Climate Change and Polar Bears
Climate change is the rapid increase in global temperatures as a result of human made pollution particularly carbon dioxide from burning fossils fuels. In polar regions the increase in temperature is causing the melting and shrinking of the icecaps. What does this mean to Our Future Planet?
The melting of once-permanent ice is already affecting native Inuit and Yuit people, previously known as the Eskimos, wildlife and plants. When the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf splintered, the rare freshwater lake it enclosed, along with its unique ecosystem, drained into the ocean. Polar bears, whales, walrus and seals are changing their feeding and migration patterns, making it harder for native people to hunt them.
Polar bears are keystone species which live in the circumpolar north and move across the ice from Russia to Alaska, from Canada to Greenland and onto Norway's Svalbard archipelago. There are believed to be only about 20,000 to 25,000 bears alive today with about sixty percent of those living in Canada.
The main threat to the survival of polar bears is the loss of their icy habitat due to climate change. Polar bears depend on the sea ice for hunting, breeding, and in some cases to den. The present shrinking of the Arctic's sea ice is rapid and unprecedented and the summer ice loss in the Arctic is now equal to an area the size of Alaska, Texas, and the state of Washington combined. Two-thirds of the world’s polar bears are predicted to be extinct by 2050 if we don’t act now to limit melting Arctic sea ice.
As a keystone (crucially important) species the loss of the polar bear would have wider implications for the conservation of the Arctic ecosystem. Polar bears feed principally on ringed seals and beluga whales and are a top predator within the Arctic food web. Without their natural predators ringed seals and beluga whales may would build up in numbers and consume more fish and krill (the foundation of the marine food chain) which would in turn affect populations of important species for marine fisheries. Polar bears are also an important source of food for the 111 000 Inuit and Yuit people who live in the Arctic. So, by conserving the polar bears the balance of the Arctic ecosystem can be maintained.
This week the Obama administration agreed to uphold the Bush-era ruling that limits protection of the polar bear from the single greatest threat to their survival – the melting of sea ice by enhanced global warming. This decision has ultimately led to immediate protests from wildlife and environmental groups.
Despite acknowledging that climate change was the biggest threat to the polar bear, the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said he would not overturn one of the most controversial last-minute rules of the George Bush era. Instead he said it would be far more effective to work towards a comprehensive strategy on climate change – which he said the Obama administration and Congress were pursuing as their "signature" issue. "We need a comprehensive energy and climate change strategy that curbs climate change and its impact, including the loss of sea ice," he said.
However, the rationale that it was better to drop the protections under the endangered species act rather than use an imperfect body of law will carry very little weight among environmentalists who have led a dogged campaign to press Obama to overturn the Bush rule. Greenpeace gathered more than 80,000 signatures on a petition campaign calling for polar bear protection. Earlier this week, more than 45 law professors wrote an open letter to Salazar urging him to revoke Bush's rule on polar bears.
What are your views on Climate Change? How can the polar bears be saved? We welcome your comments and proposals on Our Future Planet’s website. What are your thoughts? Read more and comment if you feel inspired. (Not a Citizen? Sign up!)
*Image taken from http://www.http://weehaggis.wordpress.com/2007/10/
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