Feature

Polar bears: Officially ‘threatened’

It’s lucky polar bears don’t follow Washington politics, said Katherine Mieszkowski in Salon.com, or they’d have had a confusing week. The good news was that Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne finally added

It’s lucky polar bears don’t follow Washington politics, said Katherine Mieszkowski in Salon.com, or they’d have had a confusing week. The good news was that Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne finally added them to the list of “threatened” species. He really had no choice. With Arctic sea ice melting away faster than anyone had predicted because of global warming, the bears may be facing extinction as soon as midcentury. But with Kempthorne’s very next breath, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial, he announced a series of “regulatory shenanigans” that will allow oil and gas companies to keep drilling in the bears’ natural habitat, and ensure that the bears’ new status can’t be used as legal leverage to force new restrictions on carbon emissions. What we have here, in other words, “is a newly protected polar bear with virtually no new protections.”

If you were a seal, said The Wall Street Journal, you’d know that polar bears are not the “fragile, vulnerable creatures of liberal iconography.” These 900-pound carnivores have survived for thousands of years in the Arctic, including in “periods when their sea-ice habitat was smaller, and larger, than it is now.” As for their being “threatened,” said Investor’s Business Daily, the polar bear population has more than doubled in the last half-century to 25,000—a fact the eco-lobby generally prefers not to talk about. In the hearts of these “misanthropic activists,” the real goal has never been to save polar bears, or whales, or spotted owls, but simply to fight back against what they see as the evil, nature-raping forces of capitalism and big business. Unless you buy into this childish dichotomy—humans, bad; nature, good—the reality is that “man is far better off helping himself than trying to help animals that aren’t in danger.”

This entire debate is disingenuous, said The Seattle Times. On one side is the Bush administration admitting that the sea ice is melting, but trying to pretend that global warming has nothing to do with it. On the other side we have environmentalists using the polar bears—so adorable at a distance—as a pretext for making it impossible for any American to drive an SUV. The best solution, ultimately, might be to strand a White House lawyer and an “environmental bloviator” on a shrinking chunk of ice with a single ravenous polar bear. In that scenario, frankly, “we are cheering for the fuzzy, charismatic megafauna with the snowball countenance and the lump-of-coal nose.”

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