The US government’s sudden concern for polar bears might well be too little and certainly too late.
Bees and mosquitoes terrify Inuit children who’ve never seen them before. They also terrify Inuit hunters because they signal the climate change which is transforming the Arctic.
Now Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne says polar bears should be listed as “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act. Does this signal the Bush administration is finally ready to admit climate change is a reality? Has the US government finally noticed what bees and mosquitoes have known for some time?
The disappearance of sea ice in the warming Arctic will open up a Northwest Passage, saving shipping companies pots of money and providing resource corporations easy access to Arctic oil and gas. But it could doom the polar bear by making it impossible for bears to hunt seals. The sea ice they need to hunt seals already forms weeks later and melts weeks earlier than twenty years ago. The entire Arctic ecosystem is changing; and when any ecosystem changes, humans suffer the inevitable consequences.
If polar bears are protected by the Endangered Species Act, the US government will be legally obliged to help them by doing what it can to counter the climate change which threatens their survival. The government will be banned from ” enacting, funding, or authorizing [actions which] adversely modify the (polar bear’s) critical habitats”. That means the government will have to enact, among other things, new energy policies and improved vehicle emission standards.
Or is Secretary Kempthorne only trying to placate the environmental vote which usually goes to the Democrats? After all, shipping and resource corporations must be looking forward to the benefits they’d enjoy from an ice-free Arctic.
Scientists have long said polar bears need protection. Two-thirds of the 22,000 to 27,000 polar bears are in Canada, where only one province protects them. Norway is the only nation which bans polar bear hunting. Apart from hunting, polar bears are threatened by toxins drawn into the Arctic from North America, Europe, and Russia by winds and ocean currents.
Given these threats, perhaps even the Endangered Species Act cannot save the bear the Inuit call ‘Nanuk’, a wise, powerful, ‘almost man,’ and the great lonely roamer.
Contact Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Edited by Simon - Added paragraph breaks]