how would you feel if you saw one of these creatures in your own backyard? It’s a very frightening thought and often the situation ends in death whether it be human or polar bear. Usually, the polar bear has to be lured out and tranquilized, and sometimes  euthanized, in order to be taken out of human areas. Polar bears can display aggressive behavior, especially since they are coming into residential areas, starving and looking for food.  

The degradation of sea ice levels as a result of global warming is causing polar bear populations to decline. This is a huge problem for the environment and humans alike. Due to the polar bears habitat melting away, the population is experiencing negative effects on their health. Polar bears are reproducing two to five times less now than the 1980s and 90s because they can’t put on body weight like the previous generation used to. This is causing polar bears to spend more time on land, where there is hardly any food for them there. The only food that they could access on land are small creatures, dead carcuses, and disposed human food. In fact, they are 30 to 40 kilograms less in weight now than they were in the 1980s (Black, 2012). Polar bears do come to land to rest sometimes, but it isn’t where they should mainly be spending their time. Specifically, Chelsea Harvey has stated in her article that bears in the Chukchi sea region between Russia and Alaska are spending more time on land in the summers. The amount of summer sea ice continues to decline for polar bears everywhere. We can summarize that the more time polar bears get to spend on sea ice, the more time they get to fatten up.

The melting sea ice is impacting not just polar bear populations, but also the population that they hunt. Polar bears like to feed on large creatures for their fuel source, such as bearded seals and walruses. These populations are being forced to move more offshore where the water is too deep for polar bears. Polar bears feed on sea ice that is relatively close to land and not that deep, so this is a problem for them. Their food is moving too far offshore for them.  

Human-caused deaths of polar bears could be on the rise since they are staying on land for longer periods of time. Human curiosity is a very difficult thing to deal with in regard to population control. If a polar bear wanders into a community, someone may shoot it purely for sport or to protect their residency. Another concern for polar bears due to climate change is the lack of proper denning areas . The melting sea ice also means a smaller depth in snow, where they often bury themselves and place branches and whatever they can find on top.

One of the biggest problems that scientists face is the lack of public support. There are small relief funds out there that help protect polar bears, but besides scientists and small groups such as Polar Bears International, not many people are concerned with protecting these magnificent creatures. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get people to care about subjects that do not directly affect them. But if the word gets out to enough people, there will be that much more known support. Just getting the word out that climate change is real and affecting everyone is key. A lot can be done if the common public opinion believes that climate change needs to be addressed. Reducing our Greenhouse gas emissions is necessary for this to happen.

As a reader, you should care about the decline of the population of polar bears. Even if you are a thousand miles away from them, you should still be concerned because climate change is affecting everybody. Polar bears are one of the many examples of the negative effects of climate change. Climate change is caused by the rise of Greenhouse gas emissions due to the unsustainable living by humans. An example of the unnecessary contribution to climate change is our use of fossil fuel usage throughout everyday life. As opposed to using oil and gas to run our cars, we could use sustainable alternatives such as hybrid cars and solar power.  This means that the Earth’s temperature is rising and it is causing the arctic’s ice and glaciers to melt at an alarming rate.

In turn, the oceans sea levels are rising due to the melting sea ice. To put it in context, the city of Miami, Florida has the potential to be underwater in the next 50 years. Thousands of families along the country’s coasts may soon be forced to relocate more inland, and places where there were once homes and businesses may soon be underwater. This is bad for both the habitats for humans and for animals. There are many other animals besides polar bears that will have the potential to go extinct. If you are a human and are aware of the severity climate change poses, you should be concerned about preventing it.

If you live in one of the many towns of the arctic region, the issue of the polar bear population declining is especially concerning. The loss of sea ice due to climate change would cause the bears to migrate inland and onshore, making them easier targets for hunters and poachers. Not only from hunting, but in self-defense situations, polar bear’s lives are taken, thus increasing their mortality rate. The further they move inland, the closer they get to human societies where these self defense situations may take place.

We recognize that climate change is inevitable and we can only take preventative measures to reduce its impacts, so for now we can do things like provide safe breeding grounds and new laws to help protect the declining polar bear population. The arctic’s countries where the polar bears live in should provide safe, natural preserves where polar bears can roam around, live and breed peacefully. We can even provide them with food sources if their surrounding habitat isn’t abundant enough with them. Along with doing this, we can also place bans on hunting these creatures. Since the species is on the verge of decline, it doesn’t make sense that it should be ok to hunt them.  

        It is likely that, due to climate change, polar bear populations in certain areas will no longer exist.  Since climate change is causing the Earth to warm, sea ice is melting. Sea ice levels are one of the primary variables to the success of a polar bear population. As the warming trend continues, isolation of some polar bear populations will occur and will surely perish over time. It can be inferred that as the sea ice levels decrease, so does the quality of their habitat. All of which are caused primarily by global warming and climate change.

A study conducted in 1999 had reported that there had been a significant decrease in multilayer ice in the polar basin. Another study conducted in 2000 found that perennial ice cover in the Arctic is declining at a rate of 9% annually, stating that this may result in all of the multilayer ice cover to be depleted within the century. Loss of sea ice is causing polar bears, more often now than ever, to hunt in terrestrial areas and inland. Global warming has been causing sea ice levels to diminish which has caused the polar bears to be forced ashore to hunt and forage. “Numerous recent scientific papers have documented the consumption of terrestrial and freshwater foods by polar bears and suggest that such use is increasing. Some authors hypothesize that such observations are evidence that terrestrial foraging will play a major role in polar bear adaptation to global warming”. This quote stands to show that there is consensus amongst many scientists that global warming is impacting polar bears. As sea ice levels decline due to warming, the polar bears have been moving on land to hunt and have been utilizing their abilities to forage on terrestrial grounds.

Steven C. Armstrup, the chief scientist of Polar Bears International, has stated that if humans allow wild polar bear populations to decline, polar bears in zoos can provide greater benefits when it comes to breeding. (Armstrup, 2012) Zoo experts are fluent in small population management practices and understandings in genetics. By creating and supporting specific polar bear breeding programs, this could contribute to the genetic diversity of polar bears when it comes to reintroducing captive-bred bears to the wild. This would result in stronger, more resilient bears. Stronger genetics in the bears would also help assure their persistence as their habitat changes and could one day help and stabilize wild polar bear populations.

Our proposal is that if we can begin by cutting back our Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG’s) and start combatting global warming, conserve sea ice levels to keep polar bears offshore and create captive polar bear breeding programs, polar bear populations may have a chance in existence outside of zoos in their natural habitat. As humans, we can reduce our GHG’s by making changes to our everyday lives, such as: recycling, driving less, using energy efficient products and even just by taking cooler, shorter showers. By reducing our GHG’s, this would eventually decrease the global heating trend and our planet would cool over time, preserving what sea ice would remain as the cooling occurs.

Until we are faced with some offset of climate change and global warming, the creation and support of captive bred polar bears would be ideal in the long run persistence of this species because they would result in stronger, more genetically diverse polar bears that could be used to repopulate the species in their natural habitat. A strong counter argument would be that global warming does not have any affect on the melting sea ice and is not the cause of the polar bear population declining, or that global warming even exists at all. It has often been argued that throughout the earth’s history, there have been natural changes in our earth’s climate. Currently, people who are skeptics are claiming that we are in the middle of one of these cycles. They think that we could do whatever we wanted and it would not matter because it is all part of a natural cycle.

Skeptics also refer to the recent weather that we have experienced in the past couple of years as evidence that climate change does not exist. In 2015, many areas around the country experienced record amounts of snowfall. In 2014, there was a resurgence in arctic sea ice as observed through NASA satellites. It simply doesn’t make sense that the Earth could still be that cold if climate change was occurring. However, there has been evidence that global warming is not caused directly by humans, but the rate in which is has been occurring has been drastically increased due to human habits. Carbon dioxide and methane are two of the primary GHG’s present in our atmosphere that are contributing to the warming.

Commercial cattle farming produces tons of methane annually and the usage of fossil fuels emits tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere annually, as well. Those two examples and wasteful lifestyles have all contributed in the increase of Greenhouse Gas emissions which cause the warming effect we are currently experiencing. Since atmospheric makeup can differ depending on area, different areas experience different effects of climate change such as varying weather patterns and unusual climatic patterns.

        In conclusion, consensus has been made that climate change and global warming are negatively impacting polar bear populations. Since their quality of habitat has deteriorated or, in some areas, their habitat is completely gone, polar bears have began hunting onshore and may become an issue for humans and their residencies. By offsetting our GHG’s and advocating for captive bred polar bear programs, we can help preserve and possibly rehabilitate the polar bear’s natural habitat and stabilize their plummeting population.  

Evan

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