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Some of the answers to the complexities of the climate system are given in my recently published book Fifteen shades of climate... the fall of the weather dice and the butterfly effect. The following are extracts from pages 72-74.

Time magazine cover dated April 3, 2006, with the headline “Be worried. Be very worried.”, explored various aspects of the Earth’s climate including using the phrase “Earth at the Tipping Point”.

The cover, which shows a lone polar bear on a drift of ice brought many comments from all sources. The cover story also says that “... in Alaska, salmon populations are at risk as melting permafrost pours mud into rivers, burying the gravel the fish need for spawning.

Small animals such as bushy-tailed wood rats, alpine chipmunks and piñon mice are being chased upslope by rising temperatures, following the path of the fleeing trees. And with sea ice vanishing, polar bears – prodigious swimmers but not inexhaustible ones – are starting to turn up drowned.”

“There will be no polar ice by 2060,” says Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. “Somewhere along that path, the polar bear drops out.”

Whether this will happen, only time will tell; but the question of whether, as we enter the 2020’s decade, the population of polar bears are increasing or decreasing is very controversial.

The safariclub.org website notes that the graphic symbol of the environmental movement is the emaciated polar bear – ostensibly in that state because of global warming. Critics of the vivid photographs claim that the pictures are taken of old, sick or diseased bears.

A controversial report has been released by the Government of Canada claiming the polar bear populations are growing and a threat to native Inuit populations.

The report is disputed by environmental scientists who claim that the populations are not growing, but are moving closer to humans as they search for food.

“Wildlife experts often use images of emaciated polar bears to show how habitats are coming under threat due to ice shrinking and sea levels rising. Wildlife experts also said that the photos showed how the polar bears’ habitat is coming under threat due to human-induced global warming.”

However, a report from 15 November 2019, drafted by the Nunavut Government (which administers much of the middle/northern part of Canada), completely contradicts these widely-held claims about declining populations,” reported The Daily Mail.

The report claims that polar bear populations are much higher than scientists estimated – and are actually increasing. “Inuit believe there are now so many bears that public safety has become a major concern,” reports the Canadian Windsor Star.

“Public safety concerns, combined with the effects of polar bears on other species, suggest that in many Nunavut communities, the polar bear may have exceeded the coexistence threshold.”

The report consists of information submitted from Inuit groups across Canada’s northern territories.

In a related study, the first formal count of polar bears in waters between the United States and Russia indicates they’re doing better than some of their cousins elsewhere.

University and federal researchers estimate a healthy and abundant population of nearly 3000 animals in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast, reported The Daily Mail.

Polar bears in Canada

It is estimated that Canada is home to 16,000 polar bears – 65% of the total global population. Approximately 600 are killed annually, mostly by Inuit hunters.

On the occasion of International Polar Bear Day, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) called on the U.S. Administration to reassess the ‘endangered species’ status of polar bears.

On May 15, 2008, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The listing is based on the assumption that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat.

But, in a GWPF video Dr Susan Crockford, a Canadian wildlife expert, documented the latest findings about rising polar bear numbers. In 2005, the official global polar bear estimate was about 22,500.

However, since 2005 the estimated global polar bear population has risen by more than 30% to about 30,000 bears, far and away the highest estimate in more than 50 years.

A growing number of observational studies have documented that polar bears are thriving, despite shrinking summer sea ice.

By September 2007 sea ice extent was about 43% less than it had been in 1979 – a decline not expected until mid-century, and every year after was almost as low, or lower.

Yet no more drowned polar bears were documented, no more bears than normal starved to death, no unusual spikes in cannibalism occurred, and not a single polar bear population was wiped out.

New scientific evidence suggests that the loss of summer sea ice, regardless of the cause, is not a major risk for polar bear survival.

“A thorough external review of the polar bear status issue is now required – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it may help restore public support for science and conservation,” Dr Crockford said.

Canadian Dr Susan Crockford, is a controversial academic on polar bears, and formerly an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of Victoria (UVIC) in British Columbia, Canada. She lost her academic status in 2019, a position she had held for 15 years. This action followed her expulsion from the roster of the university’s volunteer Speakers Bureau in May 2017.

However, until April 2017 the university and the Anthropology Department proudly promoted her work, including her critical polar bear commentary, which suggested that someone with influence intervened to silence her scientific criticism.

As a former academic at UVIC from 1966-70 I find this treatment of an academic disturbing, as universities should be the bastion of academic freedom.

Dr Crockford writes: When I approached members of the Anthropology Department with a request to undertake an interdisciplinary Ph.D. (in Anthropology and Biology) on the evolution of humans and animals, they could not have been more welcoming and supportive.

Both Anthropology and Biology departments and the Faculty of Graduate Studies enthusiastically accepted my research proposal despite the fact that it challenged all conventional thinkers about how one species transforms into another: not only historical heavy-weights but contemporary experts in evolutionary theory as well.

My testable hypothesis that thyroid hormones (in part due to their actions on genes) provided a mechanism for evolution to work via natural selection innovative and revolutionary. No one at the university suggested it was inappropriate to question accepted authorities on this topic. In fact, they applauded it.

Perhaps the fate of the polar bear is still to be resolved.

Weather Eye
with John Maunder