Environmentalist deceptions: the polar bear’s fairy tale

Published in Expansión

One of the icons of today’s environmental movement is the polar bear, supposed victim of the ice melting in the Arctic: its image, isolated on a tiny, sinking ice sheet, has become an effective path to well-meaning individuals’ wallets. The astute journalist, later professional politician Al Gore sensed this in his famous documentary An Inconvenient Truth, so packed full of convenient lies that a UK High Court judge ruled that it could not be sent to schools in Britain without a set of guidelines intended to correct its scientific “errors”. Indeed, in the documentary an animation shows a polar bear scarcely keeping on top of a solitary shrinking ice sheet lost in the immensity of the sea, finally drowning unable to climb on the ice. Such gross manipulation proved enough to convince the infantilized society we live in, but what does science really say? Let’s strip naked yet another environmental fallacy.

The polar bear is one of the greatest predators on the planet. It reigns in inhospitable Arctic coastal regions in the north of Canada, Alaska and Russia. Out of the 19 zones in which scientists divide its habitat, only one is 100% land-free, nothing but floating ice. What is its population? Well, the first scientific data that debunks the myth of an endangered animal is that since 2005 its population has grown by 30% to roughly 30,000 individuals, as per the best estimations. Yes, polar bear population is booming despite the reduction in Arctic ice sheet surface.

A second scientific fact refutes the image of a drowning bear. Polar bears are such fine swimmers that the longest distance ever recorded swum by a polar bear is 426 miles in nine days straight (yes, nearly 700 kilometers). In fact, the polar bear’s scientific name is Ursus Maritimus, or Sea Bear (in Latin), which seems self-explanatory. Indeed, evolution has designed polar bears (real marine mammals) as tough-to-drown.

In order not to fall into the idealization of an species as does the environmentalist propaganda with its successive fetish-species (panda bears, whales, dolphins, etc.), we should analyze its biological chain (including its predators, its preys and its competitors) so as to understand its importance in relative terms, not in absolute ones.

The bear’s only predator is man, so hunting becomes the first factor to affect the polar bear’s population overtime. Its preys are marine mammals, particularly the ringed seal, so the seal’s own population correlates to the bear’s population. Lastly, its competitor-predators are the killer whale and maybe the Greenland shark, the most long-lived creature on Earth (with an average longevity of 270 years). Obviously, every polar bear death is celebrated by seals and killer whales alike.

Let’s go back to where we started. Does less ice imply fewer polar bears? Not at all: science says just the opposite is true. Its preys, the elegant and defenseless ringed seals, excavate with their claws breathing holes in the ice, and polar bears catch them when they rear their heads. When ice is too thick for seals to excavate their holes, their population decreases and so does the polar bear’s. The positive effect on ice melting is double. Susan Crockford, professor during 35 years at Victoria University in British Columbia (Canada), and an expert in Arctic mammals, explained in an essay significantly titled The Arctic Fallacy that, “contrary to predictions, reduced summer ice (…) has proven to be a huge benefit to ringed seals because they do most of their feeding during the ice-free season: more food for ringed seals in summer has meant more pups the following spring for hungry polar bears”. Even the moderate increases in the length of the ice-free season in regions of the Arctic where the ice usually melts completely in the summer has not caused harm to bears because “this has so far changed gradually and polar bear populations are either stable or increasing”, also because no matter where polar bears spend the summer – on shore or on the ice – they generally consume little during the open-water season. If they have hunted successfully, they “will have stored enough fat to see them through a summer fast of 2–6 months”. Indeed, polar bears consume roughly two thirds of their annual food intake in spring, and when their fasting season ends they might have lost 50% of their weight.

Professor Crockford harshly criticizes the notion “that declines in summer sea ice are the most serious threat to Arctic marine mammals”. She calls this notion the “unsustainable biological fallacy that under natural conditions Arctic sea ice is a stable habitat, and that summer sea ice stability is necessary to prevent extinctions”. And she concludes stressing the idea that these changes are natural and cyclical. Please read slowly: “There is well documented evidence that natural changes in sea ice during the critical spring period over the last 60 years have been profound and resulted in marked declines followed by marked increases in polar bear and Arctic seal numbers. Rather than climate change leading to extinction or near-extinction of these species, they appear to persist well, despite such environmental variation, even during the critical spring period. Historical documents and paleoclimatic research suggests similar changes have occurred for at least the last few hundred years”. Since fortunately “polar bears are thriving in a world that has finally protected them from relentless slaughter, their populations are now free to respond to natural variations in sea-ice habitat and food supply, as they have done for hundreds of thousands of years.”

This is what science says. Not let’s see what environmentalist propaganda does. First it deifies the bear and elevates it to the category of fetish-animal. Then it presents the mother bears and their cubs (so cute until they grow) and transforms their pre-recorded instinct (alien to either freedom or emotion) into maternal love, since environmentalism always tries to humanize animals and dehumanize man. At the same time, it prevents at all costs any images of bears coldly killing their preys (such as the defenseless ringed seals’ cubs) or, even worse, practicing cannibalism with other polar bears cubs, as the brutal predator it really is. Without a doubt, showing their pristine white fur stained by the blood of their preys might horrify the viewer and turn down the myth. Finally, once deified, the environmental movement exploits the bear to talk about climate change, for instance filming male bears when they have just ended their fasting season, having lost 50% of their weight, their fur hanging weirdly like an oversized coat, and telling the viewers that bears are starving due to the CO2 produced by evil human beings.

Dear reader: we’ve been framed. This is just a show. Polar bears won the casting organized by environmentalism as the animal star of their fiction movie about climate change. The script is a bunch of lies, but the bear definitely deserves the Oscar. If Al Gore won it, why not the bear?

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