How Much is a Polar Bear Worth?

Jonathon Markowski
November 29th 2013

About $420,000, if you ask Canada. According to a report commissioned by the Canadian government, its citizens would be willing to pay $6.3 billion dollars per year to ensure that the white creatures continue to wander their vast arctic home. That's about $500 per household, and with around 15,000 polar bears in Canada today, it equates to about $420,000 per bear. Look at the numbers a little closer, though, and you may notice that the direct benefits associated with the bears (mostly tourism and hunting) add up to a statistically insignificant $9 million per year, meaning that nearly all of the value of polar bears (at least to Canada) is qualitative, or something along the lines of "we just like them." But why?

Polar Bears are iconic, and their image is frequently used commercially. If you don't recognize them from the Canadian $2 coin, you've probably seen this Coca Cola can, not to mention countless Coke campaigns from the past 20 years. Coca Cola claims that the use of polar bears associates the arctic and its ice-cold climate with their popular soft drink, while zoos around the world know that polar bears are nearly as big a draw as pandas. Despite the fact that polar bears are natural predators and can rip off a human head in a single bite, they are inescapably known as cute and cuddly.

Polar bears are also known as a figurehead for another major global phenomenon, which could be a reason for their continued importance and popularity – climate change. Faced with strong evidence that climate change and melting arctic ice are already impacting polar bear habitats and diets, they have been used to put a [cute] face on climate change by activists and businesses alike, as in this Nissan commercial for an electric car.

Environment Canada's annual budget is only around $1 billion. Have polar bears subconsciously convinced Canadians to spend another $6.3 billion per year to fight climate change?

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