If any one particular species has come to symbolize climate change, especially in the north, it is the Polar Bear.
Today was to be a special day for the polar bear, with Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne deciding, based on a recommendation from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, whether to list the bear as threatened under the endangered species act, the first to be so designated due to climate change.
Here’s the thing: Dale Hall, director of the Fish & Wildlife service, says the issue as too complex to make the recommendation for Kempthorne to make his decision in time for today’s deadline.
One year ago, Kempthorne proposed listing the polar bear as “threatened” setting in process under the endangered species act that gives one year – that’s today – to make a final decision. Hall decided last Monday that he wouldn’t be able to offer Kempthorne a recommendation for a decision.
In September, the US Geological Survey released several reports on the issue, including one that stated two-thirds of the world’s polar bears – and the entire population in Alaska – could be dead by 2050 due to diminishing sea ice.
Of course, as has been widely reported, 2007 set records of Arctic ice melt, and many fear that a tipping point has already been crossed, with accelerating ice advancing the expected disappearance altogether of sea ice in the summer well ahead of 2050.
That’s too bad for the polar bear, because as we know the polar bear depends on sea ice for survival.
Nonetheless, Hall says he hopes to have a recommendation to Kempthorne within “a few weeks” so a decision can be made “within a month”
So what’s the harm in waiting another month to make sure the government gets it right?
Well, I’m glad you asked.
It just so happens that the US Minerals Management Service is set to auction off oil rights on February 6th (less than a month from now according to my calendar) along a section of Alaska’s northwest coast – prime polar bear habitat.
Not good for the polar bear.
Of course, if a decision is made to list the bear as threatened, that would threaten the sale of oil rights.
Just a coincidence that such a decision is delayed?
Not bloody likely.
If there is enough concern regarding the complexity of this issue to delay making a decision regarding the status of the polar bear under the endangered species act, then one would think that a mineral rights auction in prime bear habitat would be postponed until such a decision had been made.
It ‘s a double whammy for the polar bear. With the auction of mineral rights comes development and more fossil fuel gassed into the atmosphere, further exacerbating the warming in the north, further diminishing the polar bear’s habitat.
The concept of positive feedback loops is an important one in assessing the effects of climate change and is already quite evident in Arctic.
It occurs to me that another devastating feedback loop at work here: the Bush administration’s environmental policy.