Friday, 23 May 2008

U.S. Declares Polar Bears an Endangered Species

It's official.

After years of wrangling, the U.S. Department of the Interior has declared polar bears an endangered species. As climate change causes the polar ice to dwindle, the bears' natural habitat has come under increasing pressure and it becomes more difficult for them to hunt for food.

This ruling was not a knee-jerk response to public affection for large, furry mammals. The current Interior Department leadership has not been keen to extend the Endangered Species Act to new contexts, nor to acknowledge the need for immediate action on climate change. As Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne remarked days earlier,
“When the Endangered Species Act was adopted in 1973, I don’t think terms like 'climate change' were part of our vernacular.”

However, when forced by a judge to make an objective assessment of the polar bears' predicament, the choice was clear. Again quoting Kempthorne:

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

The new ruling by itself won't lead to faster action on greenhouse gas reductions. The Endangered Species Act requires immediate remedial action if, for example, a construction site threatens the habitat of a rare plant or animal. But the link between greenhouse gas emissions and habitat loss are more indirect, and longer term. It is difficult to point to a smokestack or tailpipe and prove that cutting those specific emissions will protect the polar bears' habitat.

Nevertheless, this ruling is important. It is a formal acknowledgement from a particularly sceptical source that climate change is having a real and measurable impact on the world around us.

The debate is over. Now it's time to achieve significant carbon reductions. The Carbon Clear team will help you get started.