Why Big Oil is Declaring War on Polar Bears – And How You Can Help Fight Back

Photo by Mila Zinkova via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s happening again – Big Oil is using deceptive tactics to confuse the public about climate science. And this time, the attack threatens polar bears. We need your help to see through their smokescreen and to stand up for the truth.

Let’s go step by step to understand the attack, why it’s happening, and how we can fight back together.

The Strategy

A federal agency is looking into compliance with procurement process regulations, so global warming must not be happening and we can stop protecting polar bears. No, really – that’s what climate science-denying polluter front groups are claiming.

It’s become a familiar pattern, most recently repeated in the illegally hacked climate scientist email story:

  • Take a complicated story most people don’t fully understand yet and make wild, completely unsubstantiated claims about what it means.
  • Target individual scientists with personal attacks, leaving other advocates of scientific truth fearful of speaking out and being the next victim.
  • Urge journalists to report to the controversy, leaving the public confused.

By the time the truth comes out, it’s too late – just enough doubt has been sowed to keep the profits rolling in.

The Attack

In the latest version, polluter groups are attacking the work of Dr. Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist whose heartbreaking observations (pdf) documented polar bears’ vulnerability to the global warming-fueled retreat of summer Arctic sea ice.

His research was apparently the first documentation of polar bears drowning at sea on long swims. The study is part of a mountain of evidence that led to polar bears being listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (though the National Wildlife Federation argues they should be considered endangered).

“When it comes to science demonstrating the threat to polar bears posed by global warming, this study is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. “The latest major study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey further documents that on long swims to receding Arctic sea ice, some bear cubs are disappearing, and their mothers burn much-needed calories. So far, 2011 is no exception – the Arctic’s summer sea ice is at record-low levels.”

Big Oil’s strategy reveals much more about its own shameful lack of integrity as it does about Dr. Monnett’s work. That’s because the federal agency itself says its probe has “nothing to do with scientific integrity,” instead focusing on contract questions:

Some new details have emerged in the mysterious case of Charles Monnett, the government wildlife biologist under investigation by the Department of Interior’s Inspector General. When Monnett, who works for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in Alaska, was placed on adminstrative leave last month pending an investigation into unspecified “integrity issues,” there was speculation that the probe was linked to the biologist’s 2006 paper on polar bear deaths in the Arctic. But a spokeswoman for BOEMRE insisted last week that the investigation has “nothing to do with scientific integrity, his 2006 journal article, or issues related to permitting, as has been alleged.”

On Tuesday, Monnett’s legal representatives at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released a memorandum that the IG’s office issued to the biologist last Friday indicating that its investigation centers on the procurement process for a research project on “Populations and Sources of Recruitment in Polar Bears.” The University of Alberta in Canada is the lead organization on the ongoing study, but BOEMRE provided a substantial portion of the funding. The agency ordered to the university to “cease and desist” all work on the study five days before Monnett was suspended in mid-July. [NWF Update: Suspension has since been lifted.]

The IG’s memo to Monnett requests an August 9 meeting to discuss “compliance with Federal Acquisition Regulations, disclosure of personal relationships, and preparation of the scope of work.”

Here’s just one example of how Big Oil’s allies have been executing their smokescreen strategy. The New York Post (owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) ran an op-ed on Tuesday claiming BOEMRE’s probe–again, BOEMRE itself now says it has nothing to do with the polar bear study– saying that while “the specifics of the investigation are as yet unclear,” we can safely leap to the conclusion that climate science itself is in question. Sound familiar?

The article was written by Matt Patterson of a polluter front group called “Capital Research Center.” The CRC has received $265,000 from Exxon Mobil since 1998 according to ExxonSecrets.org, along with millions more from organizations built with polluter profits like the Sciafe Foundations. Like many polluter front groups, the CRC had extensive ties to the tobacco industry before moving on to climate science denial.

What, you expected Exxon Mobil to attack climate and polar bear science directly? That’s not how it works. Polluters pay front groups to do it for them, so instead of coming from a big, bad oil company, the attacks appear to be coming from a dispassionate third party.

The Motive

Why is attacking the science connecting polar bears and global warming so critical for these polluter front groups? Oil companies have been pushing relentlessly to drill in the Arctic, not only in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas – which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has designated under the Endangered Species Act as critical polar bear habitat. Given the rock-solid scientific evidence, Big Oil knows it can’t win a fair debate, so it needs to resort to smokescreens and personal attacks to have any shot at drilling.

“The BP Gulf oil disaster reminds us that offshore drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, such as critical habitat for polar bears and other Arctic species, is simply not worth the risk,” says Dr. Doug Inkley.

via Norbert Rossing

Fight Back for Polar Bears

Legislation in Congress right now would gut the Endangered Species Act, and cripple the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect wildlife, clean air and water. Please take a moment to ask your members of Congress to stop this attack threatening polar bears.

Once you do, please pass this post along to your friends using the share, tweet and like buttons at the bottom of this post, or just email the link to your friends. The more people know about Big Oil’s deceptive tactics, the stronger our case will be for protecting polar bears.