Our Polar Bear Predicament

There’s bad news. But there’s good news, too.

Baby polar bear takes his first walk, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

Baby polar bear takes his first walk, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

If you haven’t seen this clip of a mother polar bear taking her new baby for baby’s first walk outside their den, you must. The spy-cam that caught it is amazing, as you’ll see, and the footage of Baby that Mama unwittingly helps the spy-cam capture will melt your heart.

Click the image above or below to see the clip, and be sure to watch all the way through. Baby enters at the very end.

Mother bear noses Snowball Cam, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

Mother bear noses Snowball Cam, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

The clip comes from the one-hour BBC documentary “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice,” which isn’t available for viewing anywhere right now, sadly, but may air on Animal Planet in early March. Keep an eye out!

Snowball Cam in the snow, image from“Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

Snowball Cam in the snow, image from“Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

In the meantime, the clip above and four more below are available on Youtube, and they’re all a huge treat to watch — for the astonishing polar bear footage the spy-cams capture, the amazing and hilarious R2D2 type spy-cams the filmmakers used, and the utterly delightful narration by actor David Tennant. Check them out:

To watch a polar bear stage an amazing sneak attack on an unsuspecting seal, click below:

Polar bear stages sneak attack on seal, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

Polar bear stages sneak attack on seal, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

To watch three polar bears take a break from feeding on a kill to paw Snowball Cam, click below:

Polar bear paws Snowball Cam, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

Polar bear paws Snowball Cam, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

To watch different polar bears destroy different spy-cams, trying to figure out what they are, click below:

Mother polar bear investigates floating Iceberg Cam as baby watches, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/ BBC One, youtube.com

Mother polar bear investigates floating Iceberg Cam as baby watches, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/ BBC One, youtube.com

And, finally, to watch a flirtatious female arouse a male’s interest with cheesecake poses and risqué gymnastics, click below:

Female polar bear tries to attract a male’s interest, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

Female polar bear tries to attract a male’s interest, image from “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice”/BBC One, youtube.com

It’s wonderful to watch these videos and imagine polar bears living wild and free, healthy and unmolested in a cold, vast, blue-and-white universe of sky and water, snow and ice.

Polar bear walks on Arctic sea ice, Aug 21 09/Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard, USGS, usgs.gov

Polar bear walks on Arctic sea ice, Aug 21 09/Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard, USGS, usgs.gov

Polar bear, place & date unknown/USGS, Alaska.usgs.gov

Polar bear, place & date unknown/USGS, Alaska.usgs.gov

But that’s not their world anymore.

Polar bear slides on thin Arctic ice, Aug 21 09/Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard, USGS, usgs.gov

Polar bear slides on thin Arctic ice, Aug 21 09/Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard, USGS, usgs.gov

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed polar bears as a threatened species in 2008 due to loss of habitat throughout their range. Translation: There’s no more arguing about whether the Arctic winter sea ice polar bears depend on to hunt prey is disappearing or not. It is.

Polar bear examines ice, Fram Strait, Oct 22 08/fruchtzwerg’s world, Arctic and Antarctic Adventures, flickr.com

Polar bear examines ice, Fram Strait, Oct 22 08/fruchtzwerg’s world, Arctic and Antarctic Adventures, flickr.com

And if it keeps going the way it’s going, there’s also no more arguing about whether the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left on the planet will disappear. They will.  The only question is when.

Polar bears along edge of Arctic sea ice, Sept 1 08/Jessica K. Robertson, U.S. Geological Survey, usgs.gov

Polar bears along edge of Arctic sea ice, Sept 1 08/Jessica K. Robertson, U.S. Geological Survey, usgs.gov

“Threatened” means “may face extinction.” “Endangered” means “facing it.” Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups wanted polar bears listed as endangered in 2008. They still want that. But first the Bush Administration and now the Obama Administration have said, “No, things aren’t that bad yet.”

Mother polar bear and two cubs, place & date unknown/bbc.co.uk

Mother polar bear and two cubs, place & date unknown/bbc.co.uk

Oh, yes they are, conservationists argue. The government just doesn’t want to admit it because it doesn’t want to do what it might have to do to help save polar bears if it acknowledged the truth. Like: Ban oil drilling and gas exploration anywhere in polar-bear habitat. And: Significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are fueling global warming and melting the Arctic ice.

Sunset over the Arctic Ocean, Sept 1, 08/Jessica K. Robertson, U.S. Geological Survey, usgs.com

Sunset over the Arctic Ocean, Sept 1, 08/Jessica K. Robertson, U.S. Geological Survey, usgs.com

The two sides go back to court in a few days. Meanwhile, other interest groups have sued to prevent polar bears from getting any protections that could cost or inconvenience them. And the Republican-controlled Congress is pushing to cut EPA funding, dismantle the Clean Air Act and prevent the EPA from using the Act to pressure greenhouse-gas polluters to retool.

And, meanwhile, the ice continues to melt.

Polar Bear on unsolid ice, Fram Strait, Sept 19 2008/fruchtzwerg’s world, Arctic and Antarctic Adventures, flickr.com

Polar Bear on unsolid ice, Fram Strait, Sept 19 2008/fruchtzwerg’s world, Arctic and Antarctic Adventures, flickr.com

Polar bear walks at edge of ice, place & date unknown/BBC, phyrefile.com

Polar bear walks at edge of ice, place & date unknown/BBC, phyrefile.com

Polar bear rests at edge of Arctic ice after following a Coast Guard cutter for almost an hour, Aug 23 09/Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard, USGS, usgs.gov

Polar bear rests at edge of Arctic ice after following a Coast Guard cutter for almost an hour, Aug 23 09/Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard, USGS, usgs.gov

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, there was less sea ice in the Arctic this past January than in any January since satellites began keeping track in 1979. Almost half a million square miles of water that used to freeze regularly don’t now, and other areas that still do freeze are weeks late.

Map of January 2011 Arctic sea ice (white) and pre-2001 norm (purple line) with small “+” near center marking North Pole/National Snow and Ice Data Center, nsidc.org

Map of January 2011 Arctic sea ice (white) and pre-2001 norm (purple line) with small “+” near center marking North Pole/National Snow and Ice Data Center, nsidc.org

To put that number in perspective: Almost half a million square miles  — 490,000, to be exact — is an area bigger than Texas. A lot bigger. Almost twice as big.

Texas = 261,797 square miles/presentationmall.com

Texas = 261,797 square miles/presentationmall.com

What does this mean for polar bears? Here’s what it meant for one mother and cub: In late August 2008, researchers in Alaska collared a healthy, 498-pound adult female with a healthy, one-year-old, 350-pound female cub.

Female polar bear with yearling cub, place & date unknown/Alaska Science Center, USGS, Alaska.usgs.gov

Female polar bear with yearling cub, place & date unknown/Alaska Science Center, USGS, Alaska.usgs.gov

Two days later, according to their data, Mama led Daughter into the water off Alaska’s north coast and set out for the pack ice of the Beaufort Sea.

Female polar bear and cub swim between ice floes, Baffin Bay, Canada, July 2010/Paul Watson, Toronto Star, thestar.com

Female polar bear and cub swim between ice floes, Baffin Bay, Canada, July 2010/Paul Watson, Toronto Star, thestar.com

It wasn’t a good year for pack ice. The mother swam and swam. And swam. And swam. By the time she finally reached the ice, she had traveled more than 426 miles and had been swimming — ready for this? — for more than 9½ days straight. Closer to 10.

Polar bear swims toward a ship in the Arctic, undated/Mila Zinkova, en.wikipedia.org

Polar bear swims toward a ship in the Arctic, undated/Mila Zinkova, en.wikipedia.org

The sea ice this polar bear finally reached was out over deep water, where prey is scarce. When the researchers tracked her there two months later to retrieve the collar, she had lost more than 100 pounds (22 percent of her body weight), and her cub was gone: perished, the researchers suspect, during the long swim.

Underweight polar bear, wet from swimming, on ice floe off Alaskan coastline, undated/Kieran Mulvaney, Discovery News, news.discovery.com

Underweight polar bear, wet from swimming, on ice floe off Alaskan coastline, undated/Kieran Mulvaney, Discovery News, news.discovery.com

The point, to put it plainly: If the sea ice goes, the polar bears go, and the ice is going. But it’s not gone yet! That’s the good news. And a new study in Nature says we can still save enough ice to keep polar bears around for a while if we can cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold Co2 levels below 450 parts per million (ppm).

Coal-fired power plant, place & date unknown/ Steve Hise, CreativeCommons, allamericanpatriots.com

Coal-fired power plant, place & date unknown/ Steve Hise, CreativeCommons, allamericanpatriots.com

We’re at 391 now — we, meaning the planet. That’s 41 ppm above the 350 mark many scientists consider the cap for preventing major climate change. And we’re still climbing — faster than before. So it’s good that still have time to prevent total sea-ice melt. But we don’t have a lot of it. If we want to put the brakes on fast enough, we have to act now.

January 2011 global CO2 levels in parts per million (ppm), preliminary data released Feb 7, 2011/Mauna Loa Observatory, NOAA-ESRL, co2now.org

January 2011 global CO2 levels in parts per million (ppm), preliminary data released Feb 7, 2011/Mauna Loa Observatory, NOAA-ESRL, co2now.org

And guess what?  Here’s more good news: There’s a glimmer of evidence, a shred of hope, that we we may actually be starting to do it — that enough of us are changing our energy-producing and consuming ways now to begin slowing things down.

Not all of us yet by any means. But enough to be having an impact.

Members of Ohio Student Environmental Coalition & Mountain Justice join successful campaign to stop construction of new coal-burning power plant in Meigs County, Ohio, March 25 08/Rainforest Action Network, understory.ran.org

Members of Ohio Student Environmental Coalition & Mountain Justice join successful campaign to stop construction of new coal-burning power plant in Meigs County, Ohio, March 25 08/Rainforest Action Network, understory.ran.org

People of Sabah, Borneo, celebrate government's decision to cancel construction of new coal-burning power plant, Feb 16, 2011/350.org

People of Sabah, Borneo, celebrate government's decision to cancel construction of new coal-burning power plant, Feb 16, 2011/350.org

Consider this: Although China (the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas producer) and India (much smaller but growing) keep pumping more and more Co2 into the atmosphere every year…

Cyclist rides in polluted air in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China, Dec 5 06/ AP/EyePress, The Telegraph, telegraph.co.uk

Cyclist rides in polluted air in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China, Dec 5 06/ AP/EyePress, The Telegraph, telegraph.co.uk

Coal power plant, Tatamud, India, undated/fuel-efficient-vehicles.org

Coal power plant, Tatamud, India, undated/fuel-efficient-vehicles.org

… U.S. Co2 emissions have actually declined since 2007. And that plus cuts made by other industrialized nations were enough to cancel out China’s and India’s increases and bring global Co2 emissions down in 2009.

That’s right: down. Not a lot. Just a little. But it’s a start.

Latest data on nation-by-nation and global CO2 emissions /U.S. Energy Information Administration, tonto.eia.doe.gov

Latest data on nation-by-nation and global CO2 emissions /U.S. Energy Information Administration, tonto.eia.doe.gov

If you want to see some really cool things some really cool people are doing to keep emissions moving in that direction — and, trust me, you do….

Cliff Etheredge, wind farmer, Roscoe, TX, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

Cliff Etheredge, wind farmer, Roscoe, TX, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

Wind farm, Roscoe, TX, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

Wind farm, Roscoe, TX, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

….You have to see “Carbon Nation,” the new can-do, solutions-oriented, it’s-not-over-until-it’s-over documentary  now playing or soon opening in cities across the U.S.

Bernie Karl, geothermal pioneer, Fairbanks, AK, image from trailer for "Carbon Nation"/carbonnationthemovie.com

Bernie Karl, geothermal pioneer, Fairbanks, AK, image from trailer for "Carbon Nation"/carbonnationthemovie.com

Bernie Karl in geothermically cooled Aurora Ice Museum, Chena Hot Springs Resort, Fairbanks, AK, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

Bernie Karl in geothermically cooled Aurora Ice Museum, Chena Hot Springs Resort, Fairbanks, AK, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

To watch the trailer, click any of the images above or below.

Dan Nolan, Dept. of Defense Green Hawks, Washington, D.C., image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/ carbonnationthemovie.com

Dan Nolan, Dept. of Defense Green Hawks, Washington, D.C., image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/ carbonnationthemovie.com

Former CIA director and hybrid car proponent R. James Woolsey plugs in his hybrid car, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/ carbonnationthemovie.com

Former CIA director and hybrid car proponent R. James Woolsey plugs in his hybrid car, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/ carbonnationthemovie.com

Van Jones, founder Green for All, near a house being fitted with solar panels, Richmond, CA, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

Van Jones, founder Green for All, near a house being fitted with solar panels, Richmond, CA, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationthemovie.com

Green job trainees install solar panels, Richmond, CA, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/ carbonnationthemovie.com

Green job trainees install solar panels, Richmond, CA, image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/ carbonnationthemovie.com

It’s a short, sweet, wonderfully upbeat and entertaining film that will leave you feeling surprisingly hopeful about our chances of saving this fragile planet of ours….

Image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationmovie.com

Image from trailer for “Carbon Nation”/carbonnationmovie.com

….and newly fired up to want to do something to contribute to the effort yourself: Turn off a light. Change a light bulb. Unplug an appliance. Something.

We can all do something.

Imagine if we did.

Polar bear walks in blowing snow at sunset, Canada, undated/© Thomas D. Mangelsen, mangelsenstock.com

Polar bear walks in blowing snow at sunset, Canada, undated/© Thomas D. Mangelsen, mangelsenstock.com

Polar bear cub with mom, image from “Polar Bear: Spy On The Ice”/John Downer Productions, jdp.co.uk

Polar bear cub with mom, image from “Polar Bear: Spy On The Ice”/John Downer Productions, jdp.co.uk

Find Out More:

• To learn more about the making of “Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice,” visit director John Downer’s Web site here. Visit actor and narrator David Tennant’s blog here. Visit the BBC Web site here. Listen to or read a transcript of an interview with director John Downer here.

• Watch other great BBC polar bear videos here.

• Download the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 ruling adding polar bears to the list of threatened species here.

• Learn more about continuing efforts to get polar bears listed as an endangered species here and here.

• Read Los Angeles Times and SF Appeal Online articles about efforts to get polar bears listed as endangered here and here.

• Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s polar bear Web site here.

• Read the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s February report on low January Arctic sea ice levels here.

• Read a summary of the epic-polar-bear-swim study or order the full study here.

• Read Los Angeles Times, Alaska Dispatch, Discovery News and JuneauEmpire.com/AP stories about the polar-bear-swim study here, here, here and here.

• Learn more about what George Durner, lead author of the polar-bear-swim study, and his colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center are discovering about polar bears here.

• Learn more about what Steven Amstrup, co-author of the polar-bear-swim study, and his colleagues at Polar Bears International are finding out about polar bears here.

• Read the Nature study that says we can still save enough Arctic sea ice to give polar bears a fighting chance to survive here.

• Read a good sciencedaily.com article about the sea-ice study here.

• Watch the trailer for “Carbon Nation” and learn more about the film, how to arrange a screening and how to help fight global warming here.

• Get more tips on “How to Live Greener” from Polar Bears International here.

• See images from photographer Steven Kazlowski’s 2008 book The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World here.

• See more of photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen’s gorgeous images of polar bears and other wildlife here.

 

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4 Responses to Our Polar Bear Predicament

  1. Marc Wallace says:

    I didn’t realize polar bears were in such peril. Thank you for opening my eyes to what amazing creatures they are and how their suvivial is tied to our own.

  2. Mary McHugh says:

    These are incredibly beautiful films. Moving and I’m so glad I got to see them.

  3. Annette says:

    Wonderful and fun to watch.

  4. Annette says:

    They are wonderful. Just beautiful and fun to watch.

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