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Politicizing the Polar Bear

Posted on Jun 30, 2008
polar bear
Richard Ellis

By Richard Ellis

(Page 4)

Jan. 15, 2008: In another New York Times editorial (“Regulatory Games and the Polar Bear”) we read:

“Although Congress and the courts have largely frustrated the Bush administration’s efforts to open up Alaska to oil and gas drilling, Vice President Dick Cheney and his industry friends remain determined to lock up as many oil and gas leases as they can before the door hits them on the way out. They are certainly not going to let the struggling polar bear stand in their way.
“The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service has announced that early next month it will sell oil and gas leases on nearly 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea. Meanwhile, the department’s Fish and Wildlife Service has postponed a long-awaited decision on whether to place this iconic and troubled animal on the list of threatened species. ...
“That would give [department] scientists more time to assess the threats to the bear and other fragile wildlife. The department could also use the time to figure out how and where drilling may safely proceed, if at all. There is no urgency to lease Alaskan waters. President Bush’s suggestion that new oil production will bring short-term relief at the pump is nonsense, since oil fields take years to develop. It is urgent to help the bears.”

Two weeks later, as if in response to this impassioned editorial, The Wall Street Journal published an editorial of its own, “The Polar Bear Express,” in which it took exactly the opposite position from everyone who believed that the bears were threatened and would be even more so if drilling was allowed in their habitat. For example, the editorial states, “The problem is that polar bear populations have been rising over the past four decades and may be at an historic high.” But polar bear populations throughout the Arctic have fallen precipitously over the past four decades, and some are at 60 percent of what they were in 1960. Naturally, the head-in-the-sand editorialists at the Journal were prepared to argue that global warming isn’t really a problem at all, writing, “These projections are speculative, however, and tend to underestimate the dynamism of the environment. Animals adapt to changing conditions, which might mean a shift in population patterns to areas where pack ice is more robust year-round.”

But every climatologist knows that there has been a drastic loss of the Arctic sea ice, and that this loss will only increase. To suggest that it is up to the bears to “adapt to changing conditions” flies smack in the face of evolutionary history: Failure to adapt to changing conditions is one of the primary causes of extinction. Said the Journal: “The logical—and dangerous—leap here is that the greens are attempting to re-write the Endangered Species Act without actual legislation. If the ‘iconic’ polar bear is classified as threatened, and the harm is formally attributed to warming caused by humans, then their gambit would lead to all sorts of regulatory mischief.” But as written, and without any modification, the Endangered Species Act protects the habitat of a species classified as threatened (not to mention endangered), and the very act of drilling in the Chukchi Sea is hazardous to the bears—think of oil spills, which are part of the process—and nobody, except perhaps the editorial writers at the Journal, denies that global warming is caused by humans. What the Journal calls “a modest sale of oil and gas leases” is actually an auction of leases in nearly 46,000 square miles—an area the size of Pennsylvania—of prime polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea.


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In opposition to the listing of the bear as an endangered species, people like Gov. Palin of Alaska have pointed out that polar bear populations have risen in the last several decades. In many cases they have, but that may have to do with the reduction in sport hunting, and anyway, an increase in the populations is not a justification for leaving them unprotected. The threat to the bears lies in the realization that the disappearing ice cap will endanger their habitat and their lives, and an increased population only means that more bears will have less food.

After weeks of anxious waiting on the part of environmentalists, the decision was made last Feb. 6 to allow the Department of the Interior to move ahead with the auction of oil leases in the Chukchi Sea. Immediately, Royal Dutch Shell bid $105 million for a single exploration block, and $2.1 billion for 275 tracts. The last lease sale in the Chukchi, held in 1991, brought in a total of only $7.4 million. About 25 years ago, Shell had explored some of the same regions it leased in 2008 but had relinquished the leases as uneconomic. Now, high oil prices have transformed previously undesirable high-cost regions into exploration hot spots for oil companies—and extinction hot spots for polar bears.

On March 11 a coalition of environmental groups sued the Bush administration for delaying a decision to protect the polar bears. The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed the suit over the government’s missing the legal deadline for issuing a final decision on whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Had the Fish and Wildlife Service listed polar bears as threatened on Jan. 9, the Chukchi Sea lease sale could not have gone ahead without critical studies to assess the potential impacts on polar bears. Should the polar bears be listed as threatened in the near future, the U.S. government would have an obligation to protect their habitat, and that might mean having to buy back the Chukchi leases from the energy companies, at a premium price. As this seems more than a little unlikely, the bears might have to figure out how to protect themselves.


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By samosamo, July 2, 2008 at 8:00 pm Link to this comment

Well I say or actually don’t have to say: Let the drilling begin because who is going to stop a bunch of oil addicted mother fuckers that think that the price of oil and gas will go down because of drilling lowers the price of gas and oil. Well, so they can go back to driving those monster vehicles, heck in my state, you would never even know that gas was $4/gal and the suv and big boy trucks to ride around town in were an issue to dive at the drop of a hat.
And the environment will remain pristine. Plenty of fresh air and clean water. Let em drill. Unless the human population goes below 1billion and stays there, everything will be lost on this planet, sooner than later

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By Wallace Kaufman, July 2, 2008 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment
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If one is hell bent on listing the polar bear as endangered for the sake of political ends, then science, logic and experience are no obstacle to weak and phoney arguments.  Take the proposition that development threatens to disrupt their lives and existence. I have traveled fairly well in the Russian arctic where polar bears are numerous, and I have video of them visiting towns and small cities.  Like many other bears, they don’t mind being around humans. 

Or take the idea that increasing bear populations (a fact) shouldn’t stand in the way.  Well, what does constitute delisting or evidence of survival?  Regulate hunting, fine. Protect special habitat areas, fine.  But evoke all the draconian and legal battles of endangered status?  Illogical, or perhaps just political.

The idea that bears need to hunt from ice floes and that their only land food is reindeer, is also nonsense.  Wrangell Island bears and many others hunt sea mammals very successfully along the shore line. 

I love the arctic and its wildlife. I don’t find much use for people who lie about them.

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By Pacrat, July 2, 2008 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

At last there is scientific proof that polar bears are dangerous and major contributors to global warming. And here we have been blaming coal power generating plants! This news will wipe the smiles off the faces of those polar bears!

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By Bu-SHIT-ler, July 2, 2008 at 7:33 am Link to this comment

Kath, I agree with you, and to re-assure you, these sheeple aren’t getting away with it. As these evil human parasites continue to terrorize people, and all life as we know it, their complete extinction is imminent. I’m glad that I got to be part of a Team that will help decide the fate of these low-life scum. My research is just about complete…all the globe’s struggles, the parasites impoverishing people, the groups responsible for life and death decisions, the countries responsible for global proliferation/global warming, everyone in industries that destroy life, and lives, regardless of species, etc., etc., etc. These parasites who should never have seen the light of day (Soulless beings born into evil families), aka: God’s bastards. There will be sweeping change, and there will be no mercy upon those who accomodate, condone, conspire with, or even support such beings. Humanity needs to stand up for itself if it wants to avoid the same fate as the dinossaurs. The pinnacle of Humanity’s Fate is at its tipping point, and the majority need to confront the minority before it’s too late. Politics is destroying everything it touches, and Capitalism is tightening its grip on the globe and all its resources. When the 2 come together as they already have, you get Socio-Economic Terrorism, and the ultimate consequence will be a global genocide through various conspiracies involving every major industry out there, and with no end in sight, unless the people take their governments back. If people fail in this, God will ultimately have to decide whether to save the planet from Humanity, or let Humanity destroy itself and the planet in order to start anew…I don’t believe the latter choice would work because the creation/preservation of all other species would have to be protected.

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By Gloria Picchetti, July 2, 2008 at 5:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Isn’t there anyone who can donate old barges and things that float to be anchored where the polar bears and other animals can swim to while we learn how to deal with Global Warming? I know it’s one of my dumbest ever ideas but doesn’t anyone want beautiful wild animals to survive?

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By kath cantarella, July 1, 2008 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People will soon be starving along with the bears. Is there a bleak justice in that? Maybe not. The ones who’ll suffer the least are probably the ones who are the most responsible.

But we all create our societies, and we are all to blame. I feel sorry for the kids, and their kids. What subtle horrors we hand down to those we love.

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