A new book with unexpected good news about polar bears

Larry Kummer, Editor Book, Film, & TV Reviews, Science & Nature 21 March 2019

Summary: This is a fascinating book about science, about the making of public policy, about climate change, and above all – about nature. They all intersect in the debate about the future of polar bears.

Review of a fact-rich, logical, and dispassionate book that upsets a key climate change narrative …

The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened.

By Susan Crockford (2019).

Zoologist Crockford crispy tells the history of the rise and fall of polar bears as climate change icons. It is an engrossing story of a small niche group of dedicated biologists, the apex predator of the polar regions, and the American public.

“Researchers have learned a lot over the last two decades about bears’ ability to thrive in the Arctic and to take dramatic changes in that hostile environment in their stride – in particular changes in sea ice levels. Unfortunately, that understanding came too late to prevent the polar bear becoming listed as a species threatened with extinction because of future climate changes. …

“Stirling’s paper therefore came at just the right time. Apparently showing a link between manmade global warming and harm to a charismatic beast like the polar bear, it became the basis of a frenzy of global warming agitation. Soon the polar bear had been hoisted to the top of the climate change flagpole, making it the most easily-recognizable symbol of all that mankind was doing wrong in the world. …

“It is a story of scientific hubris and of scientific failure, of researchers staking their careers on untested computer simulations and the attempts to obfuscate inconvenient facts. Polar bear scientists were responsible for elevating the polar bear to climate  change icon status in the first place, actively promoting the idea of a catastrophic future due to man-made global warming. The failure of their predictions has resulted in a loss of public trust that they entirely deserve.”

A sad polar bear resting in the water

ID 1296017 © Stephen Coburn | Dreamstime.

Crockford documents in this tiny scientific community the same behaviors that have become common in climate science, and helped catapult it to fame – and prominence in global public policy debates. Perhaps these dynamics form a contagion that is spreading through the sciences?

  • Natural and non-climate anthropogenic factors are downplayed or outright ignored. For example, polar bear papers ignore the slaughter of polar bears by whalers and other hunters in the 19th and early 20th century (much like Jared Diamond’s theory of eco-cide on Easter Island ignored disease and predication by slavers).
  • Effects are attributed to anthropogenic factors before natural variation is explained.
  • Key aspects of the new paradigm are often based on the expert judgement of activist scientists, but its results are presented to the public as equivalent to Newton’s Law of Gravity.
  • Bold confident predictions are presented as a basis for public policy action before their underlying models are validated.
  • Worst of all, the new paradigm is defended by unprofessional methods against new data and insights (e.g., see the largely bogus attack on her and her work in Harvey et al. (Bioscience, 2017).

Crockford tells a story of science’s weakness and strength. The weakness comes when a small community of scientists adopts a paradigm that boosts their careers. Replication and peer-review might not work well under these conditions. Especially when powerful political interests support the paradigm for their own gain. Under these conditions the paradigm can be defended despite large body of contrary evidence. This is example of the replication crisis gripping so many areas of science.

But the inherent strength of the scientific method wins eventually. Karl Popper said that science begins with clear and testable predictions, such as that made in 2005 by scientists of the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN = International Union for Conservation of Nature). The Arctic Ocean was warming, and the disappearance of sea ice would destroy the bears.

“The PBSG recommended that the IUCN Red List committee accept their collective opinion that the polar bear be listed as ‘Vulnerable’; and they told the IUCN that the global population was likely to decline by ‘more than 30% within the next 35 – 50 years’. The following year, the IUCN added polar bears to its Red List, categorising them as being of ‘Threatened’ status …. And this is how the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) became the first species ever to be classified as threatened with extinction based on predictions of future climate change rather than current population status.”

There were other predictions of collapses in bear populations of up to 67%. But Nature did not make us wait so long for the results.

“In summary, despite the fact that sea ice coverage since 2007 has repeatedly reached levels not predicted until 2050 or later, not only has the estimated global population size of polar bears not declined by 67% (i.e. to 8100) – or even just over 30% – it has increased by approximately 20% above the estimate used by the USGS analysts who made the predictions. Such ‘a modest upward trend’ was predicted by critics of the USGS forecasts, based on upward trends in previous decades due to hunting restrictions that are still in place.”

The bears were more adaptable than expected. The birds and seals (bear’s fav foods) loved the climate change, and multiplied. Good news for everybody, except the locals who have to once again cope with thriving polar bear populations.

Tasty! Life is good.
Two Polar Bears Share a meal.

ID 823042 © Digitalphotonut | Dreamstime.

This is a wonderful story, and she tells it well in the first third of the book. Powerful personalities are vividly described, science and politics are clearly explained. The graphics are excellent. She does an equally good job with the rest of the book, which describes scientists’ reaction to the good news about bears. Too much is at stake in the climate wars – both careers and politics – to let data determine the winner. It is an equally gripping story, but in a different way. For example, see her account of how Mitchell Taylor was “booted out” of the PBSG for questioning the paradigm (details here).

To see how the public is told about the unexpected prosperity of polar bears, read “The polar bears are fine” by Tristin Hopper in the National Post, March 2017.

“‘There’s no doubt about what’s happening to Arctic sea ice …but their populations aren’t declining as was once expected,’ said Douglas Clark, a University of Saskatchewan researcher …To be sure, polar bear biologists remain convinced that the forecast for the world’s polar bears remains grim. …What scientists can be sure of is that the Arctic is going to keep melting. And whichever way they plot it for ice-dependent polar bears, the result is an Arctic littered with bear bones. …Warming is not universal, and is having a unique effect on every region and every polar bear population. But, says Stirling, ‘warming will eventually reach them all unless we are able to slow or stop it in time.’”

A more pointed observation, graphic but accurately capturing the games being played with science.

“Other areas of science are taking on board the Replication Crisis and trying to do something about it. Contrast this with Harvey et al. {their rebuttal to Crockford} who do not accept any of their work is wrong and leave a horse’s head in Susan Crockford’s bed.
— Australian physicist Peter Ridd, quoted in chapter 7.

Crockford concludes with some speculative and, if correct, awesome news: polar bear populations are expensive to measure (and so poorly measured), but might be far larger than the consensus believes.

This is a book about good news. Science works, in its usual slow sloppy way. The recovery of polar bear populations is a major public policy success, showing that our political machinery can still work. Last, and most important, nature is more resilient than doomsters believe. I found it well worth reading.

Susan CrockfordAbout the author

Susan Crockford is a zoologist with more than 35 years experience, including published work on the Holocene history of Arctic animals. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia (a “non-remunerated professional zooarcheologist associate”) and co-owner of a private consulting company, Pacific Identifications Inc.

See her publications and her website Polar Bear Science. See her first book about polar bears: Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change. See my review of it.

She has also written a novel, Eaten – a polar bear attack thriller.

For More Information

An example of fear-mongering about polar bears: Mother Jones sounds the alarm about global warming! This time about the north pole. Exploiting the polar bear story for political gain!

To understand better how science works, see Thomas Kuhn tells us what we need to know about climate science.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change and my posts about climate change. Also see all posts about polar bears, the arctic area, and polar sea ice, and especially these with good news about the climate…

  1. More good news about climate change from the IPCC: no sign yet of the methane apocalypse.
  2. Prof Botkin gives us good news about our changing climate.
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  5. Are 30 thousand species going extinct every year?
  6. Good news about polar bears, thriving as the arctic warms!
  7. The IPCC gives us good news about climate change, but we don’t listen.
  8. Good news about CO2 emissions. Progress to a better world.
  9. Good news about polar bears, exemplars of climate change.

Reposted from Fabius Maximus Blog

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48 thoughts on “A new book with unexpected good news about polar bears

  1. Although the failures of “science” to accurately predict the climate apocalypse puts the onus on the scientists, where it belongs, one must also look at the media and politicians for unwavering support of the questionable theory from the beginning. There has never been a catastrophic result of AGW to date that has been realized yet the meme persists without question in their belief.

    • What scientists can be sure of is that the Arctic is going to keep melting.

      Well the summer minimum ( the alarmists’ fave “canary in the coal mine” ) is at the same level it was in 2007, having rebounded remarkable form the OMG low of 2012. None one anticipated or predicted that, it was supposed to be a “death spiral” , run-away melting, tipping points etc.

      So climate scientists can be as “sure” as they like but so far they have demonstrated a pitiful lack of understanding of the fundamental drivers of what his happening and its consequences for polar bears and other fauna.

      • If one can believe that the Arctic has been both much warmer and colder than today then it is clear that the dire models regarding polar bears and other fauna are totally wrong since these animals have survived much worse. These facts demand the models have no correlation to reality and history. They must be disregarded and recognized as the crap they are. The people pushing this are forwarding an agenda, not science

  2. But the inherent strength of the scientific method wins eventually.

    It all hinges on how long it is until “eventually”. I hope eventually occurs within my lifetime. Larry has a more optimistic view of the self curative powers of the scientific establishment than I do.

      • Larry,
        I am 70 now so 2040 is a stretch. It’s just that they just keep moving the goal posts. There is still lots of Arctic ice, children still know what snow is, sea level rise is not accelerating. Global warming has now morphed into the more nebulous and malleable climate change. And 97% of climate scientists agree…

        • Robert,

          Have faith in medical science! They may have to shoot us Boomers to get rid of us.

          As for time, they keep moving the goalposts – but few are paying attention to the game. Only the liberal true believers, and few of them believe enough to want to pay to “stop” climate change.

          If we we continue to get gradual warming but little more extreme weather, my guess (guess!) is that by 2040 screams that the “end is nigh from climate change” will be considered as weird as guys on the street with sandwich boards proclaiming the “End Times Are Coming.”

          The danger, again imo, is that we will get a bout of extreme weather (multiple big ones, or one really big one – blamed on GHG) that panics people, so that the left gets policies approved. Once in, they’ll be difficult to reverse. Even if by 2040 people realized they were scammed.

          • The danger is that the Progressives win big time in the 2020 elections in the US, and Congress (and maybe the White House) is occupied by more Ocasio-Cortez’s. Elections Matter.

          • Jim,

            It works both ways. Extreme weather would give leftist governments the opportunity to do big climate change action. On the other hand, big extreme weather at an apt moment could tip elections into leftists’ favor.

            Either way the combo could result in big changes.

          • As far as ‘Boomers’ go, I’ve found that the older I get, the older ‘old’ becomes. But the current crop of ‘youngsters’ seem to think that history only began about the time they were born.

  3. Perhaps mentioned in some of the many links, the polar bear is a high arctic adaptation of the grizzly-brown bear genetic line. It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that since we are in one of a succession of interglacial periods, those bears would have changed habitats and numerical ratios with their geographically contiguous cousins many times. If the Arctic warms and drives the polar bear North, so what? It has doubtless happened many times before.

    • Dollops,

      Susan discusses the Grizzly bears briefly in her book. I did not know that on average polar bears are larger – but grizzly bears are more aggressive – and tend to win confrontations.

      That is pretty much like how the climate policy debates: the more aggressive side wins.

      • Polar Bears are in fact remarkably un-aggressive, perhaps more so than any other large predator. If only they did not regard humans as food they would be just as nice and cute as they are pictured in the media.

        • Being on the meal side of that equation… “un-aggressive” seems out of place… 😉

        • Not at all. Grizzlies are territorial and aggressive against intruders which they may attack and kill without eating them. Polar Bears are not. If they are hungry they may well eat you, but that is not aggression, no more than a cow is aggressive against grass.

  4. The second picture shows that those naughty polar bears are not vegan !? Seriously ?

    Some climate saviors should go there and teach them how to become vegan and thus save the endangered climate.

    All means should be allowed in this desperate attempt :
    – private jets, helicopters, icebreakers and nuclear submarines, because climate matters and we have only 12 years left !

    /s

  5. I like the cover graphic. It’s a clever mix of the cat which always lands on its feet and the obscene video of polar bears falling from the sky like WTC victims jumping from windows.

    That vid , like the 20:20 vision debacle, was so disgusting that it set the AGW movement back 20 years in public opinion. Everyone could see there was not limit where they would go to promote their psychotic worldview.

  6. Over at the Guardian, Susan Crockford is the devil incarnate.

    Remember this piece of BS from Dana Nuccitelli? https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/nov/29/new-study-uncovers-the-keystone-domino-strategy-of-climate-denial

    “In fact, on the question of polar bears, the study authors found that as their primary source, nearly 80% of denier blogs referenced another blog written by a zoologist named Susan Crockford. However, Crockford has never conducted research on current polar bear populations or published any peer-reviewed studies on the subject. There are experts on this subject, like the Polar Bear Specialist Group, but deniers cite Crockford quite simply because she’s one of the few scientists who tells them what they want to hear.”

    Guardianistas will only read and believe literature that claims polar bears are starving and that their numbers are declining because of melting Arctic ice.

    Wonderful Susan tells it differently and like me she is probably banned from the Guardian blogs. 🙂

  7. …Diamond’s theory of eco-cide on Easter Island ignored disease and predication

    I predicate that you mean predation.
    :>)

  8. Oh man, I could hear the sound of poor griff’s empty head exploding all the way down here in Florida.

    Griff , with an eye peeled for polar bear articles in the Guardian, is just about finished with his book, but he’s running out of crayons.

  9. Susan Crockford, her book and her conclusions should be widely circulated.
    However, in this review, Kummer writes “Science works, in its slow sloppy way.”
    I think it should read that science works, it its own methodical way.

    • Bob,

      “I think it should read that science works, it its own methodical way.”

      There is little in the history of science to justify calling it “methodical.” Science is a social process done by people, and so is it sloppy. That is especially so when the matter is of great political or social significance. There are examples beyond count. Climate change will just add to the list.

      My favs — Look at the science of races during the past 2 centuries (Stephen Jay Gould’s books are a fun, if biased, tale about this). Or the 20th century workings of science about tetraethyl lead and tobacco. Or, in a different way, marijuana. “Reefer Madness” (1936) isn’t a documentary about science, but it captures the way many scientists described it.

  10. From the article:

    “In summary, despite the fact that sea ice coverage since 2007 has repeatedly reached levels not predicted until 2050 or later, not only has the estimated global population size of polar bears not declined by 67% (i.e. to 8100) – or even just over 30% – it has increased by approximately 20% above the estimate used by the USGS analysts who made the predictions. Such ‘a modest upward trend’ was predicted by critics of the USGS forecasts, based on upward trends in previous decades due to hunting restrictions that are still in place.”

    What amazed me is that those people who pushed the “bears are doomed” claims ignored the rest of the Holocene Arctic sea ice condition, where there were periods of time of little to no summer ice, yet the Polar Bears, Inuit’s, Republicans, Ring Seals, and so on still here.

    • Sunset,

      It’s worse than that. In Chapter one Susan shows how scientists tended to ignore all history before the 1950s.

      “It is hard not to wonder why polar bear experts have been so reticent about that black period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The professional silence of these biologists about the largest slaughter of polar bears ever known, as reflected in easily available peer-reviewed scientific papers and reports, stands in marked contrast to the wealth of information forthcoming about the many other marine mammals (including bowhead and humpback whales, sea otters, fur seals, and walrus) that share a similarly devastating history. …

      “The silence from scientists regarding that early period of over-harvesting has also impacted other areas of research. An eighty-year-long decimation of polar bear numbers worldwide almost certainly reduced the genetic diversity of polar bears living today, important information for polar bear geneticists trying to unravel polar bear population dynamics and evolutionary history. However, I am almost certain that polar bear geneticists have no idea that such a marked population decline occurred between 1890 and 1930, since none of the standard reference works or status reports they would naturally turn to for that information mention the carnage. They are seemingly only aware of the post-war period of polar bear over-hunting.”

      This shows her gentle treatment of these scientists. We can make a good guess as to why they ignore this history. As I mentioned in my review, this is similar to Jared Diamond’s ignoring key points in the history of Easter Island in order to build his tale of eco-cide in Collapse. Too much info ruins the narrative.

    • David Krakauer (President of the Santa Fe Institute) once said: “Stupidity is using a rule where adding more data doesn’t improve your chances of getting [a problem] right; in fact, it makes it more likely you’ll get it wrong. Intelligence, on the other hand, is using a rule that allows you to solve complex problems with simple, elegant solutions.”

      Mann, et al, with their mantra of “settled science” are poser boys for stupidity.

  11. That is one very happy and fat polar bear, but spare a thought for where
    the fat comes from.

    What about all of those poor seals , especially the cubs. How can we allow
    this slaughter to continue. Something must be done.

    Greenies where are you. Sarc. of course.

    MJE VK5ELL

  12. Polar Bears have never had it so good.

    Think about it, millions more seals since seal hunting for fur was banned and those pictures of red ice lands of slaughter disappeared from the headlines.

    All that extra grub, and the ban on bear hunting.

  13. Thank You, Dr. Crockford!
    Your commitment to excellence in science and perseverance in the face of activist deceit is a lesson for all to emulate and admire!

    • This has nothing whatsoever to do with climate as far as I know. The Night Parrot decline happened about a hundred years ago and was probably due either to introduced predators (cats and foxes) and/or vegetation changes due to sheep overgrazing.

      The Night Parrot still exists but is apparently extremely rare, there are very few definite recent records, but then it is also very difficult to find since it is strictly nocturnal and lives in the outback where few humans move around at night. And we really don’t know enough about the species habits to search efficiently for it.

      • “This has nothing whatsoever to do with climate as far as I know.”
        But they wanted to stop mining and feather their own nest and if you can hint at the chance of any threatened species being anywhere near mines well you know how it is.

      • As far as I know none of the questionable records are anywhere near any mining site. The only record near any mine as far as I know was the Minga Well sighting in Pilbarra in 2005.

        In any case conflict over Night Parrot habitat seems unlikely. Apparently they live in dense spinifex and it is hard to see what anyone would want that for.

  14. The whole meme about low sea ice being bad for the bears is ridiculous. How much sea ice was there 6,000ya when the oceans were six feet higher than now?

    • Less than now, but on the other hand the oceans weren’t six foot higher 6,000 years ago, except possibly in the Central Pacific. Higher than now, yes, slightly, in most places, but not six foot.

      • Shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico was 50 miles north of present day according to archeological digs.

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