Save the polar bears, but don’t stop hurting them?

by Brian Clarey

This thing with the polar bears… well, it’s really pissing me off.

You heard, right? Last week Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne declared the polar bear a threatened species, and as such eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

He clearly didn’t want to do it, but those pesky laws and protocols forced his hand.

“This has been a difficult decision,” he said. “But in light of the scientific record and the restraints of the inflexible law that guides me, I believe it was the only decision I could make.”

You see, polar bears like to hunt off ice floes, nabbing cold-water seals as they poke through for air. And the sea ice up in the Arctic… well, it’s disappearing. Everybody who watches nature specials knows that.

But your boy Kempthorne tried to pull off a nifty two-step, simultaneously protecting the polar bear while refusing to acknowledge the root cause of the bear’s troubles.

It’s our cars, of course, and our coal plants and the farts of our cows and the tonnage of greenhouse gasses we belch into the air. And even Kempthorne, a former Republican governor and US senator from Idaho who holds the record for protecting the fewest species of any other secretary of the interior, a man who tried to weaken the Endangered Species Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act during his tenure in the Senate, admits that the Arctic sea ice is melting as surely as if it was swimming in a giant tumbler of scotch.

“Last year,” he said, “arctic sea ice fell to the lowest level ever recorded by satellite, 39 percent lower than the long-term average from 1979 to 2000.”

The statement was accompanied by a horrifying graphic based, he said, “on actual satellite photos,” showing that the ice platform off the coasts of Russia, Greenland and Alaska is receding faster than Bruce Willis’ hairline.

Still, it seems that Kempthorne, who called the Environmental Protection Act “perhaps the least flexible law Congress has ever enacted,” would rather believe his president than his own lying eyes. In an unprecedented move, he tacked a caveat onto his declaration, effectively saying that, yes, sea ice is melting, and yes, science says it’s happening because of greenhouse gas emissions, and no, other than declaring the polar bear a threatened species, we aren’t going to do anything about it because it may cause “unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States.”

It’s incredible really, particularly during a tough election year for the GOP, that this administration still beats the same old drum even though everyone in the nation is looking to do a new dance.

Still, Kempthorne did quite a bit of presidential ass-kissing in his remarks last week,

I have no special affinity for the polar bear, by the way, but a quick bit of research reveals it to be an amazing creature.

The polar bear is the world’s largest land predator, twice as big as a lion, and so close genetically to a brown bear that they can interbreed, though the polar bear has undergone some adaptations to its environment.

The polar bear has smaller ears, so as not to lose body heat; larger paws which distribute weight more evenly on the ice and are covered with papillae for traction on the slippery stuff; they have longer necks and muzzles, enabling it to poke through holes in the ice in the pursuit of seals. And, you know, they’re white. Like snow.

In fact, the polar bear makes a strong case for the theory of evolution – another niggling piece of science that just won’t shut up and go away.

The theory of evolution, of course, is not a “theory” in the layman’s use of the word, like saying, “I’ve got a theory about women,” but more of an established scientific fact that is accepted by real scientists worldwide and used as an empirical truth in formulating further hypotheses, like the law of gravity, or for that matter the notion that low temperatures turn liquids into solids.

As of press time, gravity was still on the books as a legitimate phenomenon. And with this declaration, the secretary of the interior has at least given a grudging acknowledgement of the fact that things are getting hot up in the arctic circle, thinning out the ranks of the polar bear. But like a developmentally disabled child or someone who has suffered a severe head injury, Kempthorne just can’t bring himself to make the causal connection between the dwindling bear population and the effects of human activity on the planet.

“[T]he loss of sea ice,” he said, “not oil and gas development or subsistence activities, are the reason the polar bear is threatened.”

As to why the sea ice is melting, he pinned it on “global influences” and did not elaborate further. And again he asserted that, though the polar bears are starving and drowning, it’s still business as usual until the clock runs out on this administration.

“While the legal standards under the ESA compel me to list the polar bear as threatened,” he said, “I want to make clear that this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting.”

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