A Grist article last week pandered to activist polar bear specialists over their failed climate change agenda as it tried to minimize why the climate movement doesn’t talk about polar bears anymore. Apparently, the Arctic icon has “largely fallen out of fashion” through “overexposure” resulting in polar bear images invoking “cynicism and fatigue.” But that isn’t really true, is it?
While there is an admission that the over-hyped lies about starving bears promoted by National Geographic in 2017 and 2018 were a factor, there is no mention in the article of the well-known, documented evidence of scientists’ own failed assumptions that polar bears require summer sea ice for survival have had any impact on public opinion (Amstrup et al. 2007; Crockford 2015, 2019, 2022, 2023; Lippold et al. 2019; Rode et al. 2021).
Thriving populations in the Chukchi Sea and elsewhere amid low summer ice levels have busted the myth that polar bears need ice year-round.
Andrew Derocher was also allowed to repeat, unchallenged, the ridiculous narrative he and his activist supporters have peddled before, that insists the polar bear had become a climate change icon by accident rather than design, a lie I addressed in detail last year. Some excerpts from that 2022 post are copied below.
Excerpts from “Polar bears became global warming icons because biologists promoted a narrative of doom since 1999: it didn’t happen by accident,” originally published 1 September 2022.
“The polar bear became an ‘accidental icon’ of climate change“, claims a recent CBC Radio interview with ardent global warming promoter and polar bear catastrophist Andrew Derocher. Derocher’s insistence that the polar bear became a climate change icon “by accident” is historical revisionism. While such a statement may be attractive now that polar bears are not dying in droves as he and his colleagues predicted in 2007, that doesn’t make it true.
In the summer of 1999, polar bear biologist Ian Stirling helped produce a short doomsday film spectacular for the biggest news outlet in Canada at the time, in which he hyped his ‘climate warming’ fears about Hudson Bay polar bears, yet we are expected to believe Derocher that on September 4, 2000, Time Magazine put polar bears on its “Arctic Meltdown” cover because they ‘just happened’ to hear about an academic paper Stirling had written the year before.
Ian Stirling (Derocher’s Ph.D. supervisor) arranged for a team of CBC reporters to accompany himself and colleague Nick Lunn during their tagging of Western Hudson Bay bears. His paper had been just been published in January that year. Perhaps someone from the CBC just happened to be reading that particular scientific journal and saw his paper, or perhaps Stirling just happened to make a phone call and gave them a heads-up, especially when sea ice breakup came earlier than expected that summer.
The ensuing video feature (originally called “The shrinking polar bears of Hudson Bay”, now “Climate change threatens polar bears”, see link below), was shown on CBC television’s nightly news program (The National) on the 23rd of September, and was probably picked up by other news outlets around the world. As I wrote about in 2015, it included Stirling voicing his dire warning that these polar bears would soon disappear if nothing was done about human-caused ‘climate warming’. That was 1999, remember: based only on a just-published academic paper (Stirling et al. 1999) that showed a statistically-insignificant correlation between polar bear survival and sea ice coverage in Western Hudson Bay only, and which did not mention that declines in survival had been happening since the early 1980s without any changes in sea ice (more on that below).
The News Feature: “Climate change threatens polar bears” Broadcast date 23 September 1999, Duration 16:40 Disappearing ice in Hudson Bay in 1999 means polar bears can’t build up their fat reserves and nourish their young.
The basis for the Stirling hype and its consequences
What Derocher failed to explain to the CBC Radio host that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ian Stirling was struggling to explain why polar bear survival in Western Hudson Bay in the 1980s (especially 1983) had taken such a nose-dive (Derocher 1991; Derocher and Stirling 1992, 1995; Stirling 2002; Stirling and Lunn 1997) or that he and Derocher (his student at the time) embraced climate scientist James Hansen’s notion of human-caused global warming and expeditiously dropped their previous explanation that the population was approaching carrying capacity — even though it fit their observations perfectly. Both researchers had to have known that asking the government for research grants to document this new ‘climate warming’ threat to polar bear survival would be more likely to get funded than a request to study polar bears reaching a peak of abundance (Crockford 2019).
1983 was a worrying year for polar bear biologists working in Western Hudson Bay: this female weighed only 99kg when captured that year. Many others were in similar condition, a phenomenon that hasn’t been seen since, yet sea ice breakup had not been earlier than usual.
Derocher also fails to mention the fact that polar bear specialists so hated the ‘least concern’ Red List classification the bears were given by the IUCN in 1996 after their swift recovery from over-hunting (achieved through international treaty protection) that these science-trained advocates — encouraged by Stirling and egged on by aggressive conservation organizations — worked tirelessly to create an apparent connection between predictions of declining sea ice due to global warming and a possible future threat to polar bear health and survival (Crockford 2019).
By 2006, polar bear biologists got the IUCN classification changed back to ‘vulnerable’ based on predictions of future sea ice loss due to human-caused global warming and by 2008 were successful in having the bears classified as ‘threatened’ on the US Endangered Species List, also based on future threats due to human-caused global warming (Stirling and Derocher 2007). This had never been done for any other animal by either agency and none of it would have been possible without the scientific studies undertaken expressly to support this agenda.
In other words, far from being “accidental”, polar bear specialists (and Ian Stirling in particular) used the fledgling global warming agenda for their own ends: they employed emotionally manipulative narratives about starving and dying animals to boost funding for their field and ensure their job security. Polar bear specialists fed the climate change beast by providing it with an icon, and then sat back to reap the rewards. I have no doubt Ian Stirling knew exactly what the media and climate activists would do with that short documentary for the CBC back in 1999.
Amstrup, S.C., Marcot, B.G. & Douglas, D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. US Geological Survey. Reston, VA. Pdf here
Castro de la Guardia, L., Myers, P.G., Derocher, A.E., Lunn, N.J., Terwisscha van Scheltinga, A.D. 2017. Sea ice cycle in western Hudson Bay, Canada, from a polar bear perspective. Marine Ecology Progress Series564: 225–233. http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v564/p225-233/
Crockford, S.J. 2015. The Arctic Fallacy: Sea Ice Stability and the Polar Bear. Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing Paper 16. London. Pdf here. Available at http://www.thegwpf.org/susan-crockford-the-arctic-fallacy-2/
Crockford, S.J. 2022. Fallen Icon: Sir David Attenborough and the Walrus Deception. Amazon Digital Services, Victoria. Available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0991796691 and https://www.amazon.com/dp/0991796691
Crockford, S.J. 2023. Polar Bear Evolution: A Model for How New Species Arise. Amazon Digital Services, Victoria. Available in hardcover, paperback and ebook formats https://www.amazon.com/dp/1778038328 and https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1778038328
Derocher, A.E. 1991. Population dynamics and ecology of polar bears in western Hudson Bay. Ph.D. Thesis, Univ. Alberta, Edmonton.
Derocher 2005. Population ecology of polar bears at Svalbard, Norway. Population Ecology 47:267-275. http://www.springerlink.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/content/765147518rp35613/fulltext.pdf
Derocher, A.E. and Stirling, I. 1992. The population dynamics of polar bears in western Hudson Bay. pg. 1150-1159 in D. R. McCullough and R. H. Barrett, eds. Wildlife 2001: Populations. Elsevier Sci. Publ., London, U.K.
Abstract. Reproductive output of polar bears in western Hudson Bay declined through the 1980’s from higher levels in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Age of first reproduction increased slightly and the rate of litter production declined from 0.45 to 0.35 litters/female/year over the study, indicating that the reproductive interval had increased. Recruitment of cubs to autumn decreased from 0.71 to 0.53 cubs/female/year. Cub mortality increased from the early to late 1980’s. Litter size did not show any significant trend or significant annual variation due to an increase in loss of the whole litter. Mean body weights of females with cubs in the spring and autumn declined significantly. Weights of cubs in the spring did not decline, although weights of both female and male cubs declined over the study. The population is approximately 60% female, possibly due to the sex-biased harvest. Although estimates of population size are not available from the whole period over which we have weight and reproductive data, the changes in reproduction, weight, and cub mortality are consistent with the predictions of a density dependent response to increasing population size. [my bold]
Derocher, A.E. and Stirling, I. 1995. Temporal variation in reproduction and body mass of polar bears in western Hudson Bay. Canadian Journal of Zoology 73:1657-1665. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/z95-197
Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., et al. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995.
Ramsay, M.A. and Stirling, I. 1988. Reproductive biology and ecology of female polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Journal of Zoology London 214:601-624. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1988.tb03762.x/abstract
Rode, K. D., Regehr, E.V., Bromaghin, J. F., et al. 2021. Seal body condition and atmospheric circulation patterns influence polar bear body condition, recruitment, and feeding ecology in the Chukchi Sea. Global Change Biology 27:2684–2701. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15572
Stirling, I. 2002. Polar bears and seals in the eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf: a synthesis of population trends and ecological relationships over three decades. Arctic 55 (Suppl. 1):59-76. http://arctic.synergiesprairies.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/issue/view/42
Stirling and Derocher 1993. Possible impacts of climatic warming on polar bears. Arctic 46(3):240-245. Open access https://arctic.journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/1348
Stirling, I. and Derocher, A.E. 2007. Melting Under Pressure The Wildlife Professional, Fall: 24-27, 43. pdf here.
Stirling, I. and Lunn, N.J. 1997. Environmental fluctuations in arctic marine ecosystems as reflected by variability in reproduction of polar bears and ringed seals. In Ecology of Arctic Environments, Woodin, S.J. and Marquiss, M. (eds), pg. 167-181. Blackwell Science, UK.