The only way to save polar bears is to hit the brakes on climate change. Immediately. According to a new report from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (released Monday), there’s no time to waste.
The deal on polar bears: What’s going on?
Currently, polar bears are on the vulnerable list. There are approximately 26,000 polar bears left worldwide. The biggest threat to polar bears is rising global temperatures. That’s because a warmer climate melts the Arctic sea ice which the mammals heavily depend on to survive.
Polar bears use sea ice to hunt for their food supply, mainly seals. Polar bears that have access to sea ice year round are able to hunt throughout the year. However, in areas where sea ice melts completely each summer, polar bears are forced to spend several months on land. This causes them to primarily fast on stored fat reserves until freeze-up.
Now just imagine there is no freeze-up. Imagine there’s no return of sea ice, forcing polar bears to continuously fast. Can you guess what happens next? Nothing good.
Climate change is the main cause of continuous sea ice melting because the Earth keeps warming. If it continues to happen, polar bears will eventually lose their food source. And starve.
What’s being done: Will it be enough?
In 2008, The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bears as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. Thankfully, the Fish and Wildlife Service has also announced a plan for recovery. This includes steps to track and manage oil spills that would damage their habitat, mediate their interactions with humans, and monitor their population numbers.
Sadly, it might not be enough. The survival of polar bears depends largely on the world’s ability to address climate change.
At the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, countries agreed to take steps towards limiting rising global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. If the climate deal is held to those kind of standards, polar bears will be able to thrive. However, if the Paris deal is neglected, three-quarters of polar bear habitat will disappear in about 60 years, with a strong possibility the species itself will be extinct.
Problem is, the incoming administration is skeptical of climate change. Unfortunately, we don’t have time for skepticism. Already the ice coverage in the Arctic hit freakishly low levels this winter, 28 percent below historical average to be exact.
“Timely implementation of the plan is crucial as the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world,” said Elisabeth Kruger, Arctic program officer at the World Wildlife Fund, in a statement addressing the The Fish and Wildlife Service’s polar bear report.
So, will polar bears be safe from extinction? Only time will tell. Too bad there’s not much left to waste.