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April 15th 2013 print

John Happs

An open letter to David Attenborough

The TV naturalist is an intelligent man, no doubt about it. So why does he persist in parroting easily demolished propaganda about "endangered" polar bears  and the alleged impact of global warming?

ATTENTION:  Sir David Attenborough

Dear Sir David,
I have written to you previously to congratulate you on the excellence of your wildlife documentaries. There is no doubt that your dedication and professionalism have brought pleasure, information and awareness to millions of viewers around the world.

On a more critical note, I expressed to you my concern about public comments you have made about catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW).

I provided ample documented evidence to show that:

(a) Carbon dioxide has never driven global temperature over geologic time;
(b) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process and findings cannot be trusted;
(c) The broader scientific and political communities are now seriously questioning the alarmist message of CAGW.

In the BBC1 series on Africa you claimed that the wildlife there was at a “pivotal moment in their history” and “Africa’s climate is certainly changing. Some parts of the continent have become 3.5oC hotter in the past 20 years.”(1)

When challenged about this, the BBC indicated that the claim of a 3.5oC rise over 20 years was sourced from a Christian Aid report. The BBC acknowledged that the 3.5oC claim, based on that NGO source, had no basis in fact and the statement would be removed when the program was repeated. To its credit, the BBC honoured that commitment.

I am concerned when you, Sir David, lend your reputation and authority to bolster alarmist messages about dramatic Arctic sea ice retreat and, by unsubstantiated association, the threat to polar bear populations (2)

The Oasis Nature Channel has presented a series of programs entitled Extinctions, about animals under threat. The first of the series was about polar bears, which they referred to as the canaries in the global-warming coalmine, ignoring the fact that polar bear numbers are actually the highest since records began. (3)

Spreading unwarranted alarmism about CAGW and the demise of polar bears appears to be the hallmark of a number of radical environmentalists and other vested interest groups. For instance, in his book We are the Weather Makers (4) Australia’s Chief Climate Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery writes:

“With each year, starving females give birth to fewer cubs.” (P93)


“In the spring of 2006, for the first time Inuit began to find drowned polar bears: the ice is now too far from shore.” (P93)


“So fast are the changes that there are likely to be few or no polar bears in the wild by around 2030.” (P94)

Other alarmists, such as Steven Amstrup, have said that polar bears, depending on sea ice for hunting seals, are in trouble because sea ice is decreasing due to global warming. (5)

The alarmist World Wildlife Fund (WWF) claimed that polar bears with triplet cubs have been declining, yet recent sightings from Arctic guides report "frequent sightings of polar bear mothers with triplets.” (6)

Serial alarmist Dr Andrew Derocher from the World Conservation Union, also knows how to make exaggerated and emotive statements about global warming and subsequent threats to polar bears. He says:

“It’s not fun to see a mother bear watch her cubs falling dead because she can no longer nurse them.”


“We want governments to be ready with conservation and management plans for polar bears when a worst-case climate change scenario happens.”  (7)

In 2004, Dr Lara Hansen from the WWF said that bears in the Hudson Bay region could become so thin by 2012 they may no longer be able to reproduce. (8)

If the public were to take seriously such alarmist messages about dangerous global warming and the plight of the polar bear they could be led to believe that:

(a)    Global warming is melting all the Arctic sea ice;
(b)    Polar bears will be isolated from their food supplies;
(c)    Polar bears are already starving;
(d)    Polar bears are endangered. Soon they will only be found in zoos.

So what facts about polar bears should be conveyed to the public and politicians by responsible media personalities? The answer to this question should be sought from those who have both expertise in this area and no vested interest in promoting alarmism about Arctic ice and polar bears.

There is little doubt that, several decades ago, polar bears were under threat. In the 1950’s their numbers were down to around 5,000 although they were not threatened by climate change. Rather they were facing threats from high-powered rifles and few restrictions on hunting.

Today, about 450 polar bears are legally killed and skinned annually in Canada, essentially by Inuit hunters in Nunavut. Polar bear pelts can fetch a minimum of 1,750 USD. (9)

Thanks to the introduction of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act and the 1974 International Agreement for the Conservation of Polar Bears, hunting is now restricted and numbers now exceed 25,000.Arctic biologist Dr Mitchell Taylor is currently studying 13 populations. He says:

"Of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present."  (10)

Dr Susan Crockford a zoologist & evolutionary biologist at the University of Victoria, Canada points out that polar bears have adapted to severe climate change in the past and they will adapt in the future. She says:

“Polar Bears successfully adapted to times when there was both much less, and much more, Arctic sea ice than exists today. Polar bears obviously have strategies for surviving dramatic changes in sea ice conditions – we just don’t know yet what all of them are.” (11)

Dr. Olafur Ingolfsson, from the University of Iceland, has conducted extensive field research in the Arctic. He says:

“We have this specimen that confirms the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago, and this basically means that the polar bear has already survived one interglacial period.” (12)

A study by Miller et al. (2012), published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has demonstrated that polar bears are superbly adapted to the extreme Arctic environment and that brown bears and polar bears have had sufficiently independent evolutionary histories over the last 4 million to 5 million years to leave imprints in the polar bear nuclear genome that are associated with ecological adaptation to the Arctic environment. (13)

Dycka et al. (2007) reported:

“We found that spring air temperatures around the Hudson Bay basin for the past 70 years (1932–2002) show no significant warming trend and are more likely identified with the large-amplitude, natural climatic variability that is characteristic of the Arctic. Any role of external forcing by anthropogenic greenhouse gases remains difficult to identify. We argue, therefore, that the extrapolation of polar bear disappearance is highly premature. Climate models are simply not skilful for the projection of regional sea-ice changes in Hudson Bay or the whole Arctic.”  (14)

Arctic sea ice has been extremely variable over the last few million years and polar bears have already demonstrated an ability to survive short-term (decadal) and long-term (glacial-interglacial) fluctuations of ice, as has the polar bear’s main source of food – the Arctic seal. Both are extremely well-adapted to their highly changeable environment.

Crockford adds:

“We tend to hear nothing but alarming messages about the current status & welfare of polar bears from animal advocates including lobby groups and activist scientists.” (15)

Dr Crockford has provided a number of reasons why we should be optimistic about the future of the polar bear.

Armstrong et al. (2008) noted that the U.S. Government, prompted by environmentalists, had commissioned studies to support the listing of polar bears as a threatened or endangered species. Their research concluded that the “best available science” does not support such a listing and that government forecasts were based on false assumptions. They indicated that the U.S. Government polar bear population forecasts contravened a number of principles for scientific forecasting. (16)

A 2012 aerial survey by the Government of Nunavut along the western shore of Hudson Bay showed that the “most threatened” bear sub-population, stands at 1,013 and could be even higher. This number is 66% higher than that provided by pessimistic forecasters who said the numbers would fall because of global warming and melting ice. (17)

Harry Flaherty, chair of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board in the capital of Iqaluit, says the polar bear population in the region, along the Davis Strait, has doubled during the past 10 years. Gabriel Nirlungayuk, director of wildlife for Nunavut Tuungavik agrees. He says that 40 years ago, people living around Hudson Bay were lucky to see a polar bear: “Now there are bears living as far south as James Bay” and the growing population has become “a real problem” especially over the last 10 years.

Nirlungayuk points out that, during the summer and fall, families enjoying outdoor activities must be on the lookout for bears. In fact many locals take hunters with them for protection. (18)

Alex Ishalook says there are far more bears around Arviat than ever before, and considers the coast south of Churchill, Manitoba to be unsafe for camping:

“It’s too dangerous, much too dangerous. There are bears everywhere. We used to camp at Sentry Island, for example, and we never saw bears. Now there are from three to five bears there, all the time.” (19)

Dr Mitch Taylor said:

“The Inuit were right. There aren’t just a few more bears. There are a hell of a lot more bears.”

Dennis Compayre is a polar bear expert, formerly of the conservation group Polar Bears International. He has studied polar bears for about 30 years and says:

“I think I know as much about polar bears as anyone…”


“They (climate alarmists) come here preaching doom, but I question whether some of them really have the bears’ best interests at heart.” (20)

Head of the Vertebrates Department at the National Zoological Collection in Munich, Germany, Josef Reicholf  says:

“How did the polar bear survive the last warm period? … Look at the polar bear’s close relative, the brown bear. It is found across a broad geographic region, ranging from Europe across the Near East and North Asia, to Canada and the United States. Whether bears survive will depend on human beings, not the climate.” (21)

Nigel Marven, naturalist, zoologist, botanist, and UK wildlife documentary maker spent 3 months studying and filming polar bears in Canada’s arctic in 2007. He said:

“I think climate change is happening, but as far as the polar bear disappearing is concerned, I have never been more convinced that this is just scaremongering. People are deliberately seeking out skinny bears and filming them to show they are dying out. That’s not right.”(22)

Professor Robert Rockwell from the City University of New York is a population ecologist specializing in polar bear research. He reported seeing lots of bears, many in fine condition, but he’d also personally observed bears eating different food sources, in contrast to the conventional wisdom that suggested bears survive on seals alone. (23)

Dr. Matthew Cronin is a research professor at the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He says:

"Polar bear populations are generally healthy and have increased worldwide over the last few decades." (24)

Dr. David Legates, director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Climatic Research examined the claim that global warming will lead to polar bear extinction. He found little basis for such a claim,  with polar bear populations showing no decline. (25)

It is clear that, despite rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global temperature has remained in stasis over the last 17 years. This should put to rest the unsubstantiated alarmism of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Even the Chairman of the IPCC, Dr Rajendra Pachauri  admitted, in a speech at Deakin University in Melbourne, we have now had 17 years without global temperature rise. (26)

There is no evidence that the planet is warming dangerously. Nor is there any evidence that Arctic ice and polar bears are about to vanish. There is ample evidence to show that polar bears are not under threat.  What is under threat is scientific integrity and the public’s access to accurate scientific information. The media must shoulder some of the responsibility for the misinformation and exaggeration that has been promoted about catastrophic anthropogenic global warming and a bleak future for polar bears.

Dr Dave Summers agrees. He says:

“As long as journalists are advocates rather than reporters the true story will not emerge.” (27)

I look forward to your response.

Dr John Happs

Dr John Happs has an academic background in the geosciences. He has been a science educator at several universities in Australia and overseas


(1)    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/feb/08/bbc-global-warming-attenborough-africa

(2)    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/globalwarming/9934109/Sir-David-Attenborough-should-check-his-facts-on-polar-bears.html?oo=102541

(3)    http://www.paulmacrae.com/?p=140

(4)    Flannery, T. (2007). We are the Weather Makers. Text Publishing, Melbourne.

(5)    http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-205_162-3243272.html

(6)    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2010/10/16/wwf-caught-in-another-big-lie-polar-bears-doing-just-fine/

(7)    http://news.ualberta.ca/newsarticles/2013/february/preparenowtosavepolarbears

(8)    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/03/12/wwf-2004-polar-bears-to-be-infertile-by-2014/

(9)    http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/01/03/n-w-t-ups-price-paid-for-polar-bear-pelts-to-1750-as-demand-for-the-fur-rises/

(10)    http://polarbearscience.com/

(11)    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2012/08/15/good-news-for-polar-bears-is-bad-news-for-global-warming-alarmists/

(12)    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7132220.stm

(13)     http://www.pnas.org/content/109/36/E2382

(14)     http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/originals/climate_issues_RF.pdf

(15)     http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2012/08/15/good-news-for-polar-bears-is-bad-news-for-global-warming-alarmists/

(16)     http://www.forecastingprinciples.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79&Itemid=109

(17)     http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/healthy-polar-bear-count-confounds-doomsayers/article4099460/

(18)     http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2427367/posts

(19)     http://www.uphere.ca/node/850

(20)     http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_mike_kuy_071208_drudge_denies_polar_.htm

(21)     http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/biologist-josef-reichholf-on-global-warming-we-are-children-of-the-tropics-a-481707.html

(22)     http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/1626

(23)     http://judithcurry.com/2012/12/21/never-look-a-polar-bear-in-the-eye/

(24)     http://www.aksenateminority.com/archives/date/2007/03/29

(25)     http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba551

(26)     http://tomnelson.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/pachauri-would-not-admit-over-decade.html

(27)     http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2013/3/3/dave-summers-on-everything.html