The Trump administration released an environmental review Thursday of Hilcorp Alaska's Arctic offshore drilling development. Hilcorp plans to build a 9-acre artificial island and 5.6-mile pipeline in the Beaufort Sea for its offshore drilling project. The Trump administration's draft environmental impact statement proposes to greenlight the dangerous drilling plan, which would be a first for federal waters in the Arctic.
Curbing global greenhouse gas emissions is the "single most important" action needed to protect polar bears, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) urged Monday.
Writing in a conservation management plan developed specifically for the species, the FWS emphasized that climate change-induced loss of sea ice cover, the bears' habitat, was a disastrous sign for the bears' survival and the number one priority to address to save the species over the long term. If emissions continue at current rates, only portions of the Canadian Arctic and northern Greenland may retain enough ice for bear habitat.
"This plan outlines the necessary actions and concrete commitments by the service and our state, tribal, federal and international partners to protect polar bears in the near term," said Greg Siekaniec, the FWS's Alaska regional director. "But make no mistake; without decisive action to address Arctic warming, the long-term fate of this species is uncertain."
"The plan shows the complexity of what it means to truly protect America's most iconic Arctic species," WWF's Arctic program officer and polar bear expert Elisabeth Kruger said. "It addresses the things we need to consider in near term and rightly highlights that climate change mitigation is the most important action needed to secure polar bear populations."
The Center for Biological Diversity said the plan "fails to require the large-scale reductions in greenhouse gases needed to save the species." Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, feels "recovery plans work, but only if they truly address the threats to species. Sadly that simply isn't the case with this polar bear plan."
For a deeper dive:
For the past 13 years, award-winning environmental photographer Ashley Cooper has traveled across seven continents, amassing the world's largest collection of climate change images.
His work can be viewed on Global Warming Images as well as his new 416-page photo book, Images From a Warming Planet, featuring 500 of his best images. A selection of photos is also on display at the Archive Gallery at the Heaton Cooper Studio in the UK. The exhibition will run until the end of the year.
"[Climate change is] quite simply, the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced," the UK-based artist told EcoWatch. "It has the potential to essentially wipe 80 percent of humans off the planet, and most of the biodiversity we depend on."
"I hope that the book will act as a wake up call to show folks the devastating impacts that climate change is already having at one degree of warming and motivate action so that we stand some chance of avoiding the worst excesses of climate change," he said.
In 2010, Cooper won the prestigious, world-wide Environmental Photographer of the Year award in the climate change category. His website, Global Warming Images, is sponsored by WWF International and he regularly works with the Met Office and United Nations Climate Change Program.
The self-taught photographer has captured climate change's impact on people, places and wildlife around the world, including the Middle East refugee crisis that has been exacerbated by drought, Canada's destructive tar sands in northern Alberta and a polar bear that starved to death due to sea ice melt on the Arctic island of Svalbard.
On a more positive note, Cooper has photographed renewable energy projects such as green buildings and environmental pioneers such as the founder of an ashram in India that's 100 percent powered by renewables.
"You have to remain optimistic otherwise there's no point continuing. This is an issue about which every one of us can do something to make a difference. We all have a carbon footprint; we are all responsible," Cooper said.
Environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, the co-founder of the sustainability nonprofit Forum for the Future, provided a forward for the photo book and describes Cooper's work as a call to action.
"Do not flick through this extraordinary photographic record as just another snapshot in time," he said. "Do not be tempted into any kind of passive voyeurism; do not allow the power of the images to come between you and the people whose changing lives they portray. See it more as a declaration of solidarity, and as the powerful call to action that it surely is."
Cooper, 54, currently resides in Ambleside with his wife Jill and Border Collie, Tag. The photographer graciously provided us with some samples of his work, which we included in the video above, and took the time to answer our questions via email.
What first motivated you to do it?
I first started reading about climate change around the turn of the century. I was already doing a lot of outdoor/environmental photography and I decided to organize a specific climate photo shoot to Alaska in 2004. I spent a month looking at permafrost melt, glacial retreat, forest fires and had a week on Shishmaref, a tiny island between Alaska and Siberia that was home to 600 Inuits. There homes were getting washed into the sea because the sea ice that used to form around their island around late September, even in 2004, wasn't forming till maybe Christmas time.
I saw for the first time something I have seen many times since: That those least responsible for climate change, are most impacted by it. I was blown away by the impacts that even in 2004, was blindingly obvious that the Arctic was changing very rapidly. Important to remember that in 2004, around 50 percent of people I talked to about my planned photo shoot, had never heard of climate change.
What is your photographic background?
I'm completely self taught. My hobby changed into my profession. Initially, I just started using a camera to document the stuff I loved doing in the outdoors, climbing, caving, cycling, walking, etc. About 20 years ago, I started selling images to outdoor magazines and it all went from there.
Any particularly interesting stories from your travels?
I nearly fell down a snow bridged crevasse on the Greenland ice sheet. I was arrested by the Chinese Army, when I unknowingly pointed my long lens at a Chinese army barracks that has a load of solar panels on the roof. I was marched inside and spent two hours being interrogated, and was made to delete all the files on my camera. As soon as I got back to my hotel, I put the card through a recovery package and pulled them all back up again.
In the Canadian tar sands I was told by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that If I so much as took one step off the highway they would arrest me for trespassing and lock me up for three months. I was tailed everywhere by police and security guards.
I was tailed for seven hours around London by four Metropolitan Police officers while documenting the protest against the third Heathrow runway. On my last photo shoot to Bolivia I was on my car hire when I had a head-on collision with an ambulance. I was on a section of road, where for reasons best known to the Bolivians, they decided on this one stretch you should change from driving on the right to the left, except they couldn't be bothered to put up any signs to tell you. After being recovered by the police, I was locked away in a hotel by my hire car company who constantly threatened me with arrest and jail, all while they tried to defraud my credit card of $50,000 USD for a car that even new was only $25,000 and was fully insured. I won't be using Europcar again. They did successfully take £7,000 off my card, which it took me 6 months to get my card company to agree that it was fraud.
By Tim Radford
The world of the polar bear is shrinking—everywhere. New research by scientists in the U.S. confirms that each of the 19 known populations of Ursus maritimus is increasingly affected by the earlier sea ice melt in the Arctic spring, and the later arrival of ice every autumn.
Polar bears are affected by the earlier sea ice melt in the Arctic spring.Alamy
The finding is hardly a shock, as there have been warnings from conservationists about such things for years, with the polar bear becoming an icon of climate change concerns. And in most cases of species threat there are winners as well as losers.
The 25,000 or so surviving Arctic bears rely on the ice for their feeding and breeding success. A few stay on the ice all year round, but southerly populations survive ashore in the summer, and it is the seasonal winter feast upon seals and other sea mammals that gives them the nourishment to make it to the next breeding season.
"Sea ice really is their platform for life," said Kristin Laidre, principal scientist at the University of Washington's Polar Science Centre (PSC). "They are capable of existing on land for part of the year, but the sea ice is where they obtain their main prey."
She and her co-author, Harry Stern, principal mathematician at the PSC, used 35 years of satellite data to examine sea ice concentrations around the entire Arctic.
The total number of ice-covered days fell at the rate of seven to 19 days per decade between 1979 and 2014. Sea ice in the summer months—when polar bears are often forced to fast on land—also declined in all regions, by between 1 percent and 9 percent per decade.
And they found that the trend towards an earlier spring melt and a later autumn freeze was consistent everywhere.
Dr. Laidre and other scientists reported last year that all Arctic marine mammals could be at risk because of habitat loss. The catch was that biologists did not know enough about them to be sure.
Another group of researchers has established that things look bleak for Canada's polar bears, but this is just a subset of the species.
The PSC scientists have now established that spring melt has begun on average three to nine days earlier per decade, and the freeze similarly later each decade. Effectively, that added up to seven weeks' total loss of good habitat—that is, firm ice upon which the bears can stalk seals.
"These spring and fall transitions bound the period when there is good ice habitat available for bears to feed," Dr Laidre said. "Those periods are also tied to the breeding season, when bears find mates, and when females come out of their maternity dens with very small cubs and haven't eaten for months.
"We expect that if the trends continue, compared with today, polar bears will experience another six to seven weeks of ice-free periods by mid-century."
The Polar Bear Programme
The scientists were staying on Troynoy Island located in the Kara Sea north of Siberia when, on Aug. 31, a polar bear ate one of their two dogs and wouldn't leave.
Researchers' encounters with polar bears on Troynoy Island is fairly common, Vassiliy Shevchenko, head of the Sevgidromet State Monitoring Network, told The Guardian.
However, Yelena Novikova, a spokeswoman for Sevgidromet, told The Guardian the ongoing reduction in sea ice due to climate change has caused the polar bear population to grow increasingly aggressive.
"The ice receded quickly and the bears didn't have time to swim to other islands," Novikova said. "There's no food on [Troynoy] island, so they came up to the station."
Vadim Plotnikov, the head of the weather station on Troynoy Island, told TASS Russian News Agency there were about 10 adult bears, including four female bears with cubs, spotted around the weather station. One of the female bears even started sleeping underneath one of the windows, Plotnikov said.
Trapped inside and out of flares to spook the bears, the team became desperate. They called for help and were told they would have to wait a month for the next scheduled supply ship. But then, help arrived. A Russian expedition ship was able to reach them and give the scientists the dogs and flares they needed, TASS reported Wednesday. The ship's crew even helped them scare off the bears.
Polar bears are registered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and in the Red Book of Russia as an endangered species.
It’s official. On Feb. 17, Shell got a step closer to drilling for oil in our planet’s last wild ocean—the Arctic.
The company’s oil spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea off Alaska was given the all clear by U.S. authorities, even though it’s a work of almost complete fantasy.
While Shell prepares to start trashing this stunning wilderness, putting it at risk of catastrophic oil spills and more melting ice caps as a result of climate change, its PR people are getting busy. This evening—Feb. 21—they’ve invited influential guests to an event at the National Gallery in London, in the hope that those guests will lend the Shell brand a veneer of respectability.
We’ve decided to tell their guests the truth—this year Shell is planning to drill for oil in the pristine waters of the Arctic, and its plans will change this fragile wilderness forever.
So our climbers have made sure that guests at the National Gallery are met with an unexpected picture when they arrive. A short while ago, they evaded security and are preparing to unfurl a huge banner with the words “It’s no oil painting." Our climber Hannah is tweeting from the rooftop using the hashtag #SaveTheArctic.
Meanwhile, Paula Bear has emerged from her wintry den to mingle with the crowds in Trafalgar Square, where dozens of Greenpeace volunteers are talking to curious passers-by.
Polar bears—like other Arctic species including beluga whales, narwhals and walruses—are already under severe pressure in the Arctic from climate change. In just 30 years, the Arctic has lost 75 percent of its sea ice, and temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth.
While more and more people recognize the changing face of the Arctic as a stark warning about climate change (earlier today, several scientists gave evidence to this effect to the parliamentary inquiry, Protecting the Arctic), Shell sees the melting ice as a business opportunity—a chance to drill in newly accessible areas to find more of the oil that caused the melt in the first place.
And now Shell plans to create a new threat to the Arctic’s stunning—and ecologically fragile—coastlines and oceans: the threat of a catastrophic oil spill, which would be impossible to clean up.
Shell is just first of the so-called ‘supermajors’—the big oil companies—to make exploitation of the Arctic a key part of their strategy. But if it strikes oil this summer, other global oil giants may follow.
For more information, click here.
This week, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) will vote on a bill that includes a measure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The Arctic Refuge is our greatest wilderness icon and is home to caribou, polar bears and hundreds of bird species that migrate to all 50 states and six continents. It’s a pristine, intact ecosystem that is unparalleled in North America, and for the first time in six years, pro-drilling Representatives are pushing to open this amazing place to Big Oil’s dirty, dangerous drills.
There are some places in this country that are just too extraordinary to drill, and the Arctic Refuge is one of them—Rep. Fudge needs to hear from you before this important vote.
Call Rep. Fudge at (202) 225-7032 today and ask her to vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and HR 7—the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (also known as the Transportation bill.)
Then, click here to report your call.
Here are some more talking points you could use for your call:
- There is no such thing as safe drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Oil drilling cannot be done in an environmentally-safe manner. Once a pristine wilderness like the Arctic Refuge is lost to drilling, it’s lost forever.
- Americans will pay while Big Oil profits—not just at the pump but in environmental, health and economic costs. We must learn from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska's Prince William Sound and protect this special place.
- Some places in this country are too extraordinary to drill, and the Arctic Refuge is one of them. For more than fifty years, we have protected this remarkable place and Americans have remained committed to its protection ever since.
Take a minute to call Rep. Fudge at (202) 225-7032 today and ask her to vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
For more information, click here.
The fate of the world’s great whale species commands global attention as a result of heated debate between pro and anti-whaling advocates, but the fate of smaller marine mammals is less understood, specifically because the deliberate and accidental harvesting of dolphins, porpoises, manatees and other warm-blooded aquatic denizens is rarely studied or monitored.
To shed more light on the issue, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Okapi Wildlife Associates have conducted an exhaustive global study of human consumption of marine mammals using approximately 900 sources of information. The main finding—since 1990, people in at least 114 countries have consumed one or more of at least 87 marine mammal species. In addition to this global review, Wildlife Conservation Society scientists work in remote countries around the world to assess and actively address the threat to dolphin populations with localized, applied conservation efforts.
The new global study appears in the most recent edition of Biological Conservation. The authors include Dr. Martin D. Robards of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Dr. Randall R. Reeves of Okapi Wildlife Associates.
“International bodies such as the International Whaling Commission were formed specifically to gauge the status of whale populations and regulate the hunting of these giants,” said Robards, lead author of the new study. “These species, however, represent only a fraction of the world’s diversity of marine mammals, many of which are being accidentally netted, trapped, and—in some instances—directly hunted without any means of tracking as to whether these harvests are sustainable.”
In order to build a statistically robust picture of human consumption rates of marine mammals around the world, Robards and Reeves started with records on small fisheries focused on small whales (i.e. pilot whales), dolphins, and porpoises from 1975 and records of global marine mammal catches between 1966 and 1975. From there, the authors consulted some 900 other sources and consulted with numerous researchers and environmental managers, an exhaustive investigation that took three years to complete. The team only counted information with actual evidence of human consumption of marine mammals, omitting instances where marine mammals were caught (either intentionally or not) for fishing bait, feed for other animals, medicines, and other uses.
The list of marine mammals killed for human consumption includes obscure species such as the pygmy beaked whale, the South Asian river dolphin, the narwhal, the Chilean dolphin, the long-finned pilot whale, and Burmeister’s porpoise. Seals and sea lions are on the list as well, including species such as the California sea lion and lesser known species such as the Baikal seal. The polar bear (a bear that is considered a marine mammal) also makes the list. Three species of manatee and its close relative the dugong, considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, are also widespread targets of human consumption.
Overall, the historical review reveals an escalation in the utilization of smaller cetaceans, particularly coastal and estuarine species since 1970, often caught as accidental “bycatch” in nets meant for fish and other species. Once caught, however, small cetaceans are being increasingly utilized as food in areas of food insecurity and/or poverty, what the authors call “fishing up the food chain.”
“Obviously, there is a need for improved monitoring of species such as the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and other species,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program. “In more remote areas and a number of countries, a greater immediate need is to understand the motivations behind the consumption of marine mammals and use these insights to develop solutions to protect these iconic species that lead to more effective management and conservation.”
WCS’s Ocean Giants Program works in a number of seascapes of critical importance to small cetaceans in particular. These efforts are focused on the local level to address local impacts on coastal dolphin populations, providing on-the-ground practical conservation actions to compliment the global investigative work highlighted above.
In Congo, Gabon, and Madagascar, WCS conservation scientists Dr. Salvatore Cerchio and Tim Collins are conducting scientific studies to assess the status of impacted dolphin populations, and work with local communities of traditional fishermen to reduce accidental bycatch and deliberate hunting of dolphins. In these regions, the scientists are documenting a worrying trend in increased captures and use of dolphins for food, and they are sometimes also being sold in markets better known for their association with terrestrial bushmeat.
In response, Cerchio and the WCS Madagascar team have worked with local communities to establish a local conservation association composed of fishermen, local traditional laws protecting dolphins, and development of community-based whale and dolphin watching as an alternative livelihood. On the other side of the African continent, the coasts of Gabon and Congo represent one of the last strongholds for the rare Atlantic humpback dolphin. Catches by fishermen in Gabon are extremely rare, but groups of dolphins that cross the border (a finding of recent WCS work) risk capture in coastal gillnets set by artisanal fisherman. “The Atlantic humpback dolphin may well be the rarest mammal in the Congo basin region,” said Tim Collins. “Unfortunately, few have ever heard of it, least of all the fisherman eating them out of existence.”
For more information, click here.
In what has become an alarmingly regular occurrence, the Arctic set another record for high temperatures in 2011. According to new data from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2011 broke the previous record, set in 2010.
The region's temperature has been rising rapidly since the late 1970s.
Arctic amplification speeds up warming
Arctic air temperatures have risen at almost twice the rate of the global average rise over the past few decades. This arctic amplification of global warming is largely due to reduced surface reflectivity—and greater heat absorption—associated with the loss of snow and ice, especially sea ice.
As a result, most summer sea ice is projected to disappear by 2040, leaving only a small fringe of summer ice in Northeast Canada and Northern Greenland. Summer sea ice is important habitat for Arctic wildlife, and its decline opens previously inaccessible areas of the Arctic to shipping and industrial development.
“These changes have both local and global implications for people," says Clive Tesar, leader of the WWF Last Ice Area project. "Whether they are reindeer herder, hunters, or fishermen in the Arctic, or office workers in southern cities, people will ultimately feel these major changes to an integral part of the global weather system. We ignore these urgent signals at our peril. We need to both prepare for inevitable change, and work hard to reduce the severity of that change.”
Warming trend globally
Global temperature data released by NASA indicates that global surface temperatures in 2011 were the 9th highest on record, and that the warming was especially concentrated in the Arctic. "We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting," said James E. Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record."
For more information, click here.