Place-Based Protections in an Era of Climate Change
- New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Chapter 3: Climate Change and the Oceans
A polar bear’s favorite meal is Arctic seals. To access a steady supply of this food source, however, polar bears must spend months “at sea” on Arctic sea ice. Indeed, polar bears spend up to eight months a year out on the Arctic’s vast expanses of sea ice, hunting not only seals but also other marine mammals and fish and fattening up for the warmer months. When polar bears come ashore for the summer—historically, in early August1— they fast until the cold returns and they can return to hunting. Thus, the existence and duration of Arctic sea ice can mean the difference between relatively comfortable survival and starvation for a polar bear, especially for denning mothers. Humans have a more complex relationship with Arctic sea ice. Native and First Nations populations in the Arctic Circle, like the polar bear, depend on sea ice and permafrost to survive. Others, however, would profit from the sea ice’s disappearance. The Arctic Ocean is widely believed to contain a treasure trove of natural resources, from commercially valuable fish stocks to up to 25 percent of the world’s remaining oil and gas reserves. Nevertheless, since the earliest days when humans set out on long-distance ocean sailing voyages, the Arctic has been more or less impassible, covered in a thick layer of ice that lasts through the summer and that usually blocks what would otherwise be a rather short route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and vice versa. Navigation in the Arctic...
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