Polar Bear Scare on Thin Ice

“Global warming could cause polar bears to go extinct by the end of the century by eroding the sea ice that sustains them,” is the dire warning contained in a new report from an international group of "researchers" called the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

I’m not quite sure what the future holds for polar bears (search), but it doesn’t appear that any alleged manmade global warming has anything to do with it.

The report, entitled “Impacts of a Warming Arctic,” pretty much debunks itself on page 23 in the graph labeled, “Observed Arctic Temperature, 1900 to Present.”

The graph shows that Arctic temperatures fluctuate naturally in regular cycles that are roughly 40 years long. The Arctic seems currently to be undergoing a warming phase — similar to one experienced between 1920-1950 — which will likely be followed by a cooling phase — similar to the one experienced between 1950-1990.

The report’s claim that increased manmade emissions of greenhouse gases (search) are causing Arctic temperatures to rise is debunked by the same graph, which indicates that the near surface Arctic air temperature was higher around 1940 than now, despite all the greenhouse gas emissions since that time.

Also self-debunking is the report’s statement, “Since the start of the industrial revolution, the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has increased by about 35 percent and the global average temperature has risen by about 0.6 degrees Centigrade.”

So despite all the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity over a period of 200 years — we’re supposed to worry, and even panic, about a measly 0.6 degree Centrigrade rise in average global temperature during that time?

Even if such a slight temperature change could credibly be estimated, it would seem to be well within the natural variation in average global temperature, which in the case of the Arctic, for example, is a range of about 3 degrees Centigrade. Remember, global climate isn’t static — it’s always either cooling or warming.

Even though manmade greenhouse gas emissions and warmer temperatures don’t seem to be a problem in the Arctic according to their own data, the researchers nevertheless blamed them for causing supposed 15 percent declines in both the average weight of adult polar bears and number of cubs born between 1981 and 1998 in the Hudson Bay region.

The 1999 study in the science journal Arctic that first reported apparent problems among the Hudson Bay polar bear population (search) suggested that their condition may be related to the earlier seasonal break-up of sea ice on western Hudson Bay —a phenomenon that seems to correlate with the 1950-1990 Arctic warm-up. But, as mention previously, the 1950-1990 Arctic warming period seems to be part of a natural cycle and not due to manmade emissions of greenhouse gases.

Moreover, the notion of a declining polar bear population doesn’t square well available information.

A Canadian Press Newswire story earlier this year reported that, in three Arctic villages, polar bears “are so abundant there’s a public safety issue.” The local polar bear population reportedly increased from about 2,100 in 1997 to as many as 2,600 in 2004. Inuit hunters (search) wanted to be able to kill more bears because they are “fearsome predators.”

An aerial survey of Alaskan polar bears published in "Arctic" (December 2003) reported a greater polar bear density than previous survey estimates dating back to 1987.

If polar bears really are getting skinnier as the 1999 study suggested, it may actually be due to an increased population subsisting on the same level of available food. After all, the harvesting of Alaskan polar bears has been limited by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (search) and international agreements since 1972.

The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report has spurred a new round of calls for a clamp-down on carbon dioxide emissions. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., told the Associated Press that the “dire consequences” of warming in the Arctic underscore the need for their proposal to require U.S. cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Fortunately their call will likely get a chilly response from President Bush, who reiterated through a spokesman last weekend that he continues to oppose the international global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol (search).

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of "Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams" (Cato Institute, 2001).

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