Seeing as I live a pretty wild and crazy life, especially on the weekends, I decided to attend a lecture hosted by The Vancouver Institute that featured by Dr Ian Stirling speaking on the topic of polar bears and how climate change is impacting them.
Dr Ian Stirling has been studying polar bears for 50 years and he knows his topic very well. He speaks in an easy to understand and very frank manner about polar bears and how climate change is impacting them.
It was interesting to note that most of the people in the UBC lecture hall had hair as white as polar bears. However, Dr Stirling did not see that as a “problem”. In fact, he emphasized that while elementary school age children are very powerful agents of change, he added in that the more elderly members of society can also play an important role in “saving the world for polar bears”.
Elderly members of society are better able to meet with politicians and bureaucrats and the people who make the policies that may save the polar ice caps and the polar bears.
Elderly members of society can make investment choices, choose what types of cars they drive, how often they drive, and they can control the thermostat in their homes. Dr Stirling said that as a matter of principle he keeps the thermostat set at 17 degrees in his home and if anyone is cold in the house, they are told to put on a sweater. Or another sweater. He said we all have small things we can do to slow climate change.
As for elementary school age children – Dr Ian Stirling said that they get the problem – the polar ice around the Arctic is melting which means that polar bear habitat is shrinking. Very quickly.
In the last 30 years the polar ice around the Arctic shrunk from something like 8 million square kilometres to just under 4 million. It has shrunk by more than half in less than 30 years.
And kids get it; if there is less polar ice, there is less habitat for polar bears. And when kids get it, from a very early age they begin making changes and questioning the way that things are done. They are the future agents of change and disruptors of the status quo.
After Dr Stirling’s lecture and incredible slide show of images of polar bears, there was a question and answer session. He was asked if “polar bear tourism” is having a net positive or negative impact on polar bears.
He openly admitted that he does some work in the polar bear tourism field but he did say that all things considered, people coming to view polar bears is a positive because of the awareness that it brings to more people. He feels that the more people who are aware of the plight of the polar bears, the more people who will be advocates for slowing climate change.
The primary difficulty that polar bears are having is that they hunt ring seals from the polar ice. As I said above, the less polar ice there is, the less hunting grounds for polar bears. As a result, some polar bears have been exploring new food sources and one of those new food sources is the community of Churchill, Manitoba.
With the growing numbers of polar bears coming into Churchill, the conservation officers were having to shoot and kill the bears. They quickly realized this was not the way to handle the situation.
So now, rather than shooting and killing the bears, they are now being kept for months without being fed, in an old decommissioned Canadian Armed Forces base.
Huh? Yes! Polar bears do not need to eat for months on end (they can live for months and months off the fat that they build on their bodies) so they are kept, without being fed, in an enclosure on the decommissioned military base.
As the bears get to the point where they are going to need to eat to replenish their fatty layer, they are taken from the enclosure and transported further north.
This new system of “handling” polar bears that are coming into contact with humans in Churchill has reduced the number of polar bears being shot in Churchill from 30 down to one or two a year.
At the end of the lecture Dr Ian Stirling did emphasize that although it is getting quite late, there really is time to change the path that humans have taken the natural environment on.
Our choices do matter.