Scientists have worked in the polar and arctic regions, taking ice core samples from deep within the snow and ice on the North Pole. There, they have discovered carbon dioxide levels that have never been seen before. In the last 10,000 years, CO2 levels have reached 300 parts per million, and in the last few decades they have exceeded that range. This proves the Earth has more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than ever before. These results show that the Earth’s atmosphere is getting thicker and not allowing as much heat from the Sun to be released back into space. Greenhouse gases are retaining heat and raising the Earth’s temperature.
If this trend continues, 50 years from now the Earth will be so warm that the polar region and the polar bear will no longer exist. They will have little ice and no snow. Polar bears depend on certain living conditions to survive, and without those conditions they will not survive in the wild.
Scientists working in the polar region have stated that the polar bear is already being affected by global warming. The polar bear must now stay ashore for longer periods, because ice forms later in the year than it did and lasts for a shorter time period. Polar bears are dependent on the ice. They hunt blubber-rich seals from the ice floes and now they have less time in which they can eat. Is global warming killing polar bears? Yes; and we must act now to ensure their survival.
Polar bears will now be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Controversy over the status of the polar bear is tied to the fact that this is the first time a species has been considered for listing specifically because its habitat is threatened by global warming.
Many environmental groups are wary of some of the climate change caveats accompanying the the aforementioned decision, saying it weakens protection for the animals. The polar bear’s listing on the threatened list is an iconic victory. The other winner in this event is science, which trumped politics, providing polar bears with a new lease of life.
However, global warming is not only threatening the polar bear. Unless we stand up and ask the Obama Administration to stop Shell Oil from drilling in the Arctic, the polar bear could be facing extinction even sooner.
Shell Oil wants to drill oil and gas off the Alaskan Coast this summer. Shell will pump 1,800 tons of pollution into the fragile ecosystem in less than six months.
The Arctic ecosystem is already suffering the effects of past oil and gas development. If Shell has an oil spill, there is no telling how immense the damage to the environment could be.
The Center for Biological Diversity was one of three environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued the federal government to force a decision on the status of the polar bears.
Some environmentalists say the delay of a decision was made to make it easier for oil companies to finalize $2.7bn in offshore oil leases in the Chukchi Sea. That area between Alaska and Siberia is home to about 20 percent of the planet’s polar bears.
USGS scientist Steve Amstrup, who has studied polar bears for nearly 30 years, explained why the sea ice could mean life or death for polar bears. Amstrup spoke to ABC News in March, saying:
“A lot of people don’t understand how polar bears live. They are not terrestrial animals. They spend very little time on land. They spend most of their time on sea ice, this cap of ice that is floating around on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. It is on that surface of the ice that they have adapted ways of catching seals that are their principal prey.”
“These seals are kind of like giant ‘fat pills’ that have allowed polar bears to become the largest of the bears and to expand across the range of the sea ice,” Steve Amstrup (USGS) goes on to say. “As that sea ice declines, you can think of it as a decline in the carrying capacity of polar bears, just as if you took a field that supported a certain number of cattle, for example, and plowed up half the field and there was no longer grass there, you’ve lost the carrying capacity for half the animals that live out there.”
The polar bear is a compelling symbol. What is happening to the polar bear is happening to the Arctic. Clearly they are both disappearing and it’s happening more rapidly and more severely than anywhere in the world. This is a sure sign that we are in deep trouble; that we need to take action on climate change now before it is too late for more than just the polar bear.