Why do polar bears matter? The Pacific Standard Magazine has published one of the most moving pieces I’ve read in a long, long while. It’s long been known that polar bears are endangered, and that the core reason is loss of habitat - sea-ice.
The bears are unique. We revere them not just because they’re cute and cuddly. But because they are masters of the environment, masters of “child care,” and just overall really fucking resilient animals. They depend on sea-ice for hunting food on a seasonal basis, which is a hard concept to wrap our heads around. But the bottom line is that sea-ice is disappearing as the earth warms, and the bears are not adapting their hunting techniques as fast as the ice is melting.
So, again, why do they matter? Author Zach Unger speculates on the answer:
And what we notice when we stare at these bears is that they’re a lot like us. They’re smart and tough and they nurture their young. They’re cute and cuddly and unpredictably ferocious. They’re the top of the food chain, they’re without natural predators.
This isn’t some red-legged frog, warty and swamp-dwelling, that faces annihilation. This is a master predator, a carnivore, with hands and feet and hair. This bear is the boss. So when we think about polar bears going extinct, it’s not their absence that worries us; it’s our own. And because it’s our fault—and because it may be our future—the bears have become the most important animals on earth. After ourselves, of course.
Zach’s piece includes a slideshow, interactive maps and charts, and a video covering the challenges polar bears face. We are witnessing - indeed cataloging every step - of the polar bear’s extinction.
As we end 2012 and reflect on what has been, this article (one of the best I’ve read in a long while) is a sober glimpse into the future of what is to be.