Guest post by Thomas Fuller
I wrote earlier that a series of symbolic images have been stamped on the professional communications sent out by those most interested in very active measures to combat global warming. I mentioned several, and I hope to take some time to analyze the status of the keynote issues that have been highlighted by environmental groups, politicians, and one or two webloggers.
Let’s start with polar bears. Pictures of polar bears standing on ice floes have been used to highlight concerns about melting Arctic ice. Arctic ice is melting, being well below the average for the past 30 years, and a parlor game has developed where we all monitor the growth or decrease of Arctic ice like we were watching a horse race at Hialeah.
That’s because I think instinctively we all recognize that it’s a good proxy for the state of global warming. Climate change theory predicted that the Arctic would warm faster than the rest of the planet, and that melting Arctic ice is not a ‘good’ sign.
But using polar bears to illustrate the dangers posed by global warming to the Arctic was nothing short of disastrous. Polar bears can swim for extended distances, and they perch on ice floes to rest or wait for an unwary seal to pop up.
But the mistake was deliberate, because it tapped into environmental concerns about the polar bears’ threatened status. There were somewhat casual estimates that the population of polar bears had declined to about 5,000 in the 1960s, and using them as a picture of what global warming put in danger guaranteed the willing and active support of many environmentalists who had already invested time, concern and money to support the polar bears revival.
But it meant that arguments against the polar bears’ approaching doom could be confused with arguments about the status of polar ice. And in fact, such arguments quickly appeared.
The polar bear has recovered strongly from the 1960s, and there are now about 25,000 of them. They congregate in subgroups geographically, and the status of those subgroups is not uniform–some are growing, some are declining some are staying the same.
But the bears are robust enough that the indigenous tribes of the North say that they have completely recovered, and want hunting restrictions lifted. Indeed, about 1,000 polar bears a year are killed by hunting, according to The Polar Bear Specialist Group.
And simple arithmetic showed that polar bears survived warmer periods than today that almost certainly included eras when Arctic ice was completely gone.
So the issue is ultimately an unfortunate distraction. The Arctic is warming. Polar bears are doing okay. And the point is?
However, the marketing gurus running campaigns for environmental causes knew that they couldn’t sell an activist agenda with a picture of a thermometer. And the more savvy amongst them also knew that accurate measurements of Arctic temperatures and ice cover dated back only to 1979 when satellites were watched. So a little distraction couldn’t hurt–at least not them.
The world is heading into a La Nina after a fairly heavy El Nino phase. Arctic ice may have bottomed out and be heading for a real recovery. Moderate global warming, on the other hand, may keep ice levels depressed. All we can say for certain is that the climate is changing.
But that’s what it does–with or without our help.
Thomas Fuller http://www.redbubble.com/people/hfuller