by Jan Baughman
(Swans - May 18, 2009)
by Jan Baughman
(Swans - May 18, 2009)
Polarizing Global Warming Politics - © 2009 Jan Baughman
On May 14, 2008, after considerable stalling on the matter, the Bush administration finally classified the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a move that would normally require protection of its habitat. Instead, the dodo secretary of the interior, Dirk Kempthorne, issued a veritable signing statement indicating that this classification did not mean that regulation of greenhouse gases would be invoked to protect the polar bear. He acknowledged that polar bears are vulnerable to their loss of habitat (melting sea ice), but asserted there was not yet a scientific link between greenhouse gas emissions and an impact on individual polar bears. "ESA is not the right tool to set U.S. climate policy," he professed. On May 9, 2009, President Obama's secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, indicated that the polar bear would remain on the "threatened" list, but channeled Kempthorne by stating that "The Endangered Species Act is not the appropriate tool for us to deal with what is a global issue." If a law requiring us to protect species is not reason enough, then what is?
The argument put forth is that because greenhouse gas emissions do not originate from the Arctic -- even though they may be responsible for melting Arctic sea ice -- the ESA cannot be used to control greenhouse gases that are emitted from far away locations. It appears that the United States has found itself in a quagmire -- having enacted this legislation in 1973 to safeguard its (American) animal inhabitants, it is unwilling in the contemporary global context to address its threatening emissions that know no boundaries or borders. While the political posturing continues, the National Snow and Ice Data Center states that "Studies of polar bear populations indicate that declining sea ice is likely to decrease polar bear numbers, perhaps substantially. [...] Greenhouse gases emitted through human activities and the resulting increase in global mean temperatures are the most likely underlying cause of the sea ice decline, but the direct cause is a complicated combination of factors resulting from the warming, and from climate variability."
An August 19, 2007, joint survey by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency "revealed that Arctic ice was melting at a far quicker rate than anticipated."
This record pace of Arctic ice melt has scientists concerned about rising sea levels, diminished habitats for polar bears and other animals and an impending rush for fossil fuels in the region. Increased traffic through the Northwest Passage and the Northeast Passage (which runs by Siberia) may increase pollution in the area.
Perhaps once American cargo ships fully exploit the diminished sea ice that allows trade passage through and a military presence in the passages, our deleterious impact on the region will invoke Arctic protection under the ESA. In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether the new administration will put an end to political interference in science and take a serious stand on global warming on behalf of all species, whether they happen to live within or without what we've defined as America. For the time being -- whatever is left -- the polar bear remains threatened but not protected, with the audacity of hope for human intervention on its behalf.
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About the Author
Jan Baughman on Swans (with bio).
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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art15/jeb207.html
Published May 18, 2009
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