Paul Tullis's Grim Tidings

Bitter musings on politics and policy

Polar bear won't keep planet habitable after all

with 2 comments

So it looks like the strategy of using the polar bear’s endangered status to shut down all oil and gas drilling, grind every car to a halt, shutter every coal plant, Butterfly-Hill every timber-harvesting operation, ground every aircraft, dock every ship, and attach methane-capturing equipment to every cow in the US isn’t going to work.

That was the idea behind the Center for Biological Diversity’s groundbreaking petition [pdf] to get the Fish & Wildlife Service to list the polar bear as an endangered species. (The FWS, which with NOAA is one of two agencies with the power to protect a species under the Endangered Species Act, hadn’t listed a single creature under Pres. Bush at the time of the petition.) Interesting that the media picked up on the polar bear and not the other species the CBD petitioned for, staghorn coral—but of course staghorn coral live underwater and look like a rock. It was “certainly a creative approach,” the lawyer for the FWS in the spotted owl case of the early ’90s told a reporter I edited for a piece at the time the petition was brought, three years ago.

Since the only threat to the bear’s continued existence is habitat destruction; the Act requires habitat of a species on the list to be protected; and the bears live on sea ice that’s melting with global warming, the logic went, all GHG-producing activity in or by the United States would have to be ceased in order to comply.

Surely Kassie Siegel and her team of lawyers at the CBD knew that wasn’t gonna happen. The idea all along was to demonstrate and publicize the link between global warming and extinction and at that, I think it’s safe to say, they have succeeded.

But where does this lead? Now that the ice has been broken on just saying “fuck it” to enforcing the Act because it’s inconvenient—even massively, impossibly inconvenient to the point of absurdity, as was the case with the polar bear—I imagine industries that would like to destroy habitat of endangered animals for their own profit are examining strategies to lobby Salazar and Interior to say that the protections they must endure are an unsurmountable pain in the ass too.

Who’s next? The beluga whale (ships must detour to avoid its spawning grounds)? The chinook salmon (dam operators must truck the fish around the dams, and count the ones that make it over)? The leatherback turtle (no coastal development in parts of Oregon)? The grizzly bear (pathways for migration must be created and maintained)?

Which species do you see as protected at the expense of business interests?

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Written by ptullis

May 19, 2009 at 6:14 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Not to sound harsh, but is there a specific purpose that polar bears actually serve? What would really happen if they ceased to exist in the natural world and were only habitable in our zoos?

    Philip Leitner

    May 19, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    • I don’t know, is there a specific purpose humans serve, other than to make the planet uninhabitable for thousands of animals (like the polar bear) that are going about minding their own business? I can remember going to Lincoln Park Zoo as a child on 90-degree days and watching the polar bears boiling their poor butts off, pacing back and forth before the bars of their cages; they looked like they’d rather be somewhere else. What would happen if we were habitable only in zoos? You would be pretty bummed, Mr. Leitner. The difference is that humans have the capacity for empathy.

      Paul Tullis

      May 19, 2009 at 11:02 pm


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