Since the start of this century, the polar bear has been the icon of human-caused global warming. But now the polar bear as poster child of catastrophic global warming is dead.
In years past, the polar bear was routinely featured in public discussions about the effects of climate change, but today the polar bear is a much less common sight in the media and science.
A number of recent climate change reports even failed to mention polar bears in their discussion of Arctic sea ice decline.
The polar bear does not get mentioned once in the draft of the US Climate Science Special Report, even in the fifty page discussion on changes in the Arctic.
And NOAA’s annual Arctic Report Card has not mentioned the polar bear since 2014, in spite of highlighting the dangers faced by bear populations in every issue since 2008.
Even Al Gore seems to have forgotten to include the plight of polar bears in his newest climate change movie. Though it had a prominent role in his 2007 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, the polar bear example was left out of An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. It doesn’t even get a mention.
After years of campaigners’ and researchers’ claims that populations were in terminal decline, the ‘canary in the coal mine’ has been retired. It is now widely understood that polar bears are not suffering as predicted from years of low summer sea ice.
There have been no new reports of falling polar bear numbers, and images of fat, healthy polar bears abound.
Fat, healthy bears have been photographed around the Arctic on a regular basis in recent years, even in regions like Hudson Bay and Alaska where the bears were once said to be most at risk due to sea ice loss.
A 2015 attempt to use an image of a starving polar bear as a victim of climate change backfired when it became clear the animal had been injured and was dying a natural death.
That same year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature released its latest global estimate of polar bear population size. It was more bad news for the merchants of doom: according to the estimates, polar bear populations had increased by 2,000 since 2007.
Since then, new or updated estimates of polar bear populations in other regions have added around 2,000 more bears to the global estimate.
This is far from the dramatic decline in numbers the public was told to expect.
In early 2007, American government biologists insisted that a persistent drop in summer sea ice to about 5 million square kilometers or less would cause the loss of about 20,000 bears. They said this was the likely to happen by the year 2050.
But sea ice declined much more rapidly – the summer of 2007 brought to the Arctic the mid-century ice conditions scientists had predicted, and they have remained at these levels since.
In spite of this earlier-than-expected sea ice decline, there has been no associated decrease in global polar bear numbers. Not a single one of the ten ‘at-risk’ subpopulations have been wiped out as predicted and none have even declined in size.
The health of polar bears despite a decade of low sea ice makes this species extremely unhelpful to climate change campaigns.
It was hoped that stories about polar bear suffering might encourage public sympathy for global warming policies. But instead the animal has come to symbolize the irrational bias imposed on biology by climate politics.
The polar bear as an icon for climate change is dead because the distorted predictions made by polar bear specialists were wrong. This is a lesson for researchers in other areas who have failed to stop the invasion of politics into their science.