Advocate: ‘We Do Know That Without Ice Polar Bears Can’t Survive’

By Christopher Goins | February 28, 2012 | 5:50pm EST

An undated file photo shows a sow polar bear resting with her cubs on the pack ice in the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service, Steve Amstrup, FILE)

Washington ( – Polar bears cannot survive without ice, the head of a prominent polar bear advocacy group said here Monday, urging Americans to take steps to help save the species by reducing carbon emissions.

The call by Polar Bears International president Dr. Robert Buchanan came despite a study – by a scientists’ body that has been monitoring global polar bear populations since the 1960s – finding that numbers have remained relatively unchanged.

At its most recent meeting, in 2009, the Polar Bear Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported a population total of between 20,000 and 25,000 – the same figure it reported the previous time it met, in 2005.

The IUCN group conceded that in some of the 19 sub-populations of polar bears, data was insufficient to determine whether numbers were increasing or decreasing. Nonetheless, “[t]he total number of polar bears is still thought to be between 20,000 and 25,000.”

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Buchanan was speaking on Capitol Hill at an event marking International Polar Bear Day, in a bid to raise awareness about the changing conditions of the polar bears’ habitat in the Arctic.

“So is global warming happening?” he asked. “You bet! Is man causing global warming? Probably a combination between Earth and man itself, but man is adding to it.”

“If man caused the problem, man can fix it,” Buchanan added. “This is not an irreversible situation.”

“Buddy, we have a crisis on our hands,” he said. “You are going to lose two-thirds of your heritage within the next 40 to 50 years.”

That was why, Buchanan said, the Bush administration in 2008 listed polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

Asked by about the IUCN body’s findings regarding populations remaining stable, Buchanan pointed out the group’s acknowledgment of insufficient data in some of the 19 sub-populations. He concluded that “without ice polar bears can’t survive.”

During his presentation, Buchanan asked families to reduce temperatures in their buildings and wear sweaters, in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

He advocated four actions:

--Planting trees.  “Is that going to save the planet? No, it’s going to teach us that the only way we have to move CO2 out of the atmosphere and put oxygen back in is through plants, through trees.”

--Stopping the deterioration of tropical rain forests. “You know what most of that is used for? Paper bags for your sandwiches. How many cups, how many lids, how many straws, how many paper bags, how many napkins do you need? What would you rather have – all that or a heritage like polar bears?”

--Going beyond merely recycling waste, using more recycled goods. “[With] recycling, all we are doing is separating our garbage. Oh great, I’m going to go to heaven because I separated my garbage. That doesn’t do anything! You have to buy recycled [goods] you have to think about, how long can I keep my car?”

--Saving energy. While conceding that the U.S. is not going to become independent of fossil fuels “anytime soon,” he added that people could become “a lot smarter about it. We can go and we can start using natural gas.”

A transcript of the polar bear population Q&A follows: “Despite claims made about habitat loss for polar bears, the IUCN has reported for the last two years that the overall population of polar bears has not changed and remains between 20,000 and 25,000. Isn’t that evidence that polar bears, despite whatever habitat or other changes may be occurring, are still doing fine in terms of population?”

Buchanan: “Actually, the IUCN polar bear specialist group says that there’s one – out of the 19 populations – says that there’s one that is actually growing. Why is it growing? Because the ice is getting smaller; now they can hunt. It’s better hunting ground. They say that three have been unchanged, okay? And they say that seven, if I remember this right, have decreased significantly.

And seven are unknown and that’s the key thing to this. We don’t know, okay, because we don’t have the ability to do the studies out there, overall. But we do know from that ice map, very simply, okay, without ice polar bears can’t survive. It’s just that simple.

So you don’t have to have multimillion dollar studies – and trust me every time one of those helicopters goes whoop that’s a dollar, alright. It’s like the government here, alright? It doesn’t take much to wrap up those dollars. So we do know without ice, polar bears can’t survive. And I think any of your top scientists will tell you that.

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