How Climate Change Is Threatening The Survival Of Polar Bears 

26 July 2019

Written by Mieke Leenders 

The long journey


In June of 2019, it was reported that a Polar Bear had made its way to the city of Norilsk, Siberia. With alarming disregard for its alien surroundings, the weary and visibly starving creature was desperately looking for food.


With climate change ravaging their natural sea-ice habitats, Polar Bears have little choice other than to migrate and look for resources elsewhere. The stray Bear wandering the city of Norilsk is only one of the many ‘encroaching’ on human territory in what has been dubbed an invasion of Polar Bears.


 

The stray Polar Bear spotted in the industrial city of Norilsk, Russia, on Monday.

One of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet


While the world is unleashing terror-filled reports on our cities and towns recording the hottest temperatures of all-time, climate change had been reaching critical heights in the arctic for decades. First registered as long ago as the 1970’s, the massive loss of sea ice as well as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet has now culminated to wildfires spreading across the Arctic Circle. Back in 2012, the arctic was only half of what is was in 1979, and has continued to disappear further.


Our planet’s arctic poles are far more sensitive to global warming due to the so-called Albedo Feedback. This refers to the sunlight being reflected by piercing white and shiny ice, reflecting a larger part of the solar energy back into space. However, as more ice melts, the exposed lands and waters absorb more sunlight, further accelerating the heating process.


 

 

Firefighters use a helicopter to tackle a forest fire burning near Ljusdal, Sweden on July 18th 2018.

The climate comes second to big business


One of the other immensely harmful factors, is the black carbon emitted by boat engines and big oil drilling companies that run on toxic bunker fuels cause pollution, pushing temperatures even higher.


With many arctic lands releasing alarming reports, it was reported in April of 2019 that Canada is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world. Canada houses a large part of the arctic zone and continues to invest in harmful oil drilling with no intention of slowing down. The oil spills and emissions of black carbon release as a slow poison that feeds into the waters as well as the ice.


Svalbard, Norway, had an equally disastrous announcement to make in February of 2019. The temperatures on this arctic Island on occasion actually surpasses those on the Norwegian mainland and it even rained more than it snowed all winter. The Norwegian government has been under severe scrutiny due to its refusal to halt the offshore gas and oil industries and
instead, they are granting even more licenses.


It has become a trend around the world that while states and governments tax their people on the use of fossil fuels to finance green transportation, the most harmful practices persist because this is here where commerce rears its ugly head.


That being said, hope remains. A small victory against big oil was won when the Norwegian government withdrew its support for oil drilling off the Lofoten Islands in early 2019. These islands are considered a national treasure, thus states the government, and worthy of protection. While this is likely at least in part because they wanted to protect another great
industry in Norway, tourism, it is a step in the right direction. And we can help push this further.


The Runner 4 oil spill in in the ice-covered Gulf of Finland

A crisis for arctic animals


Polar Bears and walruses are both listed as vulnerable / threatened. Loss of habitat due to the breaking and melting of ice and temperature stress are only some of the dangers these creatures now face. Many of the threats are far more insidious and include being exposed to various toxins as well as increased interaction with humans, desensitizing them to one of their greatest predators.

 

Ed Young from The Atlantic explains; "Netflix's Our Planet makes a point of saying what other nature series have not - the wonders they’re showing are endangered because of humans - and the footage is perhaps the most shocking part of a series full of discomfiting moments. Contrary to popular belief, not even lemmings dive off cliffs. Why would a walrus? Polar Bears weren’t harassing them. The camera crews were filming from afar so their scents and sounds wouldn’t spook the skittish animals. Then why? What were walruses even doing on cliff tops in the first place? Our Planet offers a clear answer. “This is the sad reality of climate change,” Lanfear told me. “They’d be on the ice if they could.”

"In the summer, Pacific walruses forage for shellfish in the waters between Alaska and Russia, before hauling up onto sea ice to rest and raise their young. But in recent years, Arctic sea ice has been thinner and sparser. The 2017–18 season marked a record low. As these icy platforms have retreated, walruses have increasingly been forced to haul out onto solid land - in the thousands."

With the climate changing as fast as it is, many species don’t have enough time to adapt and run the risk of extinction. The subarctic climate houses animal species that are adapted to a more temperate arctic climate. With this climate zone shifting further north, the animals who can survive in a subarctic climate are now able to push north, often taking the place of species that thrive in a full arctic climate which is now disappearing.

The arctic food chain


The vanishing ice cover is of great importance to marine mammals, including the Polar Bear who tops the arctic food chain. Ice covers are a key element fueling the food chain that has now been broken. Polar Bears hunt seals and beluga whales. Seals and whales in turn eat fish that feed on zooplankton and zooplankton eat the algae that live on the ice covers.


With the ice covers disappearing, so do the algae that feed the plankton and a destructive chain reaction is started. This will continue to cause the mass-migration or extinction of fish, seals, whales and eventually polar bears just like the one found in Norilsk. The fact that even the leaders of the arctic food chain are moving on mass, gives us a clear picture of the terrible state the arctic zones are in.

A walrus falls from a cliff overlooking in Russian

The sad reality of the impacts of climate change. Photographer Paul Nicklen said he wanted to show people what a starving Polar Bear really looked like.

What you can do...


While several initiatives use the same slogan, the one which will help stop this destructive cycle faster, is to boycott offshore oil and gas industries. What we should all do now, is speak out against the big businesses that care more about a booming economy than the health of our planet.


Save the arctic and join the community! Speak up for the animals struggling to survive in this rapidly changing climate.
People v Oil


Help save the now threatened polar bears:
Polar Bears International


Canada is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, but the oil drilling continues. Help stop it!

Greenpeace Canada


The price for oil is too high when we consider that the cost is the health of our planet.
Oil Change International

Remember, your voice matters. 

You can also watch World Animal Warriors Founder, Pascale Terry most recent trip to the arctic to learn more about climate change, Polar Bears and what you can do to help

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