NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 17, 2006

The 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, an international project of the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), concludes that "global warming could cause polar bears to go extinct by the end of the century by eroding the sea ice that sustains them."

However, according to a new study by David Legates, director of the University of Delaware's Center for Climatic Research and state climatologist, there is little basis for fear. By and large, Legates finds that polar bear populations are in good shape.

For example:

  • Though polar bears are uniquely adapted to the Arctic region, they are not wedded solely to its coldest parts nor are they restricted to a specific Arctic diet.
  • Aside from a variety of seals, they eat fish, kelp, caribou, ducks, sea birds and scavenged whale and walrus carcasses.
  • In addition, Arctic air temperatures were as high as present temperatures in the 1930s and polar bears survived.

Are human activities causing a warming in the Arctic, affecting the sea ice extent, longevity and thickness? Contradictory data exists. What seems clear is that polar bears have survived for thousands of years, including both colder and warmer periods. There may be threats to the future survival of the polar bear, but global warming is not primary among them, says Legates.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Polar Bears on Thin Ice, Not Really!" National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 551, May 17, 2006.

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