4/14/2014 2:24:27 PM

Scientists Speak Out: The New IPCC Report

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. group, warns that human-caused climate change is already causing destruction around the globe. And it will only get worse unless we act quickly.

Leading climate and polar bear scientists share their thoughts on the report and the path forward:

Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor and Director, Earth System Science Center

What the latest report shows is that climate change is adversely impacting us now, wherever we live. It isn't just the Arctic and the polar bear anymore. We are now the polar bear. If we are to avert increasingly dangerous and potentially irreversible changes in our climate, we need to act now. We must transition from our reliance on fossil fuels to alternative, renewable sources of energy that do not threaten the health of our planet. Doing so is not only possible, but surprisingly inexpensive—with an estimated drop of only 0.06 in GDP over the next century.

Dr. Steven Amstrup, Chief Scientist, Polar Bears International

In 2007, I projected that global warming was likely to eliminate two-thirds of the world's polar bears by the middle of this century. After making that point in a recent public lecture, a college student in the audience asked what would happen to the rest of the polar bears if we fail to act in time to head off that 'mid-century polar bear crisis.' My answer:

At that point, no one will be thinking about polar bears, because coping with and adapting to ongoing human crises will consume all of society's resources

 The recent report by Working Group II of the IPCC adds emphasis in spades to my response. The hundreds of scientists whose independent research composes the IPCC concluded that:

  • Climate change already is negatively affecting every part of the globe
  • The frequency and severity of extreme weather will continue to increase as long as greenhouse gas levels rise
  • Along with steep and rapid reductions in emissions, we will need to develop plans for coping with a constantly changing world with ever new and more difficult challenges

The good news, however, is that while the panel concluded the world cannot afford inaction, it emphasized we still have time to stop the worst effects of warming. If we do, we also are likely to save polar bears.

Dr. Gavin Schmidt, Deputy Chief, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

The IPCC report is an enormous achievement and great resource for the scientific community and the public alike. But more than that, it provides a clear summary of where we are and what can be done. How we should act in the face of this information is complex and should be discussed at all levels. I hope only that those discussions are fully informed about what the science is showing—and that these discussions lead to meaningful action.

Dr. Ian Stirling, Research Scientist Emeritus, Canadian Wildlife Service

The recent report from the IPCC is stunning and should be a major stimulus for governments around the world to develop a global plan to reduce greenhouse gases ... soon. One of the most important messages is that there is still time, but not that much of it, if the world is to restrain warming within manageable bounds.

The situation in the Arctic, though, is more dire and changing rapidly. The climate is warming there more rapidly than elsewhere on the planet, with the result that the sea ice is now disappearing even more quickly than once predicted by several different models. That is bad news, not just for polar bears, but for the whole Arctic marine ecosystem.

Why climate warming is so critical for polar bears is a simple concept and easily understood, even by children. Polar bears need ice to be able to hunt their primary prey: marine mammals, primarily seals. No ice means no ice bear. That isn't complicated to understand.

Some subpopulations, such as those in Western Hudson Bay and the Southern Beaufort Sea are already showing measureable negative effects on body condition, reproduction, and population size. Ultimately, if nothing changes in the trajectory of warming and consequent loss of sea ice, polar bears will be negatively affected throughout their present range and at some point will be at risk of extinction.

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