Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bears, Travel, Responsibility -- What Are Love Miles and Eco-tour Miles and Our Responsiblity to Apex Species Like Polar Bears?

Gotta love Rick Steves' "Travel with Rick Steves" show, since he helps to bring a multi-cultural approach to our world, and to introduce us to people in those regions who love their communities, their countries, and want to share their lives and their places.

Rick just had Richard Ellis on for half his show today, and it's something I've been hearing on his show from time to time, on a more regular basis -- more than just travel for travel's sake. Woodpecker and polar bear experts. This past show gave his audience a chance to make those connections between our fossil fuel burning, a heated-up atmosphere and ocean, and a shrinking white ice. Ellis did well, and Rick tried to contextualize everything. He did go to the trite -- "Oh, Mister doom and gloom" when Ellis gave the reality of what it means to call the polar bear the canary in the mineshaft, how that apex creature, like orca, are full of our pollutants, and that this bodes not well for humanity, and not just native people's living in Greenland and the polar north.
Steves tried. Ellis just kept the story going, well, and this book looks good, really good, because he gives us the polar bear, ins and outs, history, behavior, but he also connects the huge oil plundering and huge global connection to burning fuel and raising atmospheric CO2 levels way beyond anything we've seen in more than a million years.

The irony is that a caller came on and told us how she takes at least one exotic trip each year, and recently she flew to Churchill and went on a polar bear watching trip. She was a veterinarian to boot. First, I couldn't get in to call after her to help Rick see the connection between "exotic" travel and the death of the polar bear. Fossil fuels run the airline industry, and these love miles or fun miles we get to fly here in the so called West are killing the planet. Forget the fact that she feels that she must see polar bears up close and personal before they vanish. This is the disconnect that Richard Ellis was trying to put forth. It's tough on a travel story radio show to discourage this, but it should have been one of the critiques broached. Some of us have voluntarily stopped the incessant flying to get away, to languish on a coral atoll to sop up sun and scuba. I'm a professional diver master in an earlier iteration. A real dive bum and a real aficionado of marine systems. I've roughed it big time, but still, it's still a history of low cost gasoline and me tooling around Mexico and Central America to find those spots. I've been to Viet Nam and Thailand on a wildlife survey, real biodiversity work. But in the end, I have used up a lot of carbon expulsion miles.

Going to the arctic to witness the decline of the polar bear in some variation of a eco-tour just bespeaks a myopia. We are all connected, and so are those air miles, all that metal mined for planes, all the waste and pollution from the circuitry, plastic. Let alone the runways, the cleaning fluids, and the land and habitat gobbled up by air ports, cities that feed them, and the noise and habitat called view sheds.

Marine wildlife expert Richard Ellis explains how the loss of the ice cap in the Arctic is accelerating, why the wildlife cannot adapt to global warming, and why this should matter to everyone. Rick also takes listener calls for stories of lessons learned when we are immersed in another culture.

Polar bears—fierce and majestic—have captivated us for centuries. Feared by explorers, revered by the Inuit, and beloved by zoo-goers everywhere, polar bears are a symbol for the harsh beauty and muscular grace of the Arctic. Today, as global warming threatens the ice caps’ integrity, the polar bear has also come to symbolize the peril that faces all life on Earth as a result of harmful human practices. Here, the acclaimed science writer Richard Ellis offers an impassioned and moving statement on behalf of polar bears—and all they stand for.

Ellis gives a vivid and carefully observed picture of Earth’s largest land predators—including their hunting, mating, and hibernation habits. Polar bears are exceptionally well suited for hunting—especially when it comes to ringed seals, their favorite prey, which they can smell from over a mile away. But as the ice melts in the Arctic, the ability of polar bears to find the food they need to survive diminishes in spite of their incredible physical capacities. Unable to find food, some bears will vainly take to the water in search of ice on which to hunt—many of them swim until they drown. In the past twenty years alone, the world population of polar bears has shrunk by half. Today they number just 22,000

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