In a report on Monday's NBC Today about declining penguin populations in Antarctica, correspondent Kerry Sanders didn't take long to lay the blame on man-made climate change: "Penguins are most certainly the ambassadors to the bottom of the world....But the ambassadors are also sounding an alarm....ten of the world's 18 penguin species are in trouble....The ice that dominates this landscape is melting faster than ever before." [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Sanders fretted to biologist Fabrice Genevois: "Is that a canary in the coal mine for us as humans?" Genevois agreed: "Yeah, I mean that could be the canary in the coal mine, exactly." After hyping data that "2012 was the hottest year ever on record," Sanders posed this question: "So if the ice is melting in some parts because of our use of fossil fuels, because of global warming, what are we supposed to do?" He then informed viewers that he consulted scientists who found the solution: "...we can do something like just start carpooling."
The report by Sanders also included a sound bite from marine biologist Maria Clauss declaring: "This is very – a concrete phenomenon and we can measure it and we have to consider what that's going to mean for the future."
In a promotion for the report that aired minutes later during a commercial break, the NBC announcer touted the story being featured on Monday's Nightly News and proclaimed: "Tonight, journey with us to the bottom of the Earth and see why warmer temperatures there might be cause for concern everywhere." Another clip was included of Clauss asserting: "It will change world as we know it."
Here is a full transcript of the March 11 Today report:
MATT LAUER: Let's head even further south for a journey to the bottom of the Earth. NBC's Kerry Sanders is just back from Antarctica, where he got a remarkable look at the world's last wilderness. Kerry, good to see you, good morning.
KERRY SANDERS: Well, good morning, Matt. When most people think of Antarctica, because it was just on the cover of Sports Illustrated, they may think of model Kate Upton. But if you look at those pictures, there in the background, take a look, see that? Penguins and ice. And it's those penguins and ice that together, experts say, may be trying to tell us something.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Journey to the Bottom of the Earth; What Message Are Antarctic's Penguins Trying to Tell Us?]
If there is a time of year for penguins to enjoy life, it's now. At the bottom of the world it's summer. The eggs have hatched, chicks are molting as waterproof feathers replace baby fuzz. Soon the hungry will join their parents for their first polar plunge.
FABRICE GENEVOIS: They walk on their two feet, you know, they have these flippers that look like arms, you know.
SANDERS: Fabrice Genevois is the Jacques Cousteau of penguins. He says these flightless birds remind us of ourselves because they look and at times even act like humans.
GENEVOIS: Both parents share duties, that means both male and female will go at sea to find food for the chicks. It's 50/50, both share the duty of the breeding cycle.
SANDERS: I know some people who think we could learn from that.
GENEVOIS: Of course, yeah. Definitely, yeah.
SANDERS: Penguins are most certainly the ambassadors to the bottom of the world.
LOUISE LEWIN [CANADIAN TOURIST]: They are all here as if they are coming to say, "Welcome to my home, my world."
SANDERS: But the ambassadors are also sounding an alarm. Scientists say not all is happy feet these days, ten of the world's 18 penguin species are in trouble. In some areas the penguins, known as adelies, have seen their colonies drop by 90%. And in other areas, studies estimate the chin-strapped penguins have seen their populations decline by 50%. And here's why.
[FOOTAGE OF MELTING GLACIER]
SANDERS: The ice that dominates this landscape is melting faster than ever before. The cause and effect, say scientists, is clear. Less ice means less shrimp-like krill, which grow in the water beneath the ice. Krill is the main food source for penguins, as well as for seals and whales.
GENEVOIS: The adelies and the chin-strap are decreasing, so it might be related to the warming of the climate because there's no more sea ice, as it used to be, and then less krill to eat.
SANDERS: Is that a canary in the coal mine for us as humans?
GENEVOIS: Yeah, I mean that could be the canary in the coal mine, exactly.
SANDERS: The ice matters not only to these guys, but also to us. The polar regions of the world are sort of the air conditioner, they regulate the temperature of the water, which impacts the weather where you live. Last year, 2012 was the hottest year ever on record, the Weather Channel documented more than 34,000 record daily high temperatures in the United States, and less than 6,700 new record lows.
MARIA CLAUSS [MARINE BIOLOGIST]: This is very – a concrete phenomenon and we can measure it and we have to consider what that's going to mean for the future.
SANDERS: So if the ice is melting in some parts because of our use of fossil fuels, because of global warming, what are we supposed to do? And that's a question that I asked to the scientists down there. They said very simply we can do something like just start carpooling. Of course, remember, this is not just a U.S. problem. Just this month, China became the world's largest importer of petroleum.
LAUER: Alright, Kerry Sanders. Kerry, fascinating, thank you very much.