He’s on the cover of magazines like Time and Vanity Fair and appears on TV regularly as the image of the environmental movement. Now the polar bear could be pounding a path to your door.
Under pressure from environmentalists, the U.S. Department of the Interior must decide by May 15 whether to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act. But such protections could mean increased government control over energy and “widespread social and economic impacts” for ordinary Americans.
“The consequences of listing the polar bear will have widespread social and economic impacts without providing any more protection for the bears,” said Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) in an April 2007 news release.
Environmentalists and global warming alarmists use the polar bear as a central figure in their campaigns and the network news and other media eat it up, eager to show heart-string-tugging images of polar bears “stranded” on melting ice.
The May 2007 Vanity Fair “green” issue featured the infamous German polar bear Knut with actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio. An April 2006 Time magazine cover showed a bear seemingly stranded on a piece of ice.
A Jan. 20, 2008, global warming special on CBS reported the bears “may be headed toward extinction.” Host Scott Pelley, the same reporter who compared global warming skeptics to Holocaust deniers, reported that researchers are finding polar bears thinner and weaker, with less time to stock up on fat reserves because ice sheets are melting too fast.
“The bears are unlikely to survive as a species if there is a complete loss of ice in summer, which the Arctic study says will happen by the end of the century,” he said.
Pelley featured polar bear researcher Nick Lunn, who reported that the population of bears in the Western Hudson Bay has declined in the last decade, from 1,200 in the mid-1990s to about 1,000 today.
But neither Lunn nor Pelley put the numbers in any context. They didn’t mention that the total polar bear population was estimated at 5,000 in the 1970s; it is closer to 25,000 today. And they didn’t mention studies showing that while the Western Hudson Bay population is seeing some decline, other polar bear populations are stable or even increasing in size.
A 2002 study by the U.S. Geological Survey – the same organization that in September 2007 predicted two-thirds of the polar bear population will be gone by the middle of this century – reported that “populations may now be at historic highs.”
But Pelley and others in the media prefer to repeat climate change alarmists’ claims that polar bears stand to suffer major losses if world governments don’t step in to curb global warming and reverse the melting of sea ice.
ABC’s Sam Champion told “Good Morning America” Feb. 8, 2008, that a two-degree increase in global temperatures would make “polar bears struggling to survive.”
On Nov. 6, 2007, NBC “Today” show co-host Matt Lauer said the bears “are facing an epic struggle for survival.” Reporter Kerry Sanders warned that “If the Arctic ice continues to melt, in the next 100 years, the U.S. Wildlife Service says the only place you’ll find a polar bear on Earth will be at the zoo.”
Kate Snow called polar bears “the newest victims of global warming” on the Sept. 9, 2007, ABC “Good Morning America” broadcast. The same segment featured U.S. Geological Survey scientist Dr. Steven Amstrup saying the bears “could be absent from almost all of their range by the middle of this century.”
Some in the media have even acknowledged they get so caught up in using polar bears as a flashpoint for global warming alarmism that their activism trumps reporting. On March 28, 2008, a National Geographic photographer acknowledged that environmentalists – himself included – misrepresent images of polar bears to further their cause.
“I realize what I need to do is try and tell these stories through National Geographic magazine by using animals such as polar bears to hang this campaign on, to say that if we lose sea ice in the Arctic, and projections are to lose sea ice in the next 20 to 50 years, we ultimately are going to lose polar bears as well,” Paul Milkin said on ABC “Good Morning America.”
Milkin acknowledged that one picture that seemingly shows a polar bear in distress was actually a result of his zeal. “It was just a moment where I was not thinking clearly,” he said. “I was 10 feet away, lying on my belly, and this bear is shaking water. And he was just, he took a lunge at me, basically. But as [it] lunged up and was coming down on me, the ice broke and got away. And my first thought was, I knew I had the shot, so I was really excited that this shot would help tell the story that I want to tell about melting ice.”
Where’s the Threat?
The common network angle on polar bears is similar to the position environmentalists take. An animated scene from former Vice President Al Gore’s Oscar-winning movie “An Inconvenient Truth” shows a polar bear drowning because it tired from swimming in search of ice that had melted due to global warming.
In an Aug. 14, 2007, segment on the CBS “Evening News,” reporter Daniel Sieberg parroted Gore’s claim saying, “Less ice also means the polar bears spend more time in the water, sometimes for so long they drown.”
But swimming up to 100 miles is “no big deal” for polar bears, according to Polar Bears International, a group dedicated to polar bear conservation. And drowned polar bears that Gore referred to in his movie turned out to be victims of a storm, not a lack of ice.
Nonetheless, environmentalists say thinning ice poses a big risk to polar bears, based on predictions of how ice will melt and how polar bears will react.
“Loss of Arctic snow pack and the thinning, disappearance and moving offshore of the sea-ice pack all reduce essential polar bear habitats,” the left-wing Defenders of Wildlife says on its Web site. “Loss of sea ice leads to higher energy requirements to locate prey and a shortage of food. This causes higher mortality rates among cubs and reduction in size among first year cubs and adult males.”
But those predictions are often based on studies of the Western Hudson Bay community of polar bears, one of about 19 groups. That population has lost somewhere between 200 and 300 bears in the last decade, but activists and the media often ignore the other populations, many of which are stable or growing.
In a 2006 news release announcing the Department of Interior would consider further protecting polar bears, the department acknowledged that “Alaska populations have not experienced a statistically significant decline, but Fish and Wildlife Service biologists are concerned that they may face such a decline in the future.”
“For the most part, polar bear populations have increased or remained stable under the current regulatory regime,” Dr. Mitchell Taylor, the manager of wildlife research for the government of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, said in an April 2006 letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
In a letter to The Toronto Star in May 2006, Taylor wrote that “of the 13 populations of polar bears in Canada, 11 are stable or increasing in number. They are not going extinct, or even appear to be affected at present.” He called it “silly to predict the demise of polar bears in 25 years based on media-assisted hysteria.”
Hardly a global warming “denier,” Taylor wrote in his letter to USFWS that “it is appropriate to be concerned about the effects of climate change, development, and contaminants on arctic wildlife, including polar bears. However, the Center for Biological Diversity and associated interest groups … do not acknowledge the existing research and management structures and initiatives in place to ensure that polar bear populations persist in perpetuity.”
Even Polar Bears International, the non-profit activist group that seeks to protect polar bears, only rates five of the 19 populations as “declining.” Another five are categorized as “stable” and one is “increasing.” Other populations were categorized as “data deficient,” meaning not enough data was available to analyze.
Taylor went so far as to say the real problem might be too many polar bears. “People who live here have a pretty good grasp of what that is like to have too many polar bears around,” he wrote.
In their obsession with cute ’n’ cuddly polar bears like the cub Knut, born in the Berlin Zoo in late 2006, the networks rarely focus on the dangers polar bears pose to humans living in the same regions. Knut grew up and lost his charm. Visitors to the zoo are protected by six inches of glass, and even former handlers dare not get too close to the dangerous beast.
Villagers in Arctic regions must carry guns to protect themselves from polar bear attacks. In reporting the opening of a “global seed vault” off the coast of Norway, NBC “Today” show reporter Dawna Friesen noted there are “as many polar bears as people, in fact, which is why the guards carry rifles and road signs warn of the danger. No one’s allowed to leave the town limits without a gun.”
The Real Threat: More Government Regulation
So if polar bears aren’t drowning because of melting ice, and populations aren’t showing significant decreases related to melting ice, what is the real threat posed by the polar bear–global warming connection? More government intervention in Americans’ lives.
If polar bears are categorized under the Endangered Species Act, the Department of Interior will be granted broad powers to work with other federal agencies in protecting the bears from alleged threats, and working to solve the “problem.” Virtually anything potentially linked to global warming – energy procurement and production, carbon emissions, etc. – could warrant review and oversight by the DOI.
ESA protections have already “halted such activities as logging to protect threatened owls, commercial fishing and military activities to protect marine mammals, oil and gas development to protect wolves and grizzly bears, pesticide authorizations to protect imperiled salmon, and numerous other habitat-damaging activities that threatened a particular protected species,” according to Natural Resources and Environment, a publication of the American Bar Association.
“Ulterior motives are likely a part of the push to list the polar bear,” Ben Lieberman wrote in a Jan. 25, 2008, Web Memo for The Heritage Foundation, suggesting activists “have been trying to use existing authority to force a regulatory end run around congressional and White House inaction. The [Endangered Species Act] is one avenue for doing so.”
“The first victim of listing would be new oil and natural gas production throughout [Alaska] and in its surrounding waters,” Lieberman wrote. “It would likely put an end to any chances of opening up a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), estimated to contain 10 billion barrels of oil—nearly 15 years worth of current imports from Saudi Arabia.”
The DOI would have the power to block such advances in energy procurement and production because they supposedly would contribute to global warming, which in turn would supposedly be a threat to the protected polar bear.
“The campaign for designating polar bears as officially threatened or endangered is not really about protecting wildlife,” said Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “The larger goal is to compel regulatory controls on energy use that global warming alarmists have been unable to persuade Congress to enact.”
That’s a threat elected officials in Alaska, the state which would be most affected by the DOI decision, recognize. The state’s governor, Sarah Palin (R), opposes listing polar bears as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
In another release in October 2007, Palin said “the listing of a currently healthy species based entirely on highly speculative and uncertain climate and ice modeling and equally uncertain and speculative modeling of possibly impacts on a species would be unprecedented.” The release went on to say that “listing polar bears under ESA could actually harm many of the existing and highly successful polar bear conservation measures.”