Attitudes to that poster-species of the Warmists, the Polar Bear, are conflicting — and are also an interesting illustration of the techniques used by Warmists to make their case.
Amongst climate sceptics, it is common knowledge that thirty or forty years ago the total population of polar bears was estimated somewhere between 5000 and 8000, whereas today there are perhaps 20 to 25,000. So polar bears are doing just fine, then?
Well they certainly ought to be. During the current Interglacial, polar bears have repeatedly prospered (or at least survived) through warmer conditions than those of today: the Holocene Maxima, the Minoan Optimum, the Roman Optimum, the Mediæval Warm Period. So they should have no trouble with the slight warming of the last few decades. Moreover their ancestors (almost identical in evolutionary terms) survived previous interglacials believed to have been warmer than the current Interglacial — most recently the Eemian Interglacial some 120,000 years ago. And before some idiot on Twitter asks me to prove that they survived, let me point out that polar bears prove it themselves by not being extinct.
But this is not the true picture, according to the Warmists. I’ve been challenged on the issue by some Warmist trolls, so I’ve done a little digging on the subject, and I’d like to refer you to the Canadian Geographic Magazine (no it isn’t a peer-reviewed scientific paper — but it gives an interesting review of such papers, and perfectly illustrates the point I want to make). There are several techniques that the Warmists use, not only with Polar Bear numbers, but also with temperature, and sea-level rise.
First, alter the past. Those trying to make the case that polar bears are endangered are saying “Well, the estimates of numbers forty years ago were a bit slapdash and poorly researched — little more than guesses really — in all probability the numbers were much higher”. There is a parallel here with the scandal of the “adjustments” made to temperature data — always in a way which makes the past cooler and emphasises the Warmist narrative. I am delighted that the GWPF is bringing together a panel of experts to look at this whole area of data manipulation. I suspect that their findings may well be on a par with Climategate in terms of impact.
Second, post-rationalise. In addition to the studies showing current polar bear numbers, there is extensive observational and anecdotal evidence of increased sightings of polar bears. In locations where you might have expected one or two, you may now find half a dozen. They are starting to be a problem for some isolated communities in the Arctic. But the Warmists have their answer. As the ice recedes (another Warmist meme), polar bears are forced together on the remaining territory, and being hungry may even raid garbage sites in settlements. So you see more, even though there are fewer. Some people might call this “post-rationalisation”. Others call it “Just-So Stories”.
Third: admit the data, but scaremonger anyway. The article I mention from the Canadian Geographic provides no substantial evidence for a threat to polar bear populations. But the final paragraph is a gem. Try this for size: “Some populations appear to be doing OK now, but what’s frightening is what might happen in the very near future,” says wildlife biologist Lily Peacock. (My emphasis).
The plan is to admit that the data are not too worrying (pedant alert — “data” is a plural word requiring a plural verb), but to stress that nevertheless disaster will strike very soon. Polar bear numbers are looking OK now, but you just wait! Sea level rise is pitifully slow — but it’s just going to accelerate! There has been an eighteen year hiatus in global warming — but we’re just reaching a tipping point! The only problem for the Warmists is that environmentalists have been making dire predictions for decades, ever since Paul Ehrlich and his “Population Bomb”. And again and again, they’ve been proved wrong. Predicting the end of the world is a mug’s game. You look pretty silly standing on your mountain-top waiting to greet the Apocalypse that never comes.