Wednesday February 27th is International Polar Bear Day, a day aimed at raising awareness to the continuing threat to polar bear habitat and encourage action to reduce individual carbon footprints.
By now most of us have seen the images of polar bears stranded on bits of ice that were once massive slabs. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, ice extent in the Atlantic sector of the Arctic Ocean has been far below average this winter. The concern is that, thanks to global climate change, the Arctic will continue to see less sea ice throughout the year, putting the polar bear habitat in danger.
“Scientists said the Arctic lost as much summer sea ice as the amount of space the United States takes up. So just imagine our big country – and that amount of ice was lost in the summer of 2012 up in the Arctic Ocean,” said Margie Marks, curator of conservation education at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, home to two polar bears.
In an effort to slow that sea ice loss, people across the globe are asked to participate in International Polar Bear Day’s Thermostat Challenge. People are asked to either turn their thermostats up or down depending on where they live. The hope, said Marks, is adjusting the thermostat will be one step in reducing personal carbon footprints, thereby helping to slow the CO2 emissions affecting sea ice.
“It’s something that happens and has been happening for years and years, but since they’ve been studying it and can trace it back so many years, it’s happening faster and it’s happening faster because of what humans are doing. So if we’re causing some of the problems, then we should be able to come up with some of the solutions,” she said.
Marks said actions such as turning off lights when leaving a room and not leaving water running can make a difference.
“We tell people, even if you don’t believe in climate change and global warming, why would you leave the lights on when you leave the room? My electric bill is high enough, I don’t need to make it any higher. There’s little things like that people just have to get into the habit of doing.”
Several Pittsburgh area schools participated in the Project Polar Bear contest, through which school groups and others develop community projects aimed at reducing the carbon dioxide load in the atmosphere. Winners will be announced on International Polar Bear Day, Wednesday February 27.