11/14/2010 2:01:37 PM

A Poignant Departure

There were times this week out on the tundra when the magic of the bears and the landscape were so overwhelming that momentarily I forgot all about global warming, greenhouse gases, politics, and law, and simply reveled in the wonder of the moment.

Two bears greet each other

We watched several males sparring playfully, a mother and a yearling cub playing tug-of-war with what appeared to be a piece of seal skin, and lots of bears resting and sleeping. We saw three Arctic foxes, and a snowy owl. Today the sun peeked through for the first time all week and the tundra and blowing snow was gorgeous. One bear briefly pursued (and missed) a rodent we think was probably either a lemming or vole. There's no future in that—polar bears are designed, after all, to hunt seals, not voles.

Two bears sparring

Thoughts of global warming may be temporarily banished, but it's never too long before they resurface, especially when it's above freezing and raining on the shores of Western Hudson Bay in mid-November. The temperature is very slowly dropping from the highs of earlier this week, and today there was a bit of slush along the shores of the Bay ("grease ice") for the first time, but it's still quite warm, just below freezing right now, not cold enough to freeze the bay. The bears that came off the ice earliest this year, at the end of June, are approaching five full months of fasting. When the ice-free period extends long enough, bears will begin to starve. Another month or more without the ice and large numbers of bears could die. Hopefully that won't happen this year, but unless we actually start solving the climate crisis, it's probably only a matter of time until does.

A pause in play-fighting

It's always with great regret that I leave the tundra and the polar bears, but this year was particularly poignant because the rapid and accelerating warming of the Arctic feels so apparent here. The conditions this year were so different from previous years that it seems entirely possible that I will never see the bears of Western Hudson Bay quite this way again. I hope that's not the case, and I'll leave here with extra determination to do everything I can to avoid it, because there is still time to create a brighter future for polar bears.

The two bears part

The deep and rapid greenhouse pollution reductions we need to slow the warming in the Arctic and save the polar bear are definitely possible—and will also make the world a better place. We don't really have a technology problem—we could slash future greenhouse gas emissions in half with today's technology, and funding vibrant research and development programs would make so much more possible. We don't really have a legal problem—in the United States we have an existing law, the Clean Air Act, with a four-decade track record of success in curbing dangerous air pollution, and the Clean Air Act would effectively and efficiently reduce greenhouse pollution if only it were fully implemented. Other laws like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act can also help accomplish that. We have the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, fully capable of delivering international solutions. All we seem to lack right now is the political will.

A bear rests after a play session

After a week of inspiration from the bears and from all of the incredible Polar Bears International volunteers here—scientists, teachers, artists, writers, and many others, I feel that working together we can and we will succeed. As has been said many times this week in many ways, the most important thing for each of us to do is to get active in whatever way most inspires us. I feel passionately about using our existing, successful environmental laws to curb greenhouse gases, and encourage everyone to join our petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cap carbon dioxide at 350 parts per million, the level top climate scientists say we must reach to maintain a safe climate. Check out the Polar Bears International website for many ways to reduce your own carbon footprint. Let us know the actions and campaigns you are most excited about by posting a comment on the PBi Facebook page. The polar bears are depending on all of us, and we must act quickly.

A heartfelt thanks to all of you for watching and reading this week, and to Polar Bears International, Tundra Connections, Frontiers North Adventures, Canada Goose, Apple Education, Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots, Discovery Education, and Parks Canada for making this program possible.

Photo Credits: ©Frances Graham.


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