Climate Change Is Driving Polar Bears into Russian Towns

Luke Darby
Nature is going to get weirder and more dangerous as climate change gets worse.

Novaya Zemlya is a Russian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. It is, as expected, very cold there, and residents long ago had to get used to dealing with the forces of nature in a place where humans, by all biological indications, were never supposed to live. But lately they've been facing an old problem on an entirely new scale: a full-on invasion of polar bears.

Now, the first mental image you get of this may be adorable, especially if you're a Planet Earth fan. But the Novaya Zemlya residents are living more through a horror movie than a Pixar short. Bears are being driven from the ice, where they normally spend their time hunting seals in solitude, and are wandering into populated areas in search of food. According to The Guardian:

“There’s never been such a mass invasion of polar bears,” said Zhigansha Musin, the head of the local administration. “They have literally been chasing people.”

Alexander Minayev, the region’s deputy head, added: “People are scared, and afraid to leave their homes. Parents are unwilling to let their children go to school or nursery.” A state of emergency has been declared in the region.

Some relevant stats on polar bears include that they're the single largest predator on land, they roam vast expanses in search of food, and with sea ice dramatically dwindling, they're fast running out of their natural habitat. And the blame for that is squarely on climate change. The loss of Arctic ice is so dramatic that it's causing colder and colder weather to hit the U.S. On the other end of the world, Antarctica's annual loss of ice mass is six times what it was 40 years ago.

Climate change will bring disaster to coastal cities and global food chains, yes, but it's also going to bring fresh, unforeseen perils. Talking about "the climate" covers such a massive, multifaceted, and interdependent chain of systems that cause-and-effect outcomes can be difficult to foresee. Some effects are localized, like the plague of polar bears in Novaya Zemlya. Some are wide-reaching, like the new and shocking report that world insect populations are dropping (due to a combination of climate change, habitat loss, and other factors), a catastrophe that will only cause more havoc. There's no reason to think the other effects on the way will be any less bizarre or dangerous.