Beware: Radical Managers Turn Facebook Into Climate Activist Media

  • Date: 19/05/20
  • Susan Crockford, Polar Bear Science

Facebook has labelled a recent short PragerU polar bear video as “false information” based on a ClimateFeedback review featuring statements by Andrew Derocher and Ian Stirling published 18 May 2020.

The video, posted on Facebook 5 May 2020, is also available here and here.

I was approached yesterday by Nick Coltrain, a reporter for the Des Moines Register and USA Today, asking for a statement about the accuracy of the PragerU video, which cites me as a source for two of their three ‘inconvenient facts.’

My comments are below but I reminded Nick that what is going on is a classic conflict that happens all the time in science: it presents no proof that I’m wrong or that the PragerU video is ‘false information’. Climate Feedback is not ‘factchecking’: it is presenting its preferred side of a disputed science issue.

STATEMENT SENT TO NICK COLTRAIN:

Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I stand behind the accuracy of the video but wish they had cited my scientific paper, my fully referenced new book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, and/or The State of the Polar Bear Report 2019, also fully referenced. [links provided to Crockford 2017, 2019, 2020]

I will post a full response on my blog but would like to point out the following.

Regarding the challenge of the adjective ‘thriving’ used in the video, in the review both Derocher and Stirling referred to Barents and Chukchi Sea polar bears as doing “OK”. I contend this is a gross misrepresentation of the published literature on these bears. There have been a number of papers published on Chukchi Sea bears documenting that body condition and reproduction are better now than in the 1980s and a recent paper on the body condition of female Barents Sea bears stated:

“Unexpectedly, body condition of female polar bears from the Barents Sea has increased after 2005, although sea ice has retreated by ∼50% since the late 1990s in the area, and the length of the ice-free season has increased by over 20 weeks between 1979 and 2013. These changes are also accompanied by winter sea ice retreat that is especially pronounced in the Barents Sea compared to other Arctic areas” [Lippold et al. 2019:988]

Biologically speaking, since the premise of the assumption that polar bear populations will decline with reduced summer sea ice is that bears will be in poor condition and reproducing poorly, it is logical to assume that bears with good body condition and reproducing well belong to thriving populations, regardless of the fact that the sea ice in their region is much reduced.

In addition, Stirling further stated that “…a couple [subpopulations] are doing OK, such as Foxe Basin and Davis Straight, and one seems to be increasing (M’Clintock Channel).” It is odd that Stirling fails to mention Kane Basin, shown on the status map provided as also ‘likely increasing’ (as documented in 2016 population survey report) and yet mentions M’Clintock Channel bears seem to be increasing even though the results of a long-awaited population survey, now long overdue, have not yet been made public.

The polar bear data are contradictory: contrary to predictions, several polar bear subpopulations (at least four of them) are indeed thriving despite much reduced summer sea ice. I have chosen to emphasis that good news, while Stirling and Derocher choose to emphasize the data that seem to fit their predictions. This is a classic conflict that happens all the time in science but presents no proof that I’m wrong or that the PragerU video is inherently ‘false’.

Regards,

Susan, 18 May 2020

In short, it is indeed true that ‘Polar bears are thriving even where sea ice is diminishing.’ See also my 2018 opinion piece on the National Geographic ‘starving’ polar bear video in the Financial Post here. Climate Feedback reviewed that piece with statements by Steven Amstrup and Andrew Derocher, which I countered herehere, and here.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

The review states: “There is no scientific evidence that the entire polar bear population has been growing, contrary to what this video claims.” In 2007 the global estimate used by the USGS in their analysis supporting the listing of polar bears as ‘threatened’ under the ESA was 24,500 (Amstrup et al. 2007) and the official IUCN estimate in 2015 (without the addition of several subpopulation estimates completed since then) was 26,000 (22,000-31,000)(Regehr et al. 2016; Wiig et al. 2015).

Do the math: 24,500 bears in 2007 vs. 26,000 bears in 2015 is an increase of 1,500 bears and indicate that overall population numbers have indeed grown by a small amount. More recent survey results add further to that total. I’ve pointed out this may well not be statistically significant increase but it is certainly not the decline that was predicted to occur when sea ice declined to present levels (Crockford 2017, 2019, 2020).

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