No animal has been the poster child for climate change quite like the polar bear. Polar bears rely on sheets of ice to hunt for seals, and, as we all know, sheets of ice are becoming scarcer with an ever-changing climate.
I'm generally an optimistic person. I fully believe we can turn things around and reverse climate change. But, writing this blog post about polar bears is hard because I'm not sure this creature will be able to adapt.
Thinking about losing the polar bear, breaks my heart; they were my grandmother's favorite animal. She had some of the most beautiful polar bear figurines in her home which make up some of my earliest childhood memories.
I lost her two years ago, and, somehow, feeling the helpless plight of the polar bear makes me feel like I'm losing her all over again.
Climate change is a big thing. It's abstract. It's hard to fathom, quantify, and grasp as a human. When we're approached with large (scary) concepts, it can be easier to ignore them than face them simply because we can't understand them.
I think one of the best ways to make climate change more relatable is to find a personal story. What is your personal connection with climate change? How can you reach someone? What is the link?
For me, it's polar bears.
The number one most pressing issue for polar bears is climate change and melting sea ice.
There's pretty much no way to save the polar bear without removing carbon from the atmosphere which doesn't result in a quick and tidy listicle about X number of ways you can help the polar bears.
Polar bears are marine mammals and spend their lives on sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. They are the largest and most carnivorous member of the bear family.
To hunt, polar bears depend on the edges of pack ice where the wind and currents interact which creates a cycle of melting and refreezing. This creates ice patches with open spaces of ocean between the sea ice which forms some of the best hunting grounds for seals.
Polar bears spend roughly half of their time hunting mostly for seals because they need large amounts of fat to survive. On average, a polar bear needs 43 seals a year to survive.
As the climate changes, this specific kind of hunting ground is becoming harder to find forcing polar bears to travel 1,000s of miles for food.
Polar bears are excellent swimmers and can be found up 200 miles from land, but swimming long distances isn't preferred because of the high amount of fat burned and it can be fatal to younger bears.
You can actually track the polar bears outside of Canada with this website to see how far they travel.
While we tend to think of the North Pole, there are 19 subpopulations of polar bears throughout the arctic region including Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Norway.
Defenders of Wildlife have written a great piece called Life After Ice. It talks about how polar bears are adapting (and not adapting) to the changing climate. It's a very good read if you're interested in what comes next.
But, reading too much about what happens next, is taking a bit of a toll on me, so I think it's time to move to solutions.
As always, solutions come with a three-pronged approach what you can do as an individual, groups and organizations, and then policy. We'll cover all three!
As far as groups and organizations, Polar Bears International (PBI) is doing great work. They have a great education center full of campaigns that you can join.
February 27th is International Polar Bear day and to celebrate this momentous occasion the kick off the Save Our Sea Ice campaign.
You can check out the tool kit here.
"Our campaign celebrates action on climate change and focuses attention on the challenges polar bears face.
"To save the polar bear's habitat, we need to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Promising shifts are underway in sectors including transportation, energy usage, and food production—all of which have an impact.
Become part of the momentum for change by speaking up in support of policies and processes that will help us transition to a sustainable society. It’s also important to modify your own habits and take action in your community in support of sustainable choices—from bike lanes to farmer’s markets—that make a low-carbon lifestyle more accessible."
They have four different action items for you:
But, of course, if we're talking about reducing carbon, we have to mention a carbon tax as well. PBI has created a script for you to email your representatives about a carbon tax.
If this interests you further, I highly recommend joining the Citizens Climate Lobby. Of course, there are major ways you can lower your own emissions, and I wrote a blog post about the Five Ways to Have the Biggest Impact on Reducing Your Carbon Emissions.
While I might not have started out the most hopeful when writing this article, I certainly feel a little bit better after reflecting on all of the good work that is happening. It's great to know organizations like PBI, Oceana, and Sea Legacy are out there working to make a difference.