Sea Ice Loss Is Making Polar Bears Thinner, and They're Having Fewer Cubs
The climate crisis wreaks havoc on animals and plants that have trouble adapting to global heating and extreme weather. Some of the most obvious examples are at the far reaches of the planet, as bees disappear from Canada, penguin populations plummet in the Antarctic, and now polar bears in the Arctic are struggling from sea ice loss, according to a new study, as CNN reported.
In the study, published in Ecological Applications, researchers found that polar bears are losing weight and having fewer babies because their habitat is under threat. The scientists from the University of Washington found that polar bears are spending more time on land than in previous decades, as Oceanographic Magazine reported.
Polar bears rely on sea ice for every aspect of their survival. They use sea ice to hunt seals, travel, build dens and mate. As ice begins to melt earlier in the year, the polar bears have less time for eating and having babies, as CNN reported.
"Climate-induced changes in the Arctic are clearly affecting polar bears," said lead author Kristin Laidre, an associate professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington, in a statement. "They are an icon of climate change, but they're also an early indicator of climate change because they are so dependent on sea ice."
The intentional research team looked at satellite tracking and visual monitoring of polar bears in the 1990s and compared them with more recent years. The team focused on the area around Baffin Bay, a large expanse of water between northeastern Canada and Greenland.
Laidre and her team tracked female polar bears and gauged their litter size and general health in two different periods — the 1990s and from 2009 to 2015, according to a press release from the University of Washington.
The satellite tracking tags showed the researchers that the polar bears averaged 30 more days on land in the period from 2009 to 2015 than they did in the 1990s. In the 90s, the bears averaged 60 days on land. More recently, it has been 90 days, as Oceanographic Magazine reported.
"When the bears are on land, they don't hunt seals and instead rely on fat stores," said Laidre, as the Global News in Canada reported. "They have the ability to fast for extended periods, but over time they get thinner."
The more time the bears spend on land, the thinner they get, the researchers found. Out of the 352 bears studied in the more recent period, not even 50 were considered fat, as the Global News reported. That's less than 15 percent. The bears need to be fat by the end of summer to make it through the winter.
The nutritionally stressed polar bears are venturing further into residential areas than ever before and more frequently, which can lead to conflict between people and the vulnerable bears, as CNN reported.
In December, a polar bear warning was issued in Newfoundland after a bear was spotted there. These types of sightings have become more frequent since 2013, according to the Global News.
"This work just adds to the growing body of evidence that loss of sea ice has serious, long-term conservation concerns for this species," Laidre said in a statement. "Only human action on climate change can do anything to turn this around."
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By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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