Attenborough’s new attempt to scare people about polar bear extinction and walrus deaths
In a new book and Netflix film, Sir David Attenborough again presents false information about future polar bear survival and walrus deaths.An excerpt from Attenborough’s forthcoming book (A Life On Our Planet) has been published in the Daily Mail (12 September), called “End of the polar bear by the 2030s, another major pandemic in the 2080s… and a sixth mass extinction by 2100: SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH reveals how those born today could witness these scenarios unless we save the planet“. As his upcoming documentary has the same title as the book, this excerpt forewarns of what’s in the film. Attenborough falsely claims that by 2030 – a short 10 years from now – polar bears will be on their way to extinction and again flogs the lie, exposed last year, that walrus falling to their deaths in Russia a few years ago was due to lack of sea ice.
WHAT ATTENBOROUGH SAYS
From an article authored by Attenborough (12 September 2020, Daily Mail) about what to expect for polar bears by 2030, with callouts to my rebuttal comments in square brackets :
Those born today could witness the following scenarios: 2030s Floods, drought… and polar bears die out …In 2011, when we filmed Frozen Planet, the world was already 0.8C warmer on average than it was when I was born in 1926. That is a speed of change that exceeds any that has happened in the past 10,000 years. As the ice-free period lengthened [in 2011], scientists detected a worrying trend. Pregnant females, drained of their reserves, were now giving birth to smaller cubs. It is quite possible that one year, the summer would be just that little bit longer, and the cubs born that year will be so small that they cannot survive their first polar winter. That whole population of polar bears would then crash.  2040s Lands turn to mud and a CO₂ calamity
… The warning signs of such a catastrophe [in the Arctic] can already be seen.
Walruses live largely on clams that grow on a few particular patches of the sea floor in the Arctic. In between fishing sessions, they haul themselves out on to the sea ice to rest. But those resting places have now melted away. Instead, they have to swim to the beaches on distant coasts.
There are only a few suitable places. So two-thirds of the population of Pacific walrus, tens of thousands of them, now assemble on one single beach. Crushingly overcrowded, some clamber up slopes and find themselves at the tops of cliffs. Out of water, their eyesight is very poor but the smell of the sea at the foot of the cliff is unmistakable. So they try to reach it by the shortest route. The vision of a three-ton walrus tumbling to its death is not easily forgotten. You don’t have to be a naturalist to know that something has gone catastrophically wrong.
1. False. The paper describing the newest model does not say that any population of polar bears would crash or ‘die out’ by 2030 (Molnar et al. 2020), only that one or two might begin to be affected by that date. The model suggests Southern Hudson Bay bears are the most vulnerable and could see poor cub survival as early as 2030. However, the total collapse of the population would take decades. I have already written about this new model, which is scientifically implausible and based on bad assumptions and out-of-date information; an earlier model has been shown to have failed spectacularly (Crockford 2019).2. Nonsense. This walrus-falling-to-their-death due to lack of sea ice lie was exposed last year – why is Attenborough still peddling this twaddle? Walruses falling to their deaths is a natural phenomenon, see the video below.
From the brink of extinction in the 1960s, global polar bear numbers have grown roughly three to four times what they were then. None of the 19 subpopulations have gone extinct despite unexpectedly low summer sea ice levels for the last 14 years (Crockford 2019) and their official range across the Arctic is as broad as it was 200 years ago. The claim that reduced summer sea ice in general leads to poor health of females and poor cub survival does not hold up to scrutiny: while it appears to have been true for Western Hudson Bay using old data, it is strongly contracted by recent data from studies in the Barents and Chukchi Seas (Crockford 2019, 2020). Apparently, Sir David Attenbourough accepted without question the newest implausible prediction of future polar bear survival but couldn’t manage to tell the story without exaggeration. And despite being called out on the lie that Pacific walrus in Russia were falling to their deaths due to lack of sea ice, he is flogging this false narrative again because it fits his agenda. This latest film is simply more in a long line of others which Attenborough has used to frighten children and adults alike about polar bears and the Arctic. Since it is already clear that virtually everything Attenborough is peddling about polar bears and walrus is false, why would anyone believe his claims of irreparable environmental destruction – or more importantly, allow impressionable children to watch this new film?
Crockford, S.J. 2019. The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats. Crockford, S.J. 2020. State of the Polar Bear Report 2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. PDF here. Molnár, P.K., Bitz, C.M., Holland, M.M., Kay, J.E., Penk, S.R. and Amstrup, S.C. 2020. Fasting season length sets temporal limits for global polar bear persistence. Nature Climate Change. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0818-9