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Climate Change as a Moral Issue

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Photo: Gretchen Weber

Global warming is not just a scientific or political issue, it’s a moral one, said Reverend Sally Bingham of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, at the Commonwealth Club last week.  Bingham, who founded the Interfaith Power and Light campaign, an organization dedicated to “mobilizing a religious response to global warming,” joined Rabbi Stephen Pearce of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco at the talk, which was organized by Climate One, to discuss the intersection of religion and climate change.

“I think believe of faith have come to realize that this is a moral issue, how we behave on the planet, ” said Bingham. “God put us here to be the stewards, and over the last few years as more clergy have come to realize that this is a matter of faith. You cannot profess a love of God and destroy creation.”

Pearce talked about how he first entered the arena of environmental activism in the 1990s, when he went to a rally to save redwoods in northern California.  After being moved by the experience he founded the Interfaith Coalition to Save the Headwater Forest, an activist organization dedicated to protect the forest. After a long battle, during which Pearce earned the nickname “The Redwood Rabbi,” the forest was eventually protected.

“I was moved by the plight of all of these people who got into their pick up trucks and came all the way down to make their plight known,” said Pearce.

In this video from the talk, both religious leaders talk about the passages from scriptures have contributed to their beliefs on environmentalism.

The hour-long program airs on KQED at 2:00pm this Saturday, April 3rd, and after that is available online.

Gallup: A Drop in Concern over Warming

Emily Coven

Photo: Emily Coven

Another day, another poll showing that fewer Americans believe climate change is real.

Results from the latest Gallup Social Series Environment poll show that concern about global warming continues to wane, in some areas dipping to levels as low as when Gallup first started surveying about climate change in 1997.  The poll was conducted last week (between March 4 and March 7) and included responses from telephone interviews (land lines and cell phones) with 1,014 individuals 18 and older.

Key results include:

  • 19 percent say that effects of climate change “will never happen.” That compares with 16 percent last year and a low of 7 percent in 2001.
  • Almost half of Americans say most scientists are either unsure if global warming is happening (36 percent) or that most scientists believe that it is not happening (10 percent). Just 52 percent think most scientists “believe it is occurring,” down from 65 percent last year.
  • The poll showed a near-even split between those who think global temperature increases are due to human activity (50 percent) as opposed to natural causes (46 percent). That’s the lowest percentage to blame warming on human activity since Gallup first asked the question in 2003 and a drop of 8 percent from last year.
  • 48 percent said that news reports about climate change are “generally exaggerated” compared with 40 percent last year and 30 percent in 2006 and 2001.

The Gallup results mirror a recent study by Yale and George Mason universities called “Global Warming’s Six Americas.” The report found that the number of Americans who believe global warming is not happening has risen from 8 percent to 16 percent since 2008.

According to Gallup, the study results over the last two years mark a reversal in American attitudes about climate change.  Their data shows that concerns had increased from 1997 for over a decade, but in 2009 public concern retreated, and this year’s survey results mark an even more pronounced downtown.

As we have reported, this shift in attitudes may reflect recent publicity about mistakes in the 2007 IPCC report and the emails hacked and disseminated from the accounts of East Anglia climate scientists.  The record-breaking cold and snow in some parts of the country this year also could have played a role as well as the increasingly politicized nature of the debate.

Climate Scientists Respond to IPCC Critics

Snowstorm at Donner Pass, January 2010 (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

Snowstorm at Donner Pass, January 2010 (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

As we all know, climate scientists have been on the hot seat lately. Among other recent incidents, they’ve drawn fire for the leaked East Anglia emails and for the now-retracted assertion in a 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that Himalayan glaciers might be gone by 2035.  In both cases, researchers admitted missteps and expressed regret. But they say neither incident invalidates the mass of evidence that the Earth is warming and that human activity is a likely cause.

On a call with journalists this week, three leading scientists defended the IPCC, its processes, and climate science in general.  Fielding questions were Penn State glaciologist Richard Alley, Scripps Institute climate scientist Richard Somerville, and Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institute Department of Global Ecology at Stanford.

“There are errors, and you can find errors on both sides,” said Alley, referring to the fact that previous IPCC reports had underestimated sea-level rise.  “It’s done by humans. It’s not perfect.  But these errors in no way impact our fundamental understanding that we’re adding CO2 to the air, that this is turning up the Earth’s thermostat,” he said.

Somerville made a similar point about the false Himalayan prediction in the 2007 report.

“I liken what’s happened here to the occasional error that happens a bank statement or a phone book,” he said, noting that the 2007 report was 3,000 pages long.

Just because a bank makes a mistake on your statement, he argued, “That’s not a reason to distrust banks.”

The scientists defended the IPCC standards and review process, but supported the IPCC’s recent announcement that it will seek an outside review for future studies in efforts to avoid mistakes in the future.  It’s not clear yet what the independent review process will look like.

“The best thing we can do to push errors to the minimum is to have more eyes looking and to have more expertise and more transparency,” said Field.

There’s no question that errors such as the one about the Himalayan glaciers have provided fodder for critics of climate science and may have contributed to a recent decline in public concern about (and belief in) global warming. During their call this week, the climate researchers bemoaned the fact the urgency of their findings isn’t getting through.

“The fact is that we don’t have forever to decide to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” Somerville said. “That’s not something you can procrastinate for ever. Mother Nature imposes a time scale and it’s measured in a few years, not a century.”

Scientists are being forced to defend their work against attacks that are based on policy, not science, Somerville said. The IPCC has a mandate to be policy-neutral, and its goal is to provide information that is policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive, he said.

“And yet, when you take apart the criticisms that have been made of IPCC and climate science in general, you’ll find, I believe, that in many cases they are motivated by policy concerns rather than scientific concerns,” he said.  “And so I think you’ll find individuals and organizations who have strong views on carbon taxes or government participation in free markets or ceding sovereignty of one country by signing international agreements – all kinds of things like that that are disguised as concerns about the science.”

There’s an interesting conversation happening at Yale Environment 360 about the future of the IPCC.  Robert T. Watson, chair of the IPCC from 1997 to 2002, argues in an essay that while there’s room for improvement in terms of implementation, the IPCC’s procedures are sound.   On the other side, University of Colorado Environmental Studies Professor Roger A. Pielke argues for sweeping reform, citing, among other criteria, a need for a mechanism for resolving allegations of error and a policy pertaining to real and perceived conflicts of interest.

Belief in Global Warming Waning

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One of six possible profile "badges" from KQED's Matter of Degree Facebook survey

The percentage of Americans who believe that global warming is not happening has doubled since 2008, climbing from eight to 16 percent of the adult population, according to a new report from Yale and George Mason Universities.  (The full report is available as a PDF on the Yale Project on Climate Change website.)

More than 1,000 adults were surveyed in late December and early January, and their responses compared with results from a similar survey in the fall of 2008.  Called “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” the study identifies six “types” of attitudes about climate change ranging from “Alarmed” to “Dismissive” (see diagram, below).

The updated research  finds that while the percentage of “Dismissives” is growing, the proportion of  people at the opposite end of the spectrum, the Alarmed, is shrinking.  The percentage of Americans who believe that climate change is real, is caused by humans, and is an immediate threat, has dropped to 10 percent of the population, down from 18 percent in 2008. The survey group described as “Concerned” has, however grown slightly, and the “Disengaged” portion has halved, which would seem to indicate more people staking out positions on one side or the other.

Study author and director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, Anthony Leiserowitz, cited “gloomy unemployment numbers, public frustration with Washington, attacks on climate science, and mobilized opposition to national climate legislation” as contributing to diminished public concerns about global warming.

As we reported earlier this month, despite a drop in concern about climate change, majorities in all six groups say that developing sources of clean energy should be a priority for the US government.

To see which of the “Six Americas” resonates most with your viewpoint, take our climate survey, A Matter of Degree, which was developed in collaboration with the Yale Project on Climate Change and the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason Univeristy.  It’s available on the Climate Watch website and on Facebook.

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Graph from Global Warming's Six Americas, January 2010

Climate Concern Flags Amid Support for Policies

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One possible outcome "badge" from KQED's Facebook survey, "A Matter of Degree"

Despite being far less concerned about climate change than they were a year ago, a large majority of Americans supports the the passage of federal climate and energy policies, according to a national survey released last week by researchers at Yale and George Mason Universities.  (The full survey is available as a PDF on the Yale Project on Climate Change website.)

More than 1,000 adults were surveyed in late December and early January, and their responses compared with the results of a similar survey from the fall of 2008.

Key findings include:

  • Only 50% of Americans now say they are “somewhat” or “very worried” about global warming, a 13-point decrease
  • The percentage of Americans who think global warming is happening has dropped 14 points, to 57%
  • The percentage of Americans who think global warming is caused mostly by humans activities dropped 10 points, to 47%.

These results echo a similar survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, which found that between April 2008 and October 2009, the proportion of Americans who believed there was solid evidence for global warming dropped 14 points, from 71% to 57%.

While both reports indicate a flagging of public concern about climate change in general, the Yale/GMU report finds that public support for the passage of federal climate and energy policies is strong, even across party lines. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats surveyed support renewable energy research, tax rebates for people buying fuel-efficient vehicles or solar panels, and regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

“The good news is that even though some Americans are becoming more skeptical that global warming is happening, nevertheless, there is still support for some of the basic climate policies,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and one of the study’s principal investigators.

But the poll also revealed low levels of awareness about the policy debate in general: 60% of Americans surveyed said they’d heard “nothing at all” about cap-and-trade legislation, while just 12% said they’d heard “a lot.”  When the concept of carbon permit trading was explained to survey respondents, 58% supported the policy, but that support dropped to 40% when respondents were told that one hypothetical outcome would be to drive up household energy costs by $15 a month.  Support rebounded to 66% if a yearly household bonus of $180 were supplied to offset higher energy costs.

Bipartisan support for some climate-related policies amid fading concern about climate change, is not as contradictory as it might seem.  While some respondents approve of supporting research funding for renewable energy technologies as efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, others support this policy on national security and energy-independence grounds.  Leiserowitz noted that while support for renewable energy research has been high for years, the current public support for cap and trade could “go either way” in the near future, depending on how the public debate plays out.

Climate Watch has partnered with the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication to create our climate survey A Matter of Degree, which is available on the Climate Watch website and on Facebook.   A Matter of Degree uses data from the Yale and GMU researchers’ Global Warming’s Six Americas survey to help survey respondents determine where they fall on the spectrum of American beliefs about climate change.

Santer: “Loss of Innocence” for Climate Scientists

The Dana Glacier, outside Yosemite, CA.  Photo: Gretchen Weber

The Dana Glacier, outside Yosemite, CA, September 2008. Photo: Gretchen Weber

Yet another climate controversy has revived what have become increasingly common attacks on scientists’ credibility.  The latest flap arose when  the IPCC admitted on Wednesday, that its 2007 prediction that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035 was unfounded.

Attacks on the integrity of scientists have brought about a “loss of innocence” in the climate science field, said Ben Santer, a Research Scientist for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Santer lamented that “Fourteen or fifteen years ago, it was possible to do science and not be too worried about being the subject of Congressional investigations, Freedom of Information Act requests, and very personal and very public attacks. Those innocent days are over now.”

Santer, who’s been a key author of some IPCC reports, said the science that goes into those reports is the most rigorous that he’s seen in his career.”If your research suggests that humans are having a pronounced effect on climate,” he continued,  “I think the expectation is that you will be subjected to tremendous scrutiny.  And some of that is appropriate, certainly in terms of the science and the integrity and credibility of the science, but unfortunately, that scrutiny is moving to very unwelcome areas, and it’s also focusing on individuals and motives, and all of this stuff is very distasteful,” he said.

Santer was joined on the call by Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar Research Center , who raised concern that the intense and personal nature of much of the criticism climate scientists have been facing (most recently in response to the East Anglia hacked email incident, now widely known as “Climategate”) may be keeping promising young scientists out of the field at a time when they are most needed.  In the wake of the East Anglia emails, a blizzard of accusations of data manipulation blew through the blogosphere and in certain corners of the Senate.

“It does make it difficult to bring young scientists into the field,” Santer agreed.  They look at what has gone on and there is genuine concern there. They must be asking themselves, ‘Do I really want to get involved in critical but possibly contentious issues if there is the possibility that I will spend months or even  longer dealing with questions not about the science that I have done, but about my own personal integrity?’” said Santer.

Thompson affirmed that while it’s difficult to put a specific timetable on the disappearance of glaciers, the scientific evidence documenting glacier recession is overwhelming.  Research indicates that more than 90% of the world’s glaciers are receding, he said, including approximately 95% of the glaciers in the Himalayas.

“Glaciers do not have any political agenda,” said Thompson.  “They just sum up what’s happening in the environment and they retreat or react to that en masse.”

The conference call was organized by the activist Union of Concerned Scientists.

UPDATE 1/25/10
The London tabloid, the Daily Mail, reported yesterday that a lead author of the Asia chapter of the IPCC’s 2007 assessment admitted that he knew the 2035 claim was unsubstantiated, but he approved including it in the report anyway.  Murari Lal reportedly said in an interview with the Daily Mail that he knew the 2035 number came from a report that was not peer-reviewed, but that the claim of imminently disappearing glaciers would, “impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.”

Michael Schlesinger, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences and director of the Climate Research Group at the the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign responded to the Daily Mail report with dismay.

“I am greatly saddened and deeply offended by this person’s behavior,” he wrote in an email. “A scientist does not lie nor change the facts to suit an agenda.  Rather s/he tells it as it is, as best as it is known to her/him.”

Joe Romm at Climate Progress has a spirited response to the Daily Mail story.  According to Romm (who reached Lal by phone):
[Lal] He said these were “the most vilest allegations” and denied that he ever made such assertions.  He said “I didn’t put it [the 2035 claim] in to impress policymakers….  We reported the facts about science as we knew them and as was available in the literature.”

Nature Always Bats Last

Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico   Photo: Craig Miller

Cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico Photo: Craig Miller

Mike Newland is an archeologist at Sonoma State University’s Anthropological Studies Center. A version of this essay was originally broadcast as part of KQED’s Perspectives series.

Nature Always Bats Last

By Mike Newland

I’ve been pondering a 3,000 year old mystery that makes me uneasy about our current plight. Starting around 2,000 B.C., people in the Great Basin and Mojave Desert really got into big-game hunting.  We see this in the archaeological record—all of this big-horn sheep and antelope bone shows up in larger quantities.  Up in the mountains, great panels of rock art are chock full of hunters chasing sheep, and evidence of their hunting camps is tucked in shelters and around springs.

Big-game hunting isn’t that efficient.  You’re better off going for a wide range of edibles close by.  You get more food for less work.  This is an important point, because after 3,000 years of this big game hunting, this culture died out, and was replaced by folks that hunted and collected a broader range of food.

Bill Hildebrandt and Kelly McGuire, two archaeologists from Far Western Anthropological Research Group in Davis, have made a compelling argument about why people were so obsessed with hunting—they did it for status.

Good hunters were revered for their abilities to provide food and hunting trips could serve political and social functions.  But big game hunting was eventually done at the expense of the rest of the population: archaeologists still discuss whether the bow and arrow, probably introduced to California by groups coming out of Oregon, was such an effective hunting tool that the hunters wiped-out most of the big game, or whether the devastating effects of the Medieval Climatic Anomaly, which caused major droughts throughout the Great Basin and desert areas, pushed these people over the edge.  But it is clear that serious changes took place, and big game hunting became unsustainable.  By the time the next group of folks came along, the big-game hunters were on the verge of collapse.

This is one of the reasons why archaeology is important—we can look at past cultures and see how we, as a species, have dealt with big problems.

This research makes me uneasy because archaeology has shown repeatedly that cultures not in balance with nature die out.  For millennia, people have sat around campfires debating whether to make the changes necessary to adapt to a shifting climate or depleted resource base, and invariably they said no. As a result, the graveyards of history are full of the corpses of cultures that failed to change when they needed to.

Now it’s our turn. History shows that nature won’t hesitate to take us out.  We’re lucky in that we have probably one of the most adaptive cultures in history: we’ve made major changes—abolition of slavery, passing of environmental legislation, the Equal Rights Amendment—when we thought it was in our collective best interest. Even still, these landmark changes required decades of hard work and dedication to educate the broader population.  We have our work cut out for us.  We can either rise to the occasion, and make the investments necessary to stem climate change, or we can take our place with the rest of the dead in the graveyard.

The Heated Debate Over Temperatures

87583224As the war over warming perception spills into a new decade, the last month of 2009 provided fresh ammo for the prevailing view. According to a preliminary report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the “noughties” may have been the warmest decade on record.

And despite the rare sprinkling of snow we woke up to one December morning in the Bay Area, the report also says that 2009 will likely go down as one of the hottest years in modern history. Based on climate data from January to October, the WMO says that 2009 will likely be the fifth warmest since scientists began keeping records in 1850.

If that last claim seems improbable, you’re likely in Canada or the United States: The data shows that every continent but North America saw above-average temperatures in 2009, and that parts of Asia and Africa experienced their warmest year yet.

Dean Moosavi, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, chalked the apparent discrepancy up to the Pacific ocean phase known as La Nina, and said it’s important to note the difference between weather and climate. “Snow in Houston this week, for example, is not proof of the absence of global warming any more than a large drought in the summer is proof that global warming is occurring,” Moosavi wrote in an email to Climate Watch. “You have to look over much longer periods of time…decades at the least before you can see a climatic trend of significance.”

This is perhaps a good place to acknowledge the oft-heard claim that the planet has actually been cooling down for more than a decade. In an article published in NOAA’s online magazine ClimateWatch (not affiliated with KQED Climate Watch), David Easterling of NOAA’s Climatic Data Center explains the statistical quirk that produces that mirage.

But Moosavi says he’s not quite ready to make a pronouncement. “I am not yet convinced that the 2000′s were warmer than the 90′s at this point,” Mossavi wrote. “Given the political and economic stakes of a statement of this type…I would be very cautious before declaring the 2000′s the warmest decade.”

Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, on the other hand, was less equivocal: “As 8 of the 10 warmest years in the history of surface measurements are in the 2000′s, it is clear that the 2000s was the warmest decade on record,” he wrote in an email.

The WMO findings come on the heels of a pair of reports that indicate that despite the global recession, average temperatures are on track to rise between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

For some perspective, the California Climate Change Center’s 2006 report on the risks of global warming predicts that a 6 C increase would have a devastating effect on the state. The report projects that a 10.5 F increase (just a little under 6 C) would result in up to 100 extra days of “extreme heat” in Los Angles and Sacramento, a 90% reduction in the Sierra snowpack and a 2-to-3-foot increase in sea levels.

The half-dozen climate scientists contacted for this post agreed that the 6 C prediction was within the realm of possibility, and most had the same answer when asked how the world should combat this risk. Stanford professor Ken Caldeira chose to respond in capital letters: “WE HAVE TO ACT NOW.”

“The question isn’t so much whether we need to take action this year or next, but rather how much more expensive and difficult are the solution and the impacts, if we delay,” Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, said. “Delaying action on climate is sort of like delaying action on paying your credit card bill. You may get by for a few months, but the problems get worse through time and more expensive to address.”

1.5 Degrees (Celsius) of Separation

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

A few last over-the-shoulder observations from Rob Schmitz, who has at last escaped Copenhagen, after two weeks of reporting for Climate Watch and The California Report.

There goes Nancy Pelosi in a blazing red dress. Over there? Hugo Chavez surrounded by bodyguards and tracked by television cameras. Watch out! Al Gore’s security detail is coming through!

It was getting toward the end of Week Two, and the Bella Center, all but closed now to those pesky, protesting NGOs, was overrun by more than 120 world leaders and heads of state, and you couldn’t get to the restroom without bumping into one of them (or the elbows of their security guards).

With all this power crammed into once place, the folks who seem like bigwigs at home suddenly found themselves standing in line for hours with the rest of us. CEOs, heads of big-name state agencies and the like had to walk more than a mile to the conference Wednesday after protests forced police to shut down the Bella Center metro stop and erect twenty-foot barriers around it. Then, the UN barred access to most accredited NGO participants, enraging many who dropped thousands of dollars to come here and now couldn’t attend the finale of these negotiations.

At one point, I was looking for a table where I might sit down and eat my lunch. This is one of the joys of covering a conference like this: it’s crowded and everyone’s eating at the same time, so the nations of the world share tables (at least they can cooperate at lunchtime). I plopped my tray down at a table of three people dressed in elaborate white, blue, and red costumes, adorned with silver jewelry. As it turned out, they were three presidents of the parliamentary system of the Sami people, the indigenous nomadic reindeer herders of northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland, an area known as Lapland. The three were there to support language in the draft resolution text that would include indigenous peoples when deciding where to build renewable energy projects. They’ve had problems in the past when wind farms and dams were built on their lands. “The reindeer don’t like that,” said one of the leaders, “they’ll avoid anything that’s new, and it disturbs our herding,” she told me. The conversation soon turned to their costumes. “We usually don’t wear these outfits,” said one leader at the table, “but we wear them here, because it helps raise awareness of our people. Television journalists are very interested in us.” But, he said, the costumes were a double-edged sword of sorts. When they wear them at official functions, they have a hard time being taken seriously by officials from other governments, one lamented.

I had a similar notable encounter the day before, when I was reporting a story on what California got out of the climate summit. After wrapping up my interviews, I sat down and had breakfast at the Scandic Webers Hotel. Sitting next to me was a man dressed in a red Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt and grubby Adidas sweatpants. Me being from Minnesota, it was my Midwestern duty to inform him of this.

Me: “Wisconsin, eh?

Him: “Yup.”

Me: “I’m from Minnesota.”

Him: “Oh yeah? Well I hope we see you in the playoffs.”

He was referring to the NFL and the arch-rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and my team, the Minnesota Vikings. We proceeded to rib each other about football and had a fun, trash-talking conversation about quarterback Brett Favre. At the end of the conversation, I asked him what he did for a living in Wisconsin.

“Oh, I’m the governor.”

It’s been that kind of week. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, dressed in sweatpants on this morning, was wearing suits when he was involved in meetings throughout the week, to urge the US to make a binding commitment to greenhouse gas emissions reductions and for congress to pass a cap-and-trade scheme. But he, of course, was playing second (or third) fiddle to the heaps of world leaders that piled into this conference.

Maybe he should have dressed like a reindeer herder.

Author: Polar Bears Doomed No Matter What We Do

US Fish & Wildlife Service

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Because our charter at Climate Watch is to examine climate change from the California perspective, you don’t see a lot here about melting ice caps and imperiled polar bears. But Michael Krasny’s interview with Richard Ellis on KQED’s Forum program is well worth an hour of your time.

Ellis is the author of On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear (Random House, 2009) and it’s fair to say that he managed to stun Krasny with a declaration that the species is “doomed,” no matter what we might try to do to save it at this point. Ellis says there is already too much warming in the pipeline (what scientists call “committed” warming) to reverse the disintegration of the bears’ arctic habitat.

Polar bear populations have been a topic of persistent confusion, recently amplified in an op-ed piece written by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin for The Washington Post.

According to the advocacy group Polar Bears International, there is little room for doubt about the animal’s decline. The organization’s website breaks down the numbers, which point to a “scientifically documented decline in the best-studied population, Western Hudson Bay, and predictions of decline in the second best-studied population, the Southern Beaufort Sea.”

The PBI analysis goes on to explain that:

The Western Hudson Bay population has dropped by 22% since 1987. The Southern Beaufort Sea bears are showing the same signs of stress the Western Hudson Bay bears did before they crashed, including smaller adults and fewer yearling bears.

At the most recent meeting of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (Copenhagen, 2009), scientists reported that of the 19 sub-populations of polar bears, eight are declining, three are stable, one is increasing, and seven have insufficient data on which to base a decision. (The number of declining populations has increased from five at the group’s 2005 meeting.)

Regardless of whether you share the conclusions of Ellis and PBI about the future of the “poster child for global warming,” the Forum interview is a fascinating hour.