Twenty-one years after U.S. actor Ted Danson wrongly predicted that the world had just ten years “to save the oceans”, another Hollywood star is making careless environmental predictions at the behest of one of the world’s wealthiest campaign groups, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Noah Wyle, famous for his role as Dr. John Carter in the hit hospital series “ER”, stars in a new television fundraising advertisement in the U.S. that would fall foul of advertising standards agencies in most nations that have them.
In the two-minute ad, Wyle claims that polar bears are “struggling to survive” and losing their hunting grounds because “ice is melting all around them”. And he asserts: “Climate change: it’s happening right now, and it’s leaving mothers weaker and unable to provide for their young and cubs dying without enough to eat.”
Dramatic stuff, but untrue. Changes in the climate have not had any significant impact on polar bear populations. While groups like WWF speculate that it will, polar bears have existed for more than 100,000 years and have successfully adapted to changes in climate similar to those being postulated today.
Wyle goes on to say with great certainty: “Polar bears are on their way to extinction.”
Overall, polar bear populations are stable with some sub-populations increasing slightly, others declining slightly and some remaining largely unchanged. With a population of around 25,000 animals, polar bears are at least as abundant now as they were at the time Danson was scaring people with his ignorance about the oceans.
Wyle’s next words are telling: “If we don’t act now, most will die in our children’s lifetime. But you can help change that.”
Well, polar bears typically live for up to around 25 years but it is not clear how sending money to WWF will change their natural biology.
Of course, Wyle is actually referring to the species as a whole but, as with Danson, there is no evidence to support the claim. Polar bears are not going extinct. There are a number of factors that cause fluctuations in their numbers, such as migration between Arctic areas, prey availability and harvesting by native hunters. The impact of climate change on a stable population is obviously difficult to estimate.
Even if it were true that mankind was dooming polar bears to extinction, it remains unclear how sending $16 per month to WWF’s bank account would make the slightest bit of difference. Does WWF possess the magic to change the world’s climate? Of course not. And, if it did, how many $16 donors would be needed to make the magic work?
Wyle’s supposed omnicience is reinforced by images of cubs jumping into the water and disappearing (polar bears are actually excellent swimmers) and by melancholy music that tugs at the heartstrings. It is all clearly designed to disturb viewers enough that they race to their credit cards.
WWF is a multinational group with operations in around 100 countries. Its annual income of around $780 million has been hit by the financial crisis, which led to losses in its investments. Many environmentalist campaign groups have seen income fall as a result, both in their owned assets and as a result of losses to the foundations and trusts that supply much of their funding.
But WWF receives a fifth of its gigantic annual income from governments and aid agencies. It is already taking taxpayer money. So why does it still feel the need to scam the public through a dishonest advertising campaign?
Polar bears are a key species for environmentalist groups because any population decline can be used to leverage broad national and international restrictions on economic development. Mr. Wyle’s comments are not just a money scam – they are also part of an attempt to undermine our growth in prosperity because of the damage that this will supposedly inflict on the planet.
Perhaps that is ok for a vegetarian actor who has already banked ten of millions of dollars from his TV series. But it is not so appealing to most people.
Those who fall for Wyle’s ads will receive a “free” photo and t-shirt but they shouldn’t expect their hard earned money to make one iota of difference to polar bears.