Published by on 02 Oct 2010 at 03:09 pm
The Oasis nature channel is presenting a series of programs entitled Extinctions, about creatures threatened with extinction due to geological changes, including global warming. The first of the series was about polar bears, which have been called the canaries in the global-warming coal mine, even though polar bear numbers are actually the highest on record.
Surprisingly, since most programs like this offer misanthropic global warming propaganda (humans are evil carbon-spewers who are going to destroy the planet), the polar bear program was remarkably even-handed.
For a start, not once did the program suggest that humans were causing global warming, although we definitely are responsible for some of the other evils afflicting Arctic populations, including toxic pollution and habitat loss, and we may be contributing, slightly, to warming that would otherwise be occurring anyway. That is, this documentary stayed away from sermonizing and tried to stick to the facts.
To that end, the program went out of its way (at least compared to most recent nature documentaries) to get some sort of balance. And so, along with scientists who believe the bears are severely threatened, the producers also interviewed Mitch Taylor, a Canadian expert on polar bears who doesn’t believe the bears are endangered (he says only two of the 19 polar bear populations are in decline; the program itself said half are in decline) and doesn’t believe global warming is primarily human-caused or potentially catastrophic.
The program also mentioned another fact that is almost always ignored by global warming catastrophists: during the last interglacial 125,000 years ago, called the Eemian, the Arctic also melted pretty much completely, as may be happening now. No humans were involved in that previous global warming; modern humans hadn’t even evolved yet. This interglacial fact is usually ignored because it pretty much destroys the hypothesis that warming and sea-level rise are primarily human caused, rather than natural in an interglacial period.
Although this wasn’t mentioned during the program, several interglacials before the Eemian were also 1-3 degrees Celsius, or perhaps even more, warmer than today’s “unprecedented” temperatures. During the Eemian, according to the 2007 IPCC report itself, sea levels were 4-6 metres (14-20 feet) higher than today’s, and in previous interglacials sea levels may have been 15 metres (50 feet) higher.
Again, no human influences caused these previous interglacial rises in temperatures and sea levels. So, why would we be foolish enough to believe that rising temperatures and sea levels in our interglacial, the Holocene, are anything but natural as well, although we may be accelerating warming slightly with our carbon emissions?
That is, sea levels may rise, say, two metres in 1,000 years rather than 1,100, due to human influence. Surely humans a thousand years from now can handle two metres of sea level increase, rather than the, say, 1.75 metres that would otherwise have occurred.
The program noted that polar bears evolved about 150,000 years ago out of brown (grizzly) bears. In other words, they evolved to exploit glacial, Arctic conditions just before the Eemian warming. So, how did they survive the lack of Arctic ice during the Eemian? And does their survival then offer clues to how the bears will survive low-ice conditions in our interglacial?
The Oasis program reported that polar bears are moving out of traditional territories (two bears swam 500 kilometres from Greenland to Iceland, for example) and increasingly exploiting non-traditional food sources, like blueberries and land animals, rather than relying almost totally on their favorite food, seals.
In short, polar bears are evolving to cope with the same conditions, warming, that have occurred at least once before since their appearance on the planet. Will they succeed?
Modern bears have strikes against them that polar bears in the previous interglacial didn’t have, like high levels of mercury and other pollutants in the Arctic, brought in by sea and air currents. Even here, the program noted, the bears seem to be “shedding” mercury in their fur so it doesn’t build up in their system.
Another strike is simply the human presence, although, as the program showed, humans are making extraordinary (and expensive) efforts to save polar bears from human-caused ills. For example, problem bears near towns are sometimes tranquillized and helicoptered to more remote areas. Helicopters cost several hundred dollars per hour to operate, so these missions of mercy aren’t cheap.
While humans have to take the blame for some of the bears’ problems—including pollution and habitat encroachment—global warming is an issue the bears have to face eventually, either now or a few hundred or thousand years in the future until our interglacial stops warming at its “tipping point” and returns us to glacial conditions. That is, because we are in an interglacial, the Arctic ice will melt, regardless of what we do or don’t do.
One often hears from global warming alarmists that the “unprecedented” pace of warming is the problem, and that earlier animal populations had “millions of years” to adapt to climate change. In fact, glacials and interglacials operate on a time scale of thousands of years, not millions: roughly 80,000 years of cold to 20,000 years of warmer temperatures over the past million years.
That is, the polar bears had only a few thousand years to adapt to the warming of the Eemian interglacial, and they obviously did or they wouldn’t be here now. Similarly, as Holocene interglacial warming continues, the bears have only centuries or millennia to find strategies to cope. This is not enough time for major physical evolutionary change, like a complete change of fur color, although small physical adaptations may well occur.
Instead, as they did during the last interglacial, and as the documentary points out, the bears will have to change their behaviour, including food preferences and hunting styles. Bears are intelligent and very adaptable, due to, in part, being omnivorous. Polar bears survived the last interglacial. There’s no reason to believe they won’t survive this one. And in this interglacial, unlike the Eemian, they may even have some help—ironically, from humans.
So, while this film was very sympathetic to the bears, as it should be, it stuck to the facts and avoided the usual apocalyptic, people-are-evil moralizing that is so much a part of the human-made-warming religion. For that relief, much thanks.