Now that I'd explored the biological facts of polar bears, and looked into ways that technology is already being used in conservation, I began to research into the issues that polar bears are facing in the wild. This was a particularly interesting thing to research for me because, as I mentioned at the start of the project, a lot of people know that polar bears are facing lots of issues, but most of us (including myself) are unaware as to exactly what those issues are and the extent of them. Below is a summary of the research that I did, and what I found out about the threats that polar bears are facing.
We are all well aware of the impact that climate change is having on environments such as the Arctic. But, here are some statistics that show just how bad the issue is.
According to NASA, the Arctic sea ice (habitat for polar bears) is shrinking at a rate of 12.6% per decade. In other words, the Arctic is losing around 95,000 square kilometres of ice per year (8.3 trillion tons). The thickness of the ice is also decreasing, and has decreased by more than 65% since 1979. If the ice continues melting at the currently predicted rate, the Arctic Ocean could be completely ice-free during the summer by as early as 2030. The images below, based on NASA satellite imagery, show the difference in size of the ice from 1979 to 2022.
So, what impact is this having on polar bears right now?
The first issue that polar bears are facing due to climate change is, obviously, a lack of habitat. Their habitat is literally melting away beneath them, which is forcing them further inland. In recent years, there has been a massive rise in polar bears living in close proximity to human villages, which obviously causes a huge number of issues.
Another issue that polar bears are facing due to climate change and the melting ice is a lack of accessibility to their prey. As I mentioned in my overview of polar bears post, polar bears hunt on the ice. Therefore, if there's no ice, they're unable to hunt. In addition, with the ice melting, they're unable to even reach the location of their prey, as the prey is too far out to sea. This means that they have to swim further to get to their food, which puts them at risk of exhaustion and drowning.
With a lack of access to prey, two things are happening. Firstly, polar bears are coming into human villages in search for food, both in rubbish bins and houses. Secondly, polar bears are eating each other, as they're the only accessible source of food.
"Biden Administration Approves Huge Alaska Oil Project".
Another issue that polar bears are facing is pollution. The Arctic is a huge oil and gas exploit for countries such as the United States, with Joe Biden recently agreeing to yet another drilling project. As more and more oil and gas drilling takes place in the Arctic, there is an increase in the risk of oil spills. Between 1971 and 2022, there has been an average of 4 oil spills in the Arctic per year. The toxic chemicals in the oil can poison polar bears, as well as their prey. The spills can, also, destroy their habitat, making it difficult for them to survive in an already shrinking environment.
Climate change is, undoubtably, one of the biggest factors in the conservation of any species. Addressing this issue would have a huge, positive impact on almost all species across the world. However, we all know that it's not as simple as just flicking a switch and everything fixes itself.
Climate action is something that needs to take place now, but I worry that, even if we act now, the short time frame before the ice in the arctic could be completely gone is a major concern. I think that we need to start considering now the possibility that the habitat of these creatures could be completely gone very soon, and what we need to put in place in order to protect both the species that lived on the Arctic ice and the humans in the areas in which these species will undoubtably migrate to.
Biden's latest confirmation of the Willow oil drilling project is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I mean, just look back at some of the things that he's said about the environment and climate action during his time as Vice President and during his election campaign:
"We must take immediate, bold action as a nation and as a global community to combat climate change and protect our communities and our planet from its devastating effects"
"We have to take action now, because the fact is that climate change is already here."
"We cannot afford to ignore the urgent threat of climate change. We need to act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
I very much struggle to see how approving an $8 billion oil drilling project is taking "immediate, bold action". In my opinion, politics (and party politics) is the leading issue in the environmental disasters that we're seeing today, and I worry that, even with innovative technology, politics could prevent us from solving the issues at hand with conservation and climate action.