When my children were younger, a favorite 1996 movie was “Alaska,” a story about two children who searched for their missing father in the mountains of Alaska. Along the way, the two learn valuable lessons and meet a baby polar bear on the run from poachers. My children loved the adventures of the baby polar bear. My youngest son had a stuffed polar bear we affectionately named “Cubby” from the movie.
So should we be concerned about the images we see of the starving polar bears in Alaska losing their homes?
The Alaska Wilderness League quotes a 2014 study published in Ecological Applications on polar bears in northeast Alaska and the Northwest Territory in Canada that “documented a 40-percent population loss between 2001 and 2010, dropping from 1,500 to 900 bears.
“Polar bears in Alaska rely on the divergent ice ecoregion where sea ice pulls away from the coast in summer and polar bears must be on land or stay with the ice as it recedes north. As sea ice continues to disappear, polar bears are forced to swim further and further out to sea in an attempt to reach prey.”
The World Wildlife Fund states, “The loss of sea ice habitat from climate change is the biggest threat to the survival of polar bears. Other key threats include polar bear-human conflicts, unsustainable hunting and industrial impacts.”
NASA states, “Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.
“Effects that scientists had predicted in the past would result from global climate change are now occurring: loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves.”
NASA also notes other “potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms.”
NASA says future effects of long-term global climate change in the United States include changes through this century and beyond, with the magnitude depending on the amount of heat-trapping gases emitted globally, temperatures will continue to rise, the frost-free and growing seasons will lengthen, changes in precipitation patterns, more droughts and heat waves, hurricanes will become stronger and more intense, the sea level will rise 1 to 4 feet by 2100 and the arctic will likely become ice free.
NASA says reducing climate change involves reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; for example, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat or transport or enhancing the oceans, forests and soils that store these gases. It also suggests adapting to life in a changing climate like reducing the vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change.
For years, Al Gore, former vice president and presidential candidate, talked about the importance of global warming, even producing a TED Talk and Oscar-winning movie in 2006, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate advocacy work.
In September 2019, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 16, spoke at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City.
“My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
She told summit attendees, “The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50-percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees (Celsius) and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.
“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
Thunberg has been named Time magazine’s 2019 Person of the Year.
She has created a worldwide movement calling for global change.
As we begin 2020, perhaps we can find ways to protect our environment. In addition to reducing emissions, we can stop using plastic products that cannot be recycled and be aware of the water we are wasting. We should recycle. There are many other ways we can do our part to create a better world for our children, grandchildren and future generations. We just have to make the effort.
East Penn Press