Polar bears declared a threatened species; oil drilling to continue

At a press conference held just a few minutes ago, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that the polar bear will receive some protection under the Endangered Species Act.

"Today I am listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act," said Kempthorne. "I am also announcing that this listing decision will be accompanied by administrative guidance and a rule that defines the scope of impact my decision will have, in order to protect the polar bear while limiting the unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States."

A threatened species, under the law, is one likely to become endangered in the near future. Kempthorne said that the loss of sea ice due to climate change will put the polar bear in grave danger within 45 years.

The ruling is actually rather complex and will probably not do much immediately to protect the polar bear. Kempthorne promised that this ruling does not mean the Endangered Species Act will be used to regulate climate change. He also insisted that this ruling will not slow down the loss of sea ice, and called on the "global community" to work on climate change as a separate issue.

The ruling will also not affect oil drilling in the North Atlantic. "This rule, effective immediately," said Kempthorne, "will ensure the protection of the bear while allowing  us to continue to develop our natural resources in the arctic region in an environmentally sound way."

Kempthorne pointedly called the Endangered Species Act an "inflexible" law which does not allow any leeway in decisions depending on economic conditions and impact.

Expect plenty of feedback from conservation groups over the next 24 hours.


Why Do We Care If Polar Bears Become Extinct?

This is not any sort of revelation: Polar bears declared a threatened species , but it does raise the question: Why do we care? By some estimates, 90% of all species that once existed are now extinct and new species are always taking their place. For the species that’s going to become extinct, for whatever reason, extinction is the end of it. However, for the species that remain, is the extinction of another species good or bad? When Europeans first colonized North America, there was an estimated five (5) billion Passenger Pigeons alive and well in North America. In 1914, they were extinct. Passenger Pigeons didn’t live in little groups, but huge flocks that required extraordinary quantities of hardwood forests for them to feed, breed and survive. Deforestation to build homes, create farmland and over hunting for cheap food decimated their population. The westward drive to grow the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s was incompatible with the needs of the Passenger Pigeon and they literally could not survive in the new North America being carved out by the U.S. economy. The interesting thing about the Passenger Pigeon was the impact its extinction had on another species—man. That impact was essentially none. Man continued to find ways to feed himself through agriculture and other technologies and the United States and its citizens continued to prosper from the early 20th century till today. Whether or not Polar Bears become extinct because of Global Climate Change or other reasons, we need to address the larger question of: Do we care and why? One of the ways a nation, its citizens and the global community can answer that question is addressed by John A. Warden III in Thinking Strategically About Global Climate Change. He asks some interesting biodiversity questions in his post to include How Many Species Is the Right Number and Which Ones?

Why do we care? Why do some people have the arrogance to think that human beings are the only creatures that matter?