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Steven Amstrup says it's not too late to save polar bears – and ourselves

'We know the answer to what it takes to save' polar bears, says environmental prize winner Steven Amstrup, who has gone to the Arctic to study the bears for 30 years.


Polar bears are threatened by climate change.

US Fish and WildLife Service/Steven Amstrup/AP

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With apologies to "The Tipping Point" author Malcolm Gladwell, there is no tipping point – at least, not when it comes to global warming and sea ice.

Steven Amstrup, a senior scientist at Polar Bears International, has led a team of researchers that discovered that, contrary to expectations, even if all the sea ice in the Arctic disappeared, once the planet cooled back down, it would return.

"That was one of the great discoveries that allowed us to continue to instill hope in people that we could do something," Dr. Amstrup says. "Human nature is such that, if you think there's nothing you can do, you don't do anything. So this was a really important find."

That scientific discovery, published in 2010 in the journal Nature, is just one of the reasons that Amstrup was honored with this year's Indianapolis Prize, which is awarded every two years to a leader in the field of animal conservation. The winner receives $100,000 and the Lilly Medal.

The jury places great importance on the quality of the candidate's scientific research and on whether a species has a stronger potential to survive as a result of the work, explains Michael Crowther, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Zoo, which administers the prize.


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