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Climate Crisis Weekly: Why polar bears may be extinct by 2100

  • Polar bears live on Arctic sea ice, and it’s melting fast.
  • Many African, Asian, and Latin American countries meet the UN’s sustainable development goals.
  • Oceana launches Ship Speed Watch, an online tool to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.
  • And more…

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that polar bears are at risk of being starved into extinction. The abstract states of the Ursus maritimus:

With high greenhouse gas emissions, steeply declining reproduction and survival will jeopardize the persistence of all but a few high-Arctic subpopulations [of polar bears] by 2100. Moderate emissions mitigation prolongs persistence but is unlikely to prevent some subpopulation extirpations within this century.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are currently around 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the wild. Their habitat is Arctic sea ice, where they spend 50% of their time hunting for food — mostly seals. But that ice is rapidly melting due to climate change, which keeps them on land. And it’s harder to catch seals on land.

Polar bears can survive fasts for months, but, as NBC News points out:

In at least two regional groups of polar bears, prolonged fasting periods have already shown to negatively affect their body condition, reproduction rates, and size of their populations, the study said.

The World Meteorological Association announced on July 9 that “the annual mean global temperature is likely to be at least 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) in each of the coming five years (2020-2024) and there is a 20% chance that it will exceed 1.5 degrees C in at least one year.”

Groups like the WWF are treating the protection of polar bears’ survival as an urgent issue. What do we do to stop this? Reduce carbon emissions. The video below talks about specific actions. (Hint: green energy.)

In the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Report 2020, there are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and Climate Action is one of them (No. 13). Within Climate Action, countries have to reach five targets, including measures for reducing carbon emissions and investment in climate resilience.

This year’s report states that 43 countries in Africa and many in Asia and Latin America have already reached their Climate Action goals. Only Moldova has succeeded in Europe, and no country has succeeded in North America. (Australia: Nope.) The map is below, and the interactive map can be found here.

EuroNews reports:

From a list of the countries with the top 10 worst carbon emissions, only India achieved the goals of reducing energy-related, exported and imported CO2 emissions. Together these 10 countries, which includes the EU as a whole, produce 68% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Unless these countries begin to address climate change in a meaningful way, the Paris Agreement goal of warming below 1.5°C will likely not be met.

UN climate change map
Countries that have achieved the goal are green, yellow means that challenges still remain, orange means that there are significant challenges, and red means major challenges. Photo: UN Sustainable Development Report

Two weeks ago, Electrek reported that the North Atlantic Right Whale has been added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered. That’s because there are fewer than 250 mature North Atlantic Right Whales left. Warmer sea temperatures have likely pushed their main prey species further north during summer, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the whales are more exposed to accidental encounters with ships.

So ocean advocacy group Oceana has launched Ship Speed Watch, an online tool to monitor ship speeds in areas frequented by North Atlantic right whales. Slowing ship speeds to less than 10 knots in areas where these whales may be encountered can reduce the lethality of collisions by 86%. 

You can check out Ship Speed Watch here — it’s a very cool interactive map. Whitney Webber, campaign director of Oceana USA, said:

For too long, we could only hope that vessels were obeying the speed limits, but with Ship Speed Watch, we can clearly see that ships are ignoring speed zones designed to protect this critically endangered species. To protect North Atlantic right whales, we need to expand mandatory speed restriction zones that require ships to slow down when whales are present along their migratory routes. The US and Canada must step up now to protect this species before it’s too late.

Climate change isn’t the easiest thing to talk about, is it? And when we still had (pre-pandemic) dinners with our friends, it was a good way to kill light chat. “So! Did you know we’re destroying the planet, and it’s an emergency? Can you please pass the wine?”

Grist spoke with the youth director of the international conservation organization Earth Guardians and activist Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced “Shoe-tez-caht”) Martinez, 20, about how to talk to your friends about climate change and convince them to care. He shared three user-friendly tips (in his own words):

  • Start local. “Some of the most powerful work I’ve done has come from when I had a really deep understanding of what was going on in my own community. I started building my organizing and communicating skills by understanding the impact of chemical pesticides in public parks in Colorado, where I live. Then I started looking at natural gas extraction in the fracking industry and how those things intersect with racial justice. And in this way, I came to understand how local environmental issues connect with the global climate crisis, which can feel so big and so far away. (Electrek’s Take: In other words, if something affects someone personally and they can relate to it, you’re more likely to get their attention. Flooding in Bangladesh if you’re in the US? Tumbleweeds. Flooding in your neighborhood due to rising sea levels? Everyone sits up straighter.)
  • Harness your passions. “Regardless of the movement you care about, we show up better in these spaces when we are informed and doing it through a lens of what we love. Our work is absolutely the most powerful in the climate space when it is intentionally intersectional. If you look at just immigration and climate, those two issues are tightly woven together.” (Electrek’s Take: Here’s an example. When I talk to my stepdad about bleaching coral, offshore oil drilling, and how parts of the Florida Keys are going to disappear, I have his full attention — because diving and protecting the marine environment are his passions. Extinction Rebellion? I’d lose him in a heartbeat.)
  • Get culture. “Music and art have always played a role in social movements… Culture will absolutely shift everything. Even just something like kids on TikTok sharing really powerful messages and stories — that speaks volumes to this generation.” (Electrek’s Take: If a meme or TikTok video is memorable and shareable, it’ll make quite an impact.)

To hugely understate it, this pandemic is rough. But as we’ve previously discussed, some good may come out of this horrible occurrence that’s killed hundreds of thousands — or at least, we have to hope good things come out of it.

A May survey of 2,500 Americans found that 42% were teleworking full-time. If remote work continues once the US gets past the worst of the results of COVID-19, it could put a dent in transport emissions. But it depends on where you live and how you travel.


Here’s an example: 58% of workers in New York City take public transport, but the rest of the commuters still put a million cars on the road. And New York is reliant on natural gas, so the big push in New York State this week for green energy — the largest in US history — is a welcome one.

Working remotely is more likely to benefit the environment when it replaces commuting by car (unless it’s an EV). Further, if your source of electricity while working from home is fossil fuels, it doesn’t really help so much. But if you’re a green energy user in the form of rooftop solar or community schemes (for example, I use Arcadia in Florida, which is community wind, and for example, New York State residents have access to Dandelion Geothermal — check it out here), then it definitely cuts down on emissions on both transport and home electricity. Further, if you’re working at home, there are a lot of ways to be more energy-efficient. Small changes add up.

Here’s what’s happening this week with the #FridaysForFuture protests. Charlotte Aumann in Kenya has just joined the climate strike:

Folks in the Netherlands are out and about now. Here’s a climate strike in Utrecht:

Patsy Islam-Parsons is doing her thing in Australia:

And finally, Scottish kids are outside government in Edinburgh. Have a good weekend.

And some good news:

Check out our past editions of Climate Crisis Weekly.

Photo: NOAA/Unsplash

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.