Saturday, May 30, 2009

Explaining the polar bear illustration in our masthead (The Arctic 1).

The polar bear picture in the masthead is a modification of the famous painting by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome, of God creating Adam. One of our members, a wizard with Photoshop, replaced Adam with a polar bear. He uses that tongue-in-cheek image in lectures about polar bears. The story goes as follows:

Many global warming alarmists are telling the public that polar bears will soon be extinct because of man-made global warming. For instance, an Australian global warming fundamentalist, Tim Flannery, predicted that polar bears could be extinct in 25 years. Believing the alarmists, the Bush administration in the US decided to list the polar bear as a threatened species. Not that there were any signs of polar bears being threatened. No, it was purely based on predictions of global warming, based on computer models.

The reality is that forty years ago polar bear numbers were down dramatically, probably as low as 6000. That was mainly due to hunting. Since restrictions on hunting were put in place, numbers have increased substantially. There may now be between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears. According to a report by the US Geological Survey, polar bear numbers may be at an all-time high.

How ludicrous these predictions of the imminent demise of the polar bears are, becomes clear when we look at the geological history. Polar bears survived many periods in the past when it was much warmer than today. For example: (1) The present ice age period started about 2.8 million years ago. Ninety percent of the time, the planet was in the grip of ice. Only ten percent of the time there were warmer periods, so-called Interglacials (see graph above – the orange peaks are the warm Interglacials) .

We live in one of those Interglacials. Polar bears survived such warm Interglacials. For instance, temperatures during the last Interglacial period (between 130,000 and 116,000 years ago) were at least 5 degrees Celsius warmer than at present, for 14,000 years. The polar bears did not become extinct. They also survived more recent warmer periods, like the Holocene Optimum (approx. 7500 to 4000 years ago), the Roman Warm Period (approx. 250 BC to 450 AD) and the Medieval Warm Period (approx. 900 to 1300 AD).

The reasoning behind the masthead picture was as follows: if the alarmists are right about the imminent extinction of the polar bears, then polar bears must have become extinct many times before, during those earlier warm periods. So why are they still here? The only explanation the maker of the masthead picture could think of (tongue-in-cheek) was that an Intelligent Designer must have loved these cuddly animals so much that he recreated them ex nihilo time and time again.

The French title below the picture (Bien étonné de se trouver rassemblé – Surprised to find itself re-assembled) is a play on the French saying Bien étonné de se trouver ensemble (surprised to find themselves together).

Therefore, for those people who are very worried about the plight of the polar bears, you can sleep peacefully. There is nothing to worry about