The Plight of the Polar Bear

What Corwin talks about in this first chapter is how Polar Bears are in danger of being added to the 100 heartbeats list. As we change the temperature of the world with our gas emissions, ice is melting. Polar Bears need that ice to cross so they can get to areas of water to hunt their prey. With ice melting and larger bodies of water to cross, polar bears have a more difficult time finding food without expending too much energy. Some, even, drown due to the large amount of water they have to swim across. They are adapted to live on ice, and swim, but not to live in water. Jeff Corwin is working with a scientist named Steve Amstrup, who is an expert on polar bears, in this chapter.

Here are some important facts I gathered from my readings online and the book itself:

Why is global warming so bad for polar bears?
They feed almost entirely from sea ice. They catch seals as they come up to breathe or climb onto the ice. This year set a new record for melting sea ice. -from the book

“Polar bears spent their entire evolutionary history adapting to the sea-ice environment. Less than 300,000 years ago, they diverged from Brown Bears and began adapting to their frigid climate by developing fur on their feet to give them better purchase on the slippery ice. Their huge feet also act like snowshoes when the snow is soft underfoot. And their fur functions as a superefficient insulating and heating system. What look like white outer hairs are actually hollow, transparent tubes that tend to conserve heat. Polar bears are graced with a keen sense of smell- they can trace the scent of a seal that’s under 6 feet of snow from a few miles away. They’ve adapted so well to their environment, in fact, that now they can’t survive without it” . p.8-9

Earlier in his career, Amstrup solved the mystery of where female polar bears give birth. More than half of them dig their dens on ice floes to have their cubs, making the species vulnerable to climate change. (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/2012/1019/Steven-Amstrup-says-it-s-not-too-late-to-save-polar-bears-and-ourselves/(page)/3)

You might be wondering, why should I care? Well, here is just one of the many reasons:
“The world is changing so fast. We need to act fast to change its direction. Time really is of the essence here. Even if you don’t care about polar bears, we’re talking about changes that affect all life on Earth,” he says. “Polar bears just happen to be feeling it first because their habitat happens to literally melt when the temperature rises.” (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/2012/1019/Steven-Amstrup-says-it-s-not-too-late-to-save-polar-bears-and-ourselves/(page)/3)

From these facts it is fairly clear why Polar Bears are in danger of becoming extinct. They are made specifically to live on the ice and they use their habitat to ensure the survival of their offspring and therefore themselves. I know people tire of hearing about how gas emissions has caused global warming, even I find it tiring because it seems hopeless. I mean, how can we reverse the effect when no one is truly willing to give up driving their cars around? We are so dependent on certain types of technology and if others aren’t going to give it up, what’s the point of me giving it up? The funny thing is, I chose my major (Conservation Biology) because I wanted to help save animals that are affected by human activities or in danger from other sources, but every class I walk into has the same message. I have had professors at ASU tell me, “Well, here is the gist of it, we have screwed up the planet, and there’s no hope. All we are doing is buying more time.” Inspiring, right? Yeah, that was my same thought. While researching Steve Amstrup’s work, I came across plenty of hope, not just to buy time but reverse our damage and save Polar Bears and essentially other animals. So, here are some quotes I gathered to give you, as readers, hope for the future.

“Steven Amstrup, a senior scientist at Polar Bears International, has led a team of researchers that discovered that, contrary to expectations, even if all the sea ice in the Arctic disappeared, once the planet cooled back down, it would return.
“That was one of the great discoveries that allowed us to continue to instill hope in people that we could do something,” Dr. Amstrup says. “Human nature is such that, if you think there’s nothing you can do, you don’t do anything. So this was a really important find.” (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/2012/1019/Steven-Amstrup-says-it-s-not-too-late-to-save-polar-bears-and-ourselves/(page)/3)

ICN: Do you think progress is being made?
Amstrup: Yes, I am confident that soon we will observe a sea-change on sentiment about global warming and action to address it. It is coming in fits and starts, but businesses and communities are increasingly seeing the need to address climate change. Ultimately, these grassroots efforts will drag our policy leaders along—even if kicking and screaming. After all, the deniers have children, too. I really don’t believe they will continue to deny a future for those children. (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120620/qa-steve-amstrup-climate-change-scientist-polar-bears-global-warming-skeptics-meteorologists-greenhouse-gases?page=2)

While reading this chapter and gathering information I came across a few ideas that really hit home for me. One of them was this quote Steve Amstrup said: “Each one has their own personality. They’re not all the same – just like dogs and cats and humans,” says Amstrup.”We have captured a number of young polar bears over the years, and some of them are just like a family pet and some are just chain saws with fur,” he says. (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/2012/1019/Steven-Amstrup-says-it-s-not-too-late-to-save-polar-bears-and-ourselves/(page)/3)

Why does that hit home with me? Well, you are about to probably think I am absolutely insane, but I’ll tell you anyways. In my last post I talked about my animal handling training experience at the Phoenix zoo and how it taught me so much. One of the most important things I learned was that all animals have personalities, from Polar bears to Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. That’s right, you heard me! First of all, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are very different than the house cockroach. They are a lot cleaner and less skiddish. They look a bit different and they actually do hiss when they are scared as a defense. I never had imagined that insects had any personality whatsoever. I mean, other than the obvious, creepy element, but they do. I held a female Roach as well as a male roach and immediately observed a difference. Holding the female was like holding a squirmy child. I placed her on my hand and she was continuously moving, making me nervous. She was slightly smaller than the male and way more skiddish. When I placed the male on my hand, he just sat there, calmly. He was very chill. So, there you go, male Hissing Cockroaches are chill and cool, while females are skiddish and squirmy. Animals always surprise you and all of them are different, even the smallest insects.

Another very important subject discussed by Steve was that of education.

ICN: Besides your effort to help save the polar bear and its habitat, you’ve been praised for your ability to make complex scientific concepts digestible to the general public. Did you come by this ability naturally?
Amstrup: I think one of my greatest strengths always has been recognizing what is important in a cast of problems or issues and being able to simply and elegantly explain and describe it. It was clear to me from my earliest days as a professional biologist that if I could not communicate what I knew to all audiences, it was of little value. So, this sort of communication always has been a focus, but it is not necessarily something I had to practice. That isn’t to say that I don’t learn from my experiences, how to do it better!
ICN: Is education the biggest hurdle in making the threat of climate change known, or is it politics?
Amstrup: I believe it is largely about education. Never before have we seen such a severe example of uninformed opinion being weighed more heavily than the laws of physics and empirical observations.
There has been a significant intentional campaign to mislead the public, and there also has been a failure of scientists and managers to effectively convey the truth and counteract the lies.
The first step in turning things around is information and education delivered in ways everyone can understand. Some always will be so handicapped by their opinions that they cannot entertain facts. We will never reach those, but most people, if we communicate effectively, can be convinced to change their minds. (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120620/qa-steve-amstrup-climate-change-scientist-polar-bears-global-warming-skeptics-meteorologists-greenhouse-gases?page=2)

And education is why I started writing this blog, why I am going to college, why I volunteer at the zoo. The only way to improve this world is by telling others about these issues and explaining it in a relational way. If the audience can’t relate to the fact that polar bears are going to disappear, or if they can’t understand the concept then they won’t feel the motivation to do anything.At the Phoenix Zoo we play games to help children understand how birds have different beaks that are like different tools, we let people look at and hold a cast of a giraffe skull so they can stare in awe at it’s enormity and uniqueness, and all of this is how people can relate. I truly admire Steve Amstrup for first, discovering what is necessary for polar bears to survive and then, recognizing that for him to change their future he has to educate the publicand in a way that is simple and relatable.

So, that is the first chapter of the book. I will leave you with two more points and a fun picture of Steve.

What can you do?
ICN: Other than stopping or at least slowing climate change, what other measures must be taken to save the polar bear?
Amstrup: My work has shown clearly that without stopping greenhouse gas rise, no other management actions can make a difference. If, however, we mitigate GHG rise, on the ground management like establishing protective zones, etc. can help. The problem is that many have become fixated on the prospect of setting up refuges, establishing critical habitats, regulating hunting, etc. and those topics can become dangerous distractions from the real concern and the only thing that can really save polar bears.
If we allow ourselves to be distracted from the mission of reducing GHG emissions, we surely will become polar bear historians rather than polar bear conservationists.(http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120620/qa-steve-amstrup-climate-change-scientist-polar-bears-global-warming-skeptics-meteorologists-greenhouse-gases?page=2)

And this quote:”As a conservationist, I cherish the opportunity to be on the front lines in the race to save Earth’s creatures..” p. 5.

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