BBC polar bear propaganda melts under analysis

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

A recently released BBC documentary, Frozen Planet II, renews claims that polar bears are destined to doom due to melting Arctic sea ice and calls for “immediate action.”

“David Attenborough returns with another epic exploration of the world’s frozen regions…you’re weirdly sad that a polar bear can’t hunt seals because of the melting ice – and this image nails the urgent message in this incredible six-episode series,” reads The Guardian’s intro to the documentary series. “The frozen wilderness is disappearing at a faster rate than ever before, with the Arctic predicted to see ice-free summers by 2035. Each closeup shot of these amazing animals is a reminder of what the world will lose without taking immediate action.”

The anxiety-laden claim of imminent ice-free Arctic summers is reminiscent of similar warnings in the 2000s of Arctic ice that would be gone by the 2010s. However, the ice is still there in the 2020s.

Most predictions about ice-free Arctic summers are hinged on the assumption that man-made CO2 emissions will cause significant increases in global temperatures and catastrophic melting in the Arctic. This year, Arctic summer ice levels were higher than the decadal average, thus disproving the assumption of a linear relationship between ice levels and atmospheric CO2 concentration levels.

Even if the Arctic’s summer sea ice were to decline, the polar bear populations may not be affected in the way it is being imagined.

Addressing the remarkable resilience of polar bears near the Norweigan archipelago of Svalbard, Dr. Susan Crockford, a zoologist with more than 40 years ’experience, says, “If the professed correlation between summer sea ice and polar bear health and survival stated by polar bear specialists was correct, there should be no bears left in Svalbard. This portion of the Barents Sea subpopulation especially has endured more than a decade of critically low sea ice in summer. However, despite this dramatic decline in summer sea ice, polar bears in Svalbard are ‘unexpectedly’ thriving.”

Dr. Crockford says, “The summer sea ice trend has been pretty much flat since 2007, with ice covering about 42% less area than it had done in 1979, yet polar bears in many regions are doing better now than they were in 2005, especially in Davis Strait, the Barents and Chukchi Seas and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.”

Her State of Polar Bear Report 2017 is a comprehensive analysis of bear populations, the changes in their habitat and whether the popular claims about extinctions were accurate or not.

She wrote, “Global polar bear numbers have been stable or risen slightly since 2005, despite the fact that summer sea ice since 2007 hit levels not expected until mid-century: the predicted 67 percent decline in polar bear numbers did not occur.” The report concludes that polar bear numbers will continue to be stable or even increase despite the volatility in summer sea ice levels. Record numbers of bears have been recorded since the days of excessive hunting early in the 20th century.

In Canada, the Inuit people who share habitats with bears have been asking the government to increase hunting quotas to manage increasing bear populations. In September 2022, the government of Canada published the summary of a scientific report which confirms that the “polar bears that Inuit see around Pangnirtung and Kimmirut are generally healthy, and the local population has been growing over the past several decades.”

It is remarkably easy for documentary producers to make false claims without providing actual data. It is unfortunate that apparently more than a few viewers are fooled by media like the BBC and celebrities like David Attenborough, who has an history of exaggerating climate events and making false claims about the health of ecosystems and populations that live in them. The latest documentary adds to the doomsday propaganda.


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Vijay Jayaraj


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