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[Opinion] The Truth About Polar Bears

Posted November. 14, 2007 08:15,   


The Dodo is the archetype of extinct species. In 1598, when European countries were eager to establish colonies, Portuguese sailors saw a flightless bird on the island of Mauritius. The bird approached them without any hesitation. Sailors named the bird “Dodo,” a Portuguese word meaning ‘fool,’ because it looked foolish. The Dodo were eaten by sailors who needed meat, and the eggs were destroyed by livestock, leading to its extinction within a century.

The Dodo, which became well-known thanks to ‘The Song of the Dodo’ by David Quammen, became a symbol of natural destruction wrought by human beings. Mauritius ended up issuing anniversary stamps of the bird.

Like the Dodo, polar bears have emerged as a symbol that breeds guilty feelings and uneasiness toward the environment among humans. Al Gore’s global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” shows animated scenes in which polar bears drown due to melting ice caused by global warming.

The concern about the extinction of polar bears is groundless, however. The Times web page reported that environmental groups are puzzled to hear that the number of polar bears has actually increased. Polar bears have quintupled over the past five decades to 25,000, up from 5,000 in the 1950s. Some of them even approach populated areas after failing to find prey.

As their number continues to increase, Russia plans to resume polar bear hunting, a practice that had been banned since the ratification of the “Polar Bear Protection Treaty” in 1973.

Just as the Dodo, polar bears are a species that creates fantasies about nature in humans. It would be painful if the white furry bears, a staple of children’s books, disappeared due to global warming. And it is understandable that environmentalists have adopted them as a symbol of environmental disasters. However, this symbolism should be based on facts. It is the exactly the same thing that Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg criticized when he said that some environmentalists are making money off the environmental crisis. Global warming is real, but it should not be blamed for all kinds of adverse effects.

Jeong Seong-hee, Editorial Writer, shchung@donga.com