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Bearly There: Polar bears at risk

If there’s any animal on Earth that could inspire people to engage in preventing man-made climate change, the polar bear is it.

If there’s any animal on Earth that could inspire people to engage in preventing man-made climate change, the polar bear is it.

Majestic, deadly and powerful, the cuddly looking bears are under direct threat from a warming planet, and they’re already showing the symptoms.

“What you’ll find in the short term is that polar bears will have to turn to other things,” said Dr. Pete Ewins, a marine scientist with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Last week, for example, scientists came across a group of about 15 polar bears eating rotten grain destined for the landfill.

“There’s a population of polar bears here that are desperate. They haven’t been able to put on enough energy, and we’re going to see more of that.”

Tourists and Arctic wildlife guides have noticed a decline in the weight of bears, and even came across a bear dead of starvation recently.

As the summer ice in the Arctic melts at a faster rate and winter ice comes in more slowly, the polar bear population declines. And the more it declines, the more scientists and groups like the WWF worry.

Just last week, the Canadian government classified polar bears as a “species at risk.” That’s one step away from endangered.

Ewins said scientific models show there’s no stopping the inevitable decline of summer ice, so scientists are trying to figure out where the polar bear has the best chance of survival. In the meantime, people need to start reversing the damage they’ve caused to the Arctic by the consummation of fossil fuels — but they shouldn’t be overwhelmed.

“There have been massive changes in our society over the last few hundred years,” said Ewins. “There’s no reason we can’t change again.”