Polar Bear Diplomacy: Where the US and Russia Can Agree

May 23, 2014

On an arctic island 250 miles from the nearest Siberian village, US and Russian scientists are collaborating on wildlife research. Their work proves: Conservation transcends geopolitics.

The icy wind is wicked. It’s about minus 10 degrees, and near whiteout conditions dominate this landscape of rock and snow known as Wrangel Island. Some 250 miles from the nearest village in the Siberian Arctic, this bleak terrain is home to my Russian co-workers, whose tenacity I (an American scientist) have long admired.

Working alongside me, but lacking in modern amenities – no efficient snow machines, no helicopters, often no binoculars – they persevere for one reason. They wish to learn about animals and their movements, and to understand the island’s polar environment.

Our shared interest is in how Earth’s warming temperatures will affect cold-adapted species such as musk oxen and polar bears. But our cooperation isn’t simply about saving arctic animals. It proves that the common issues – and threats – that confront us as inhabitants of Earth can, and do, bring us together, in spite of geopolitical differences.

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