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Good News and Bad News About the Polar Bear Decision

Frances Beinecke

Posted May 15, 2008

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There was good news and bad news for the polar bear yesterday. First, the good: after a three-year legal battle waged by NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bush Administration announced that it will protect polar bears as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act.

This is the very first time our government has used the Endangered Species Act to protect a species mainly threatened by the ravages of global warming. That is a landmark accomplishment.

The bad news? The Bush administration’s plan for “protection” is so full of loopholes for oil companies and other polluters that it could be the equivalent of sending a leaky lifeboat to rescue drowning polar bears. In the listing decision, the administration claims that federal agencies need not consider the impact of global warming pollution on the polar bear. It even proposed a separate regulation reducing the protections the polar bear would otherwise receive.

Simply put, we have finally gotten the Bush Administration to acknowledge the gravity of the polar bear’s plight -- and that’s crucial -- but it’s NOT enough to ensure the polar bear’s survival. The fight goes on.

The administration’s attempt to water down protection for the polar bear is illegal -- and it won’t hold up in court. That’s why NRDC is already preparing to fight the next round of this legal battle and secure the kind of full-fledged protection that polar bears so desperately need and deserve.

Time is short. The Arctic sea ice that polar bears depend on for survival is melting at a rate that has shattered the very worst predictions. Several leading scientists now predict the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in the summer by 2012. One government study predicts that two-thirds of polar bears could perish by 2050.

We don’t intend to back down or declare final victory until the polar bear is no longer facing the unthinkable threat of extinction. Click here to find out how you can help.

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Sun TzuMay 15 2008 03:27 PM

Why Do We Care If Polar Bears Become Extinct?
This is not any sort of revelation: Polar bears declared a threatened species , but it does raise the question: Why do we care? By some estimates, 90% of all species that once existed are now extinct and new species are always taking their place. For the species that’s going to become extinct, for whatever reason, extinction is the end of it. However, for the species that remain, is the extinction of another species good or bad? When Europeans first colonized North America, there was an estimated five (5) billion Passenger Pigeons alive and well in North America. In 1914, they were extinct. Passenger Pigeons didn’t live in little groups, but huge flocks that required extraordinary quantities of hardwood forests for them to feed, breed and survive. Deforestation to build homes, create farmland and over hunting for cheap food decimated their population. The westward drive to grow the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s was incompatible with the needs of the Passenger Pigeon and they literally could not survive in the new North America being carved out by the U.S. economy. The interesting thing about the Passenger Pigeon was the impact its extinction had on another species—man. That impact was essentially none. Man continued to find ways to feed himself through agriculture and other technologies and the United States and its citizens continued to prosper from the early 20th century till today. Whether or not Polar Bears become extinct because of Global Climate Change or other reasons, we need to address the larger question of: Do we care and why? One of the ways a nation, its citizens and the global community can answer that question is addressed by John A. Warden III in Thinking Strategically About Global Climate Change. He asks some interesting biodiversity questions in his post to include How Many Species Is the Right Number and Which Ones?

John PlattMay 16 2008 11:04 AM

Wow, "Sun Tzu" is posting his exact same argument everywhere he can!

Great blog post, Ms. Beinecke. Good luck in the next steps of fighting the good fight.

Maya B.May 19 2008 08:33 PM

I think everything you have said about the polar bears is very fascinating. I am fourteen years old and am doing a report on it for my global studies class! :) I have to yet to come up with a visual aid/project idea yet but if you have any ideas on how I could show my class what's happening with the polar bears that would be much appreciated. However, for now I wanted to thank you for all the stuff on your site/links because they have helped a great deal, :). And I hope the polar bears get the protection they need too!!!!!!!!!!
Maya B.
Is it true that polar bears can only catch seals with their left paw? If so, why is that?

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