Thursday, May 15, 2008

Too bad for those threatened polar bears

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Remember when I wrote that post on how "polar bears are facing unprecedented environmental stress that will cause their numbers to plummet" (if I may again quote WaPo)?

No? Well, I can't say I blame you. It was way back on July 7, 2005.

The point of that post was simple: Polar bears are a victim of global warming. The World Conservation Union had concluded that they were a "vulnerable" species and that their numbers would decline sharply as a direct result of "climatic warming and its consequent negative affects on [their] sea ice habitat."

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration was doing nothing -- or, rather, worse than nothing. It was actively blocking international efforts to address global warming in meaningful ways. As I put it on May 14, 2007, Bush had turned the United States into "the malevolent hegemon," while he himself had become "an enabler of future genocide."

Well, here we are, in the early morning hours of May 15, 2008, and the situation -- for polar bears in particular and for the planet in general -- has only gotten worse. Here's the BBC:

The United States has listed the polar bear as a threatened species, because its Arctic sea ice habitat is melting due to climate change.

US government scientists predict that two-thirds of the polar bear population of 25,000 could disappear by 2050.

However, the government stressed the listing would not lead to measures to prevent global warming.

Of course it won't. Not with Bush, the oil industry, and the global warming deniers running the show. Indeed, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne only gave in because the law required him to do so: "While the legal standards under the Endangered Species Act compel me to list the polar bear as threatened, I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting."

Which is true. The listing itself won't stop global warming. But it means something, right? What is happening to polar bears and their habitat is evidence, is it not? The listing could stimulate action, could it not? Secretary? "This has been a difficult decision. But in light of the scientific record and the restraints of the inflexible law that guides me, I believe it was the only decision I could make." (via WaPo, which has the story on its front page today)

(Cue sarcasm.) How's that for decisive leadership? It's not me, it's the law! And them meddling scientists!

Now, at least Kempthorne acknowledged the reality of "global climate change." And at least he did something. And it's not like he doesn't know what's happening: "The fact is that sea ice is receding in the Arctic. As you can see, when we have looked at what is actually happening in the Arctic, we have found considerably less sea ice than the models are projecting. Because polar bears are vulnerable to this loss of habitat, they are, in my judgment, likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future -- in this case, 45 years."

But why is this happening? What are the causes of the receding sea ice? As Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, put it, "[w]e have to be able to connect the dots." The problem is, Kempthorne, like the administration of which he is a part, isn't connecting them. Like the deniers and do-nothingers and enablers of genocide running the malevolent hegemon, he is primarily concerned with, as he put it, preventing "harm to the society and the economy of the United States" -- as if somehow the U.S. could withstand the environmental apocalypse to come, as if somehow the U.S. can be shielded from what is happening to the planet as a whole.

Global warming, I admit, is a complex phenomenon, but there is pretty simple cause-and-effect here. Temperature are rising and sea ice is melting. It is a positive step to acknowledge, at long last and however reluctantly, what is actually happening to polar bears, but the listing won't mean anything if nothing is done to avert the crisis that is confronting us all.

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  • 5000 polar bears in 1970; 25,000 today. A good trick by the environmentalists to stop drilling. Good for you guys! Let's stay dependent on FOREIGN oil and go to war with Iran.

    By Blogger QueersOnTheRise, at 10:12 AM  

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