Polar Bears Threatened by Global Warming?

The Bush administration is continuing to “look into” the potential problem of global warming, announcing today that polar bears might need to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because their habitat is melting away.

Washington Post:

“Identifying polar bears as threatened with extinction could have an enormous political and practical impact. As the world’s largest bear and as an object of children’s affection as well as Christmastime Coca-Cola commercials, the polar bear occupies an important place in the American psyche. Because scientists have concluded that carbon dioxide from power-plant and vehicle emissions is helping drive climate change worldwide, putting polar bears on the endangered species list raises the legal question of whether the government would be required to compel U.S. industries to curb their carbon dioxide output.

“…The ice in Canada’s western Hudson Bay breaks up 2 1/2 weeks earlier than it did 30 years ago, giving polar bears there less time to hunt and build up fat reserves that sustain them for eight months before hunting resumes. As local polar bears have become thinner, female polar bears’ reproductive rates and cubs’ survival rates have fallen, spurring a 21 percent population drop from 1997 to 2004.”

New York Times:

“…[I]n a conference call with reporters, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said that although his decision to seek protection for polar bears acknowledged the melting of the Arctic ice, his department was not taking a position on why the ice was melting or what to do about it.

“While the Bush administration ‘takes climate change very seriously and recognizes the role of greenhouse gases in climate change,’ Mr. Kempthorne said, it was not his department’s job to assess causes or prescribe solutions. ‘That whole aspect of climate change is beyond the scope of the Endangered Species Act,’ he added.”

Department of Interior Press Release:

“‘Polar bears are one of nature’s ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments,’ [Secretary of the Interior Dirk]Kempthorne said. ‘But we are concerned the polar bears’ habitat may literally be melting.’

“…Scientific observations have revealed a decline in late summer Arctic sea ice to the extent of 7.7 percent per decade and in the perennial sea ice area of 9.8 percent per decade since 1978. Observations have likewise shown a thinning of the Arctic sea ice of 32 percent from the 1960s and 1970s to the 1990s in some local areas.      “There are 19 polar bear populations in the circumpolar Arctic, containing an estimated total of 20,000-25,000 bears. The western Hudson Bay population of polar bears in Canada has suffered a 22 percent decline. Alaska populations have not experienced a statistically significant decline, but Fish and Wildlife Service biologists are concerned that they may face such a decline in the future.”

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Published: December 27, 2006