Global Warming, the ESA and Polar Bears, Oh My!
(NOTE: THE FOLLOWING IS AN ACCOUNT OF MY THOUGHTS ON A SUBJECT. THERE IS SOME SOLID FACT TO BACK UP MY STATEMENTS, BUT NOT SO MUCH THAT I'M ASSUMING I KNOW WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. TAKE THIS POST FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH. AND FEEL FREE TO CORRECT ME IF I'M WRONG.)
The Department of the Interior has decided to list polar bears, those wacky denizens of the frozen north (or not so frozen north as the case seems to be), as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to global warming. The sea ice bears rely upon to access their hunting grounds is, undeniably, smaller than in previous years. However, from what little I've read, overall the population of polar bears is not considered dangerously low or even close to worrisome. (Bear--ha!--in mind that I haven't read all the scientific studies of polar bear population counts. Heck, I haven't read a single one. I'm just going by what I've gleaned from the news.) But be that as it may, the polar bear is now listed as threatened.
Okaaaay. Without going into allegations of speculative science and premature decisions being made, let's think about this for a moment. They're listed. Great. Now what?
Polar bears are already protected to a certain degree by the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Granted, that is more along the lines of direct interaction between bears and humans, ie: unless you are an Alaska Native, you can't hunt polar bears or sell their pelts, among other limitations. So on that level, nothing really changes for the bears. As for the ESA, it requires the federal government to plan for the protection of critical habitat, write a recovery plan and consult about protection before approving federal permits that could impact listed species.
Hmmm. Alaska's polar bears live smack in the middle of where petroleum exploration and development is being sought. They live near enough to the area where a natural gas pipeline is being proposed that there is the possibility of delays and lawsuits regarding the construction of the pipeline. Which would be ironic since the use of cleaner natural gas is a way to reduce our carbon emissions and lower greenhouse gases, the cause of global warming and the loss of the sea ice the bears require.
Resource development in Alaska is generally done with a huge eye toward keeping our environment as healthy as possible. Many people depend upon the land and its wildlife as their source of income and food. Not to mention the travel and tourism benefits. Do you really think it would be allowed for someone, no matter what they say they'll be putting into the state coffers, to waltz in and build oil platforms and pipelines willy-nilly if there were so great a potential for hurting the environment? Short answer: No. Sure, there are mishaps and folks who will cut corners, but we love our state as much as anyone in the Lower 48. We're not going to poo in our own nests.
So what does the listing mean to you and me? Well, expect higher prices at the pumps, folks. If there are going to be issues about developing more petroleum sources in the Arctic then we'll be importing more oil from overseas. (Um, anyone know what the impact THOSE wells are having on THOSE environments? Anyone care? No, because it's not OUR nests being fouled.)
But maybe, just maybe, the listing of the polar bear will spur investigation and development of renewable and affordable resources. Wouldn't that be nice.
In the meantime, maybe we need to spend a few tax dollars on helping the polar bears get to their hunting grounds this summer. I think there are some plans for a bridge laying around the state...perhaps we should use that?
5/16 ETA: Reading through this, you may think I'm pro-development and anti-polar bear. I'm not. I should have made clear that, IMO, the decision to list the polar bear as threatened, while probably a good idea, was made on more of a political level than anything else. So the bear is now considered threatened. What are we going to do about it? Anyone have an answer that will significanly reduce green house gases by 2050, the year that it's predicted the polar bear will be in dire straits? Please feel free to share. I'm not being snarky, I swear. What I do predict is that there will be lawsuits and counter suits up the wazoo, getting no one anywhere, particularly the polar bear. Again, my opinion. Your mileage may vary.