Questions Regarding Climate Change
Since the winner of this year's
Indianapolis Prize is involved with polar bear conservation,
there have been some questions regarding the issue of
climate change. Please see the Q & A below for more
information about climate change and global warming.
The Indianapolis Prize
winner keeps talking about how climate change is threatening
the survival of polar bears, but I’ve heard lots of
information that says climate change doesn’t even exist.
How does he know that it’s happening?
Is climate change a
scientific fact? The answer is definitively, yes.
Climate change is an
observable phenomenon rooted in nearly two centuries of
change is not controversial as naysayers and some media
would convey. After decades of careful observation, collection of data,
and tracking of changes in the climate system, there exists
a solid, scientific consensus that human-caused climate
change is a reality.
Source: Michael E.
Mann, Climate Change Education: A Primer for Zoos and
Aquariums, Chicago Zoological Society, 2012, 145 pp.
There is an
overwhelming consensus among scientists on the existence of
climate change and its causes.
97% of climate experts agree that climate change is
occurring and that humans are the primary cause of global
percentage of agreement is higher the more closely related
the scientist is to studying actual climatology, the higher
the academic degree obtained, and the more published
materials achieved. In addition, all the
major scientific organizations support this scientific
A recent study cited in the New York Times verifies
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Climate
Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working
Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Pachauri, R.K.
and Reisinger, A. (eds.). IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 104 pp.
The number one
problem is increasing concentrations of heat trapping gases
in the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels for energy.
Other contributing factors include deforestation
and agricultural practices that emit gases.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency
Natural causes do not
fully explain the problem.
Earth’s temperature depends
on the balance between
energy entering and leaving the planet’s system. When
incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth
system, Earth warms. When the sun’s energy is reflected back
into space, Earth avoids warming. When energy is released
back into space, Earth cools. Many factors, both natural and
human, can cause changes in Earth’s
energy balance, including:
Changes in the
greenhouse effect, which affect the amount of heat
retained by Earth’s atmosphere.
the sun’s energy reaching Earth.
Changes in the
reflectivity of Earth’s atmosphere and surface.
factors have caused Earth’s climate to change many times.
The historical record shows that the climate system varies
naturally over a wide range of time scales. In general,
climate changes prior to the Industrial Revolution in the
1700s can be explained by natural causes, such as changes in
solar energy, volcanic eruptions, and natural changes in
greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations. Recent
climate changes, however, cannot be explained by natural
causes alone. Research indicates that natural causes are
very unlikely to explain most observed warming, especially
warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, human activities
can very likely explain most of that warming. Since
the Industrial Revolution began around 1750, human
activities have contributed substantially to climate change
by adding CO2 and other heat-trapping gases to
the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions have
increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earth’s surface
temperature to rise. The primary human activity affecting
the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas
emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
Source: EPA and NRC (2010).
Advancing the Science of Climate Change.
National Research Council. The National Academies
Press, Washington, DC, USA, and USGCRP (2009).
Change Impacts in the United States. Thomas R. Karl,
Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson (eds.). United
States Global Change Research Program. Cambridge University
Press, New York, NY, USA.
Why do so many people say they don’t believe in global
A complex relationship exists between what
people understand about climate change and their emotions
concerning this issue.
Climate change is perceived by many as remote both in
time and geography.
These factors may inhibit people from understanding
the issue and changing behavior.
When combined with scientific climate change
information that may conflict with an individual’s previous
experience, perceptions, or with other information received
through the media, barriers to acceptance may be further
In addition, most people do not embrace new
information when they feel attacked or criticized.
Environmentalists often make the mistake of pointing
out what other people are doing wrong and then showing them
the right way. This strategy can work in some cases, but it can easily be
met with resistance.
Other factors involved include political
affiliation, stronger as a predictor of attitudes on climate
change than gender, age or education, and the role of the
particular, there are a number of weathercasters, especially
on television, who have questioned the reality of climate
understand that the modeling they use to try and predict
weather is often unreliable, even in the short term, and
they have mistakenly equated these models with climate
change models, even though they are constructed very
fact that they are most often perceived as trusted sources
of information complicates the issue.
In addition, special interests have well funded
and very active anti-climate change campaigns on multiple
levels that have been successful in public persuasion.
Another issue is that scientists change their minds. The nature of
science is that there is always new information and new ways
to gather information. In the case of climate, which is
extremely complex because there are so many variables, there
will be constant change in the details. Getting the public
comfortable with this on-going change in the science is the
Understanding and Responding to Climate Change:
Psychological Barriers. Clayton, S, Goldman, S, Celio, C.
Climate Change Education A Primer for Zoos and
Aquariums, Chicago Zoological Society, 2012, 145 pp.
Source: Polar Bears International
I saw a news report about a story that shows polar bears are
actually increasing in Canada.
How can you guys continue to say that polar bears are
The media flurry stems from a press release
on a preliminary study of the Western Hudson Bay population that relied on a
different methodology (aerial
vs. capture-recapture) and larger
geographic survey area than previous studies, making a comparison
From the standpoint of population
welfare, it's the trend in these numbers that is critical, not a single
survey from one point in time, so the aerial count will become
meaningful only after several years of data are available. Trend can
only be addressed by multiple point estimates collected over time.
The survey did reveal
a very low percentage of
yearling bears (3%), indicating the population will have a very
difficult time sustaining itself.
The press release about the study was
issued by a Nunavut group interested in increasing polar bear hunting.
I know that so-called climate
change is just a natural phenomenon that’s part of the long term cycles
of weather we’ve always experienced.
You guys talk about it like it’s the end of the world.
Where do you get your information and why do you keep
perpetuating this myth?
The rising temperature of the Earth’s
surface – global warming – is one indicator that our overall climate is
changing. Weather is the
state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, with respect to
variables such as temperature, moisture, wind velocity, and barometric
Climate covers long periods of time; weather is a snapshot of the
climate at a particular time and place.
Climate change over recent years
appears to affect not only rising temperatures on land and oceans, but
the amount of moisture in the atmosphere, causing more extreme weather
events. An unseasonably cold winter
does not contradict climate change. In the same way, one hot
summer does not prove it. The long-term trends are critical.
Natural climate change in the past proves
that climate is sensitive to an energy imbalance. If the planet
accumulates heat, global temperatures will go up. Currently, CO2 is
imposing an energy imbalance due to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Past
climate change actually provides evidence for our climate's sensitivity
Our Earth is warming. Earth's average
temperature has risen by 1.4°F over the past century, and is projected
to rise another 2 to 11.5°F over the next hundred years. Small changes
in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and
potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather.
The evidence is clear. Rising global
temperatures have been accompanied by changes in weather and climate.
Many places have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods,
droughts, or intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat
waves. The planet's oceans and glaciers have also experienced some big
changes - oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are
melting, and sea levels are rising.
A group of leading scientists at Big Ten universities recently
cited the weather extremes in an op/ed piece for the Indianapolis Star.
“In 2008, 2010 and 2011, there were 100- or 500-year floods in
Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin.
In April 2011, the nation suffered through 875 tornadoes; the
previous one month record was 542 tornadoes.
In the 1950s, we were as likely to have a really hot day as a
really cold one, but in the 2000s, we’re twice as likely to have an
extreme high in our weather report than an extreme low.”
EPA, et al
There are a number of other
greenhouse gases besides CO2. What
about the effects of methane?
There’s much less of it than of CO2, but
it is far more potent. Methane is over 20 times more effective in
trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a
100-year period and is emitted from a variety of natural and
human-influenced sources. Human-influenced sources include landfills,
natural gas and petroleum systems, agricultural activities, coal mining,
stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, grazing animals,
and certain industrial process.
Methane levels fell
from 1990 to 2004, perhaps due to droughts in wetland areas, as
well as better management of landfills, gas wells and oil wells.
Methane levels began climbing again in 2007, which may be the
result of the thawing of the arctic tundra.
Methane is also a primary constituent of
natural gas and an important energy source. As a result, efforts to
prevent or utilize methane emissions can provide significant energy,
economic and environmental benefits. In the United States, many
companies are working with the EPA in voluntary efforts to reduce
emissions by implementing cost-effective management methods and
Source: EPA, et al
What about the potential benefits
of global warming?
Everyone agrees that there are climate
change winners and losers, and that some species and some populations of
humans might benefit from a warming climate.
But, on balance and in the long term, not many will be better off
in a warming climate.
A number of scientists have both observed
and predicted which animal species are most directly affected by global
U.S. News and World Report supplies their list on their web site:
Grey Nurse Shark
Caribou & Reindeer
Cold Water Fish
Scientific American has an excellent
overview of how these animals are benefiting from global warming. Orcas, for
instance, can hunt much more effectively in the Arctic Sea because their
prey now has fewer patches of sea ice in which they can hide. Trumpeter
Swans are also enjoying the warming North, as they are spreading out their
breeding grounds into the newly warm regions. Albatrosses in the Antarctic
are able to exploit the stronger air currents to hunt more quickly and spend
more time with their chicks.
2010 study in the journal Nature reported that yellow-bellied marmots
in Colorado's Rocky Mountains are also flourishing thanks to climate change.
The squirrel-like mammals can lose up to 40 percent of their body mass
during hibernation, and longer summers are giving them more time to eat and
store fat, helping them live through the winter and reproduce the following
year. The adult marmots have gained half a pound on average and their
numbers have more than doubled from 2000 to 2010, said researchers.
Paul Curtis, an extension wildlife specialist
at Cornell University: White-tailed deer in the northern United States are
already showing a population boom thanks to this year's lack of snowfall,
which has made it easier for the animals to find food, said Curtis. He also
believes a warmer spring could benefit snakes and salamanders, giving them
more time to grow and add to their fat reserves. "What we really don't know
is what the long-term consequences of climate change are," explained Curtis.
"There will definitely be winners and losers, and it's hard to predict what
some of those will be." He said animals that can migrate -- like whales and
birds -- are more likely to adapt, while species bound to a particular
environment, or food source, will face greater challenges.
(Reported in IO9.com)
Ecological Society of America: Certain
species of insects, like mosquitoes, ticks and invasive beetles, are also
expected to benefit from warmer temperatures. In fact, a 2003 study
published by the Ecological Society of America concluded that "all aspects
of insect outbreak behavior will intensify as the climate warms."
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign:
Future levels of carbon dioxide may help beetles, as well, according to
researchers from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who found
that Japanese beetles lived longer and laid more eggs after eating leaves
that were grown in an environment with additional carbon dioxide.
Sources: U.S. News and World
Report, Scientific American, Nature, Cornell University, Ecological Society
of America, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
What is the position of the
Indianapolis Zoo on climate change?
The Indianapolis Zoo Board of Trustees
approved a resolution that recognizes that rapid climate change caused by
human activity poses a serious threat to wildlife and wild places. The
Trustees also mandated that Zoo staff develop and implement programs that
increase public awareness and knowledge about the threats of rapid climate
change. The Trustees took this action following a 2007 report by the United
Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that concluded
with 90% certainty that the planet is warming due to the release of
greenhouse gases caused by human industry and activity. The role of the IPCC
is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the
latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature produced
worldwide relevant to the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate
The Indianapolis Zoo concerns itself with
global climate change because conservation is the
motivating force behind the mission of the Indianapolis Zoo. Climate
change is a conservation issue that will impact wildlife and wild places in
many ways, including some we do not yet know.
What is the
Indianapolis Zoo doing to promote sustainability and reduce its impact on a
The Indianapolis Zoo uses 100% green power.
The Indianapolis Zoo pays an additional monthly premium to Indianapolis
Power and Light, the local power company, so the Zoo’s electricity is
generated by 100% renewable resources such as wind and natural gas.
The Indianapolis Zoo uses compact fluorescent
light bulbs. Where applicable, incandescent light bulbs have been
switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use 75% less energy.
We also have replaced most of the lights at the Christmas at the Zoo event,
for example, with LED lights.
The Indianapolis Zoo recycles. The
Indianapolis Zoo recycles all its recyclable paper, corrugated cardboard,
aluminum, newspaper and mulch thanks to our official recycling partner Ray's
Trash. We use landscape and tree trimmings as enrichment for some of our
animals. We recycle construction
waste whenever possible and reuse whatever materials we can recover in other
We help citizens with recycling.
The Indianapolis Zoo holds at least two special recycling events each
year focusing on electronic items such as computers and televisions, as well
as accepting cell phones for recycling, asking guests to recycle their Zoo
maps, and including recycling bins in our parking lot year-round.
We promote conservation at many Zoo programs.
The interpretive theme in Oceans is conservation of the world’s seas,
a message that is also included in the daily dolphin show scripts.
Show scripts often include conservation messages, as do interpretive
and promotional signage and a variety of Zoo publications.
We present the biennial Indianapolis Prize,
the world’s leading award for animal conservation.
The winner receives $100,000 and the Lilly Medal, plus a tremendous
amount of promotion for their work and cause.
We support financially and otherwise global
organizations and projects committed to conservation, including the IUCN,
Cheetah Conservation Fund, International Elephant Foundation, International
Rhino Foundation, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, International
Iguana Foundation, African Wildlife Foundation, Amur Tiger Conservation
Project, Tarangire Elephant Project, Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project,
Madagascar Fauna Interest Group, and Polar Bears International.
We offer electric car charging stations in
our parking lot. New in 2012,
the charging stations allow guests to charge their cars for a modest fee.
We offer the mycarbonpledge.com web site.
In an effort to bring attention to this issue the Zoo launched a
program titled My Carbon Pledge (MCP) in 2008.
MCP is a viral social marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness
about the sources of greenhouse gas emissions, with some specific actions
that individuals can take to reduce their use of electricity.
The Indianapolis Zoo is a member of the
Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce's Green Business initiative.
The Zoo scores very high among local businesses in its programming and
commitment to environmentally safe and sustainable practices and
We recognize that we are on a
journey to becoming a more sustainable institution. The process will
take time, but the Indianapolis Zoo is committed to taking steps to reduce
our environmental impact.
Indianapolis Zoo Position on Global Climate Change, et al
Is there any hope for polar bears – or
the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants?
The fact that a major part of the problem is
caused by human activity is the good news; we’re causing the problem so we
can change it by altering what we’re doing to cause it.
Scientists believe that we have we still have time to take action on
global climate change by greatly reducing emissions. Without action, the
planet is in peril from rises in sea levels to extremes in weather conditions that affect crops and water.
If greenhouse gas levels continue to rise,
polar bears and many other species will perish. But because
humans are causing this problem,
humans can fix it. Scientists say
that time remains to save polar bears if we greatly reduce greenhouse gas
emissions. This will mean all of us—individuals, communities, businesses,
and governments—must work together.
Source: Polar Bears International, et al
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading
international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established
United Nations Environment Programme
World Meteorological Organization
to provide the world
with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate
change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. The UN
endorsed the action by WMO and UNEP in
jointly establishing the IPCC.
Polar Bear photo
by Daniel J. Cox, polarbearsinternation.org