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Save the polar bear, save yourself.
Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
December 28, 2006
2007 promises to be a year of ecological enlightenment. That the Bush Administration is acknowledging global warming and melting sea ice, is reason for everyone to take notice, as this reversal signals a serious shift in environmental politics.
The recent announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, proposing a review of polar bears for listing as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act comes at the end of a court-ordered deadline. In 2005, Greenpeace, the Center for Biological diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Bush Administration for failing to protect the bears.
Interior Secretary Kempthorne clarified the Bush position under the glare of big media, "The whole aspect of climate change is beyond the scope of the Endangered Species Act," and "an endangered species listing could not be used to trigger of greenhouse gas emissions or curbs on oil drilling in Alaska."
A year of reckoning is ahead. The twelve month study to be undertaken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will expose more than shrinking habitat. As Californians ponder the fate of the polar bear, we must also come to terms with our role in the extinction of Arctic species due to the burning of fossil fuels, and other human activities.
During the 12-month study, government bureaucrats will find plenty of scientific data supporting calls to protect polar bears from immediate extinction, with a declared endangered status, and all remedies included under the Endangered Species Act.
Is all this concern about the fate of the polar bear a publicity ploy? Probably.
Forced to acknowledge the growing impact of global warming and climate change, it seems more likely the Bush administration will run the clock out with studies, only to list the Polar Bear as endangered as he leaves office, as a way of forcing the next administration to deal with a problem made worse by Republican denial and bureaucratic foot-dragging.
And let's be clear, nothing will save polar bears from extinction other than polar bears ability to adapt to changing conditions in the Arctic. The global warming dice have been thrown. Things will get much worse, before they get better. If they get better that is. To preserve polar bears, it is vital to save their primary food source, ring seals. Ring seals depend on sea ice for breeding. No sea ice, no ring seals. No ring seals, no polar bears.
And like the polar bears, it's up to the ring seals to save themselves from the man-made disaster we call progress.
Evolution has always been about the ability to survive in both favorable and harsh conditions. Until now humans have faired relatively well in the adapt or die sweepstakes that is life on earth. Unfortunately we have undermined our privileged position, through arrogance, ignorance, and greed.
The 21st century will be a study in survival. Africa already buckling under the weight of over population, is now struggling to with rampant disease, epic droughts, and constant warfare. Environmental destruction brought about by European colonization, leaves the peoples of the African continent with little to sustain them, in the face of rapid climate change.
China, desperate to keep up with the Joneses, will ride the tide of corporate consumption into the abyss of ecological destruction. Already cursed with the worse air quality on the planet, drought and dust storms will find the Chinese hard pressed to feed the billions of Chinese demanding a western lifestyle.
Australia is 5 years into a massive drought that some experts are saying could last another 50 years. Glaciers are melting world-wide, coral reefs are dying, and a 6th global extinction event is underway as industrial pollutants poison flora and fauna at the genetic level and human populations crowd out all other species.
2007 will be the year we come to terms with our own undoing. As we will soon see, polar bears are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.