Polar Bears and Climate Change

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This is not a test!

Each day, the first thing I do when I sit down at my computer is to check with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for the latest information on sea ice conditions and sea ice extent in the Arctic. At the beginning of August, it looked like the changes in sea ice extent over the summer were on pace to approach, or maybe even equal, the historic 2007 low. However, over the last couple of weeks, it has become clear that we were on a pace to overtake the 2007 record low and set a new minimum record for sea ice extent.

Several days ago, I checked the latest data; not only had we surpassed the 2007 low, we did it several weeks ahead of when the sea ice is typically at its lowest. This means we still have a few more weeks of sea ice melt to go, and the ultimate sea ice nadir for 2012 has not yet been reached. It is not hard to connect the dots and see that this is bad news for polar bears. However, what may not be obvious to most people is that this is bad news for wildlife all over the world and bad news for us.

Polar bears and the Arctic sea ice have long been noted as a “canary in a coal mine”; the changes in the Arctic environment provide a warning—a clear, loud, and un-ignorable warning—of how dramatically climate warming is changing our planet. We have to reduce our carbon footprint, and we have to do it NOW!

Even in light of this grim news, there are still signs that we are beginning to turn things around. Recent surveys have shown that an increasing majority of Americans understand that climate change is real and that the warming trends that have been documented over the past several decades are the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. The results of these surveys also suggest that most people understand that climate change will have catastrophic impacts on polar bears and other Arctic wildlife. For many of us, making the connection between our own everyday actions and the persistence of polar bears in the wild is enough to get us to make energy efficient choices.

However, we must also understand that, while the impacts of climate change are most vividly obvious in the remote Arctic, they are also impacting other habitats all over the world, including our own backyards, and that the resulting changes to our Earth will have far-reaching consequences for people everywhere. We have to do more. We have to move from “understanding” the impacts of climate change to “taking action” to reduce our carbon footprint.

Each and every one of us has the power to change our habitats in order to reduce our own personal greenhouse gas emissions. Future generations, and future generations of polar bears, are counting on you to reduce your carbon footprint.

Megan Owen is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Panda Cub: 704 Grams.

Calculate your own carbon footprint and get suggestions and easy household tips that help you reduce your carbon footprint (and energy bill), or visit Polar Bears International.