The Importance of Seeing Polar Bears in the Wild
I never truly appreciated the importance of the polar bear as a mascot for global warming and climate change until I saw these magnificent creatures up close and personal on a WWF/Natural Habitat trip to the “Polar Bear Capital of the World,” in Churchill, Canada.
As a member of WWF’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience team, which addresses climate change day in and day out—and thinks about it 24/7—this may sound surprising. But like a lot of Americans and so many others working in this field, I’d admittedly become a bit cynical seeing so many pictures of emaciated bears on isolated, tiny patches of ice. Was it really that bad? Were polar bears really that existentially threatened?
The instant I saw that first bear longingly looking out toward the ice-free bay, the reality of a warming world came crashing home. The longer I spent out on the tundra, talking to Nat Hab’s expert naturalist guides, Rover drivers and local Churchill residents, the more it set in just how vulnerable these amazing bears are
The problem is
But there’s still hope! The recent UN Paris Agreement
I spend much of my time as a scientist and project manager working on the bigger picture at WWF. I incorporate an improved understanding of the risks and impacts of climate change in our work around the world—in part through a new partnership with scientists at Columbia University— however, I don’t often get the chance to see how these changes are affecting species up close. Traveling with Nat Hab to Churchill created an amazing and unique opportunity to see just that, deepening my understanding of the connections between shifts in climate, sensitive ecosystems, and the biodiversity that people from diverse backgrounds care so deeply about, leading to profound lessons about the impact humans are having on the planet for generations to come.
About the author: Ryan supports adaptation efforts throughout the WWF network, including Central Asia and the Himalayas, Coastal East Africa, and Latin America through capacity building and technical assistance. His work focuses on developing tools to better understand and respond to the impacts of climate change, and training WWF staff and partners around the globe to better understand and incorporate adaptation into their work.