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Politics and the polar bear

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By Michelle Malkin  •  May 14, 2008 03:55 PM

It’s been in the works for quite some time, but now the decision is official. Polar bears have been listed by the Bush Interior Department as a “threatened” species. This is the first listing attributed to global warming.

What’s really going on here?

Kenneth Green at AEI exposes the politics behind the eco-radicals’ polar bear campaign and the consequences:

Listing the polar bear as a threatened species would have significant public policy consequences. It would set a new precedent, representing the first linkage of species endangerment with global warming. Such a listing would basically wall off the entire Arctic region to exploration, resource extraction, and development–at least by U.S. companies–and a threatened species listing would give environmental groups the ability to sue future U.S. governments to force them to reverse climate change by whatever means necessary.

There is little doubt that such lawsuits would be filed quickly. According to the NRDC:

Listing the polar bear guarantees federal agencies will be obligated to ensure that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out will not jeopardize the polar bears’ continued existence or adversely modify their critical habitat, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be required to prepare a recovery plan for the polar bear, specifying measures necessary for its protection.

The bottom line for rational cost-benefit analysts:

At present, polar bear populations are robust and, according to native people, are considerably larger than they were in previous decades. Predictions of polar bear endangerment are based on two sets of computer models: one set predicts how much Arctic sea ice will melt as a result of global warming, and the other predicts how polar bear populations will respond. But computer models of climate are known to be fraught with problems, and the ecological models used to predict polar bear response are equally limited.

Because of extreme limitations in data, it is essentially impossible to decide whether polar bears are endangered and whether their habitat is threatened by man-made global warming or other natural climate cycles. This is acknowledged by the experts themselves–the actual IUCN/SSC report is more broad in naming causes and more conservative about estimating their effects.

What we do know about polar bears is that, contrary to media portrayals, they are not fragile “canary in the coal mine” animals, but are robust creatures that have survived past periods of extensive deglaciation. Polar bear fossils have been dated to over one hundred thousand years, which means that polar bears have already survived an interglacial period when temperatures were considerably warmer than they are at present and when, quite probably, levels of summertime Arctic sea ice were correspondingly low.

In discussions of whether to drill in the Arctic, one of the arguments raised by environmentalists is that this would harm the habitats of the many creatures, including polar bears, that make their homes in Alaska. If polar bears are placed on the endangered species list, the legal hurdles to oil and gas drilling will increase. There are two subpopulations of polar bears in Alaska. One of them, the Southern Beaufort Sea population, is shared with Canada, and the other, the Chukchi Sea population, with Russia. Best estimates for these areas show approximately 3,500 polar bears total in these two subpopulations. Last year, Shell Offshore Inc. was about to start drilling in the Beaufort Sea area when a court order halted the activity on the grounds that the federal government did not thoroughly assess the environmental impact before granting permission to drill.

In petitioning against the drilling, environmental groups invoked sea ducks, whales, and, of course, polar bears, as well as the effect that drilling could have on native populations. The U.S. Minerals Management Service estimates that the area holds the potential for 7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. With oil at over $100 a barrel and natural gas at $7.60 per one thousand cubic feet, these are some very expensive polar bears.

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