Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Great Polar Bear Swindle

Everyone loves polar bears. Nobody wants them to go extinct because of climate change. But as currently worded the current US Fish and Wildlife plan to list the bear as "threatened", the category that's normally followed by listing as "endangered", will do nothing to save the polar bear. I believe that listing the bear is just a swindle, a "feel-good" measure to reassure people of the Lower 48 that yes, the government is concerned with the polar bear and is somehow "protecting" it...but there's nothing in the current wording of the proposal to protect the polar bear. Not a word.

Below I describe why. Unfortunately, while my descriptive narrative of visiting the polar bear's habitat last Winter is being published as a travel piece later this year, I haven't been able to get a single newspaper to print the article (2,400-word version or 785-word version) from which the following is excerpted. No publisher, it seems, can be seen to take the position that the bear shouldn't be listed as "threatened" or "endangered"---even if such listings will do absolutely nothing to protect the species.

Excerpt from "To Save the Polar Bear" by Cameron M. Smith


Listing a species as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ is meant to force federally-backed action to preserve species habitat. But the polar bear listing proposal doesn’t do this at all. As Kieran Suckling wrote in The Albuquerque Tribune on January 9th, 2007 “[the current listing proposal] refuses to designate critical habitat areas, deeming the bear’s habitat needs ‘undeterminable’. This, after pages and pages of analysis showing that polar bears need sea ice. Worse, the proposal steadfastly refuses to identify the cause of global warming. The words carbon, emissions, and greenhouse gas do not appear anywhere. It’s as if the Arctic ice just decided to up and melt itself.”


Since the currently-worded listing couldn’t force federal action on the core issue of sea ice retreat, and because the bear is already effectively protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Iñupiat believed that listing was a toothless ‘feel-good’ measure that would only mislead the public into thinking that something was being done about the polar bear and global warming.


Since the Supreme Court ruled on April 3rd, 2007, that the Environmental Protection Act can be used to regulate greenhouse gas emissions via the Clean Air Act, there is hope—but only if the listing proposal is reworded such that it attributes sea ice retreat to human activity (via global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions), a position supported as recently as last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
If this link isn’t made, listing of the polar bear will do nothing to save it.


The decision on listing the bear has been postponed for about a month. If you'd like to hear what Mayr Itta, of Alaska's North Slope Borough thinks about polar bears and listing them as "threatened" or "endangered"--and remember, he represents many natives who lives on the same land as the bear, breathe its same air, and trek and hunt on the bear's same snowscapes--you can hear his statements to the US Fish and Wildlife which I videotaped in Barrow, Alaska, in February 2007 (below): if you don't want to watch the whole thing, his most important statements are around 4:30 seconds in (drag the slider over to find that time):

Photo at top: polar bear claw exhibit at a museum.

(c) 2008 by Cameron McPherson Smith


Charles Sullivan said...

A very informative posting. It shows a side of things that we don't often hear. Thanks!

Jessica Krug said...

I agree. This was an informative post, and one that leaves me to (cynically) speculate once again about the true politics of 21st-century American liberals. How many folks would rather feel better about saving a cute, fuzzy animal than know that the actual legislation has no teeth? Have we truly reached an age where representation no longer has any connection to reality?

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