The Fight is Now But the Place is Where?

If I am going to see one more polar bear I am going to shoot it. I don’t know how many of books and documentaries on the climate change are produced every year, but with every passing one, I become more convinced that we are fighting the wrong fight. A good number of these documentaries and books has picture of polar bears on or in it. The proverbial polar bear that has become the poster child not only for climate change but also for everything that is wrong with our approach to the climate change.

Extinction of polar bears, an alpha-predator, will result in increase of its would-be preys. While the extinctions of some prey may cause restructuring of ecosystems based on available substitutable food, reduction of predator numbers and eventually survival of the fittest, it may not lead to self-perpetuating negative feedbacks. The fact is ecosystems are not linear and it is extremely hard to predict the effect of extinction on larger ecosystems . Many species disappeared without ecosystems collapsing around them. In The Sinking Ark, Norman Myers noted that human activities were causing about two extinctions a week and that was in 1979. In 1995, the UN put the extinctions in the last four hundred years at under 500 for animals and over 650 for plants. I quote these numbers not to trivialize, but to underline that we – a society which let dodos, quaggas and thylacines slipped by quietly – are unduly making ecosystems an important front in the fight for the environment. Yes, some day polar bears and penguins will be gone and we will be all the poorer for it, but their importance is exaggerated.

Climate change also affects fish and coral reefs. However, today, 30 percent of all fish consumed around the world comes from fish farms, while ninety percent of large fish in the world’s oceans (which include halibut, tuna and cod) are already seriously declining thanks to overfishing, not climate change. The book argues that coral reefs sustain fish, and fishing sustains developing economies. However, developing economies will be helped, not hurt, by the increase in fish farms due to decline in high seas fishing.

The fact that the Arctic icecaps are melting matters not because some cutesie polar bears are drowning but because it creates a new geopolitical crisis. The U.S. and Russia once plotted their ICBM routes over the Arctic, and now the control of the Arctic landmass has become essential. And then, there is the question of oil underneath the Arctic. Rising sea levels threaten both the Russian submarine fleets in the Kola Peninsula, and many U.S. air and naval bases on the eastern seaboard not to mention Diego Garcia . Ecosystem disruptions matter not because crop yields may decrease (we can genetically modify them to increase yield in higher temperatures) but because critical decreases may happen in volatile regions, causing migrations, nomadism and political instability .

And that is where climate change matter, not in the sentimental loss of polar bears but in a scary reality of a hotter, hungrier and angrier world. Currently, we are losing the fight because we decided to fight it on science’s grounds. This is a political fight and let’s take it to a political turf. We can win it there.

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