November 17, 2004

(Polar) Bear Facts

According to the Washington Post, a “Study Says Polar Bears Could Face Extinction.” But our scientific roundup of two years ago runs counter to that notion, and still pertains today. For those of you who missed it, and that apparently includes Post staff writer Juliet Eilperin, we offer it again.

Could polar bears face extinction? A November 9 Washington Post would have us believe that. Apparently Post staff writer Juliet Eilperin was unfamiliar with a review of the science on polar bears and climate change that we first published in 2002; that report can be found here. But first, consider the study on which Eilperin based her article.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA)—the results of a multi-year international assessment of Arctic climate change—was officially released November 8. (The results of the report were unofficially leaked out just before the election—just in case any potential voters may have been interested). During the week following the official release, the newswires were aglow with activity in an apparent attempt to see who could produce the most alarmist story.

Eilperin’s story is certainly is in the running. “Study Says Polar Bears Could Face Extinction” obviously was aimed at the heartstrings: “Assuming the current rate of ice shrinkage and accompanying weight loss in the Hudson Bay region, bears there could become so thin by 2012 they may no longer be able to reproduce…Once the population stops reproducing, that’s pretty much the end of it.” Eilperin attributed this information to Lara Hansen of the World Wildlife Fund.

Hansen drew comments from a report released by the WWF in the summer of 2002 titled, “Polar Bears at Risk.” This report also fingered climate change as the major threat to polar bear well-being.

The problem is, reports like those from ACIA and WWF have one intended conclusion: Climate change is bad (especially for polar bears). Thus, any observed associations between polar bears and climate change are typically ignored if they don’t show the intended patterns. That is precisely the case in this instance.

Back in summer 2002, when the original WWF report on polar bears was released, we performed an analysis between observed climate changes in the Arctic, and polar bear population trends, as given by the WWF.

For those of you who either missed that report, or may have since forgotten about it, you can find it here, as an “issue refresher,” in hopes that our readers may gain some insight into the types of information that was not included in the ACIA report. For those who are interested in additional examples of scientific oversight in the ACIA report, please see our previous WCR on this topic.

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