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Bearly Rational

Polar bears are not endangered; our economy is.

By Kermit Frosch  |  May 16, 2008

In a much-anticipated decision this week, President Bush's EPA has decided to declare the polar bear an endangered species, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.

Given the cheerleading of the media and political pressure from all 'round, this shouldn't be a great surprise.  Environmentalists have long been aware of people's responses to "charismatic megafauna" - that is, cute critters which are big enough to see.

Normal voters don't give a hoot about the snail darter or the desert sand fly, but bring forth the bald eagle, sea otter, or baby seals and you're guaranteed to get what you're after.  The Austrian psychologist Konrad Lorenz determined that humans have an instinctive response of affection towards creatures with similar proportions to human infants; this is true of many popular animals, particularly panda bears.  More recent research actually shows that looking at cute animals is good for your health!  Protecting the polar bear follows in this noble tradition.

The trouble arises when we allow the government to make far-reaching decisions based, not on science, but on feelings.  None of us want polar bears to go extinct; it's entirely appropriate that we should take action to make sure they don't.

But nobody seems to be asking whether there is any danger of that.  If there were, you'd expect there to be a decreasing number of polar bears out there.

There isn't.  In fact, the polar bear population has more than doubled over the last forty years, without our listing them as an endangered species.  Some jurisdictions allow hunting of polar bears, which the Endangered Species Act wouldn't allow, precisely for the purpose of keeping the population healthy - you don't want more polar bears than there is available food for them, or the entire population will be hungry, unhealthy, and liable to succumb to disease.  Wise management has brought us many thousands more polar bears today than there were in 1960; what's the need for the change?

Listing polar bears as an endangered species, contrary to the drumbeat of the media, is not about protecting the bears themselves.  It's far more about enforcing an extremist global-warming agenda by any means necessary; bears are just a sideshow.

Environmentalists created this sneak attack because polar bears live on ice floes and Arctic ice has been melting of late.  (It's less commonly reported that Antarctic ice floes are setting new size records.)  The Endangered Species Act requires the government to note the habitats of animals on the endangered list and take whatever actions are required to preserve their habitats; this has not yet taken place, but the law allows a year to do it.

Polar bears live on Arctic ice; the ice is melting.  According to Al Gore and the media, this is all the fault of our carbon emissions; ergo, any judge can use the authority of the ESA to shut down... well, pretty much anything that pollutes.  No new legislation necessary!

As with so much of the global-warming frenzy, this is nothing more than a naked power grab.  The Endangered Species Act is famous for forbidding people to make use of their own land and requiring them to do expensive studies and habitat-protection all on their own dime.  In other words, it ignores the very concept of private property, which is a fundamental American freedom.

Imaginative private owners, being quicker out of the gate than government regulators, have developed means of defense.  The law says you can't cut down your own forest if spotted owls live there?  Then spend a few nights in the forest and ensure that there aren't any.  This is bad for the animals, obviously, but it does somewhat preserve the rights of the property owners against a demanding and unreasonable bureaucracy.

But with polar bears on the list, and the commonly held assumption that any sort of carbon-dioxide emissions contribute toward loss of their habitat, there's no way out.  We can't just kill all the polar bears, and really, who would want to?  They're cute!

Let's hope that we can find a judge as sensible as the British High Court Judge, Mr. Justice Burton, who on examining Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth ruled it to contain nine critical errors of fact, rendering it unfit for use in schools.  One of these falsehoods?

Mr Gore's reference to a new scientific study showing that, for the first time, polar bears had actually drowned "swimming long distances - up to 60 miles - to find the ice". The judge said: "The only scientific study that either side before me can find is one which indicates that four polar bears have recently been found drowned because of a storm."

For once, maybe that's an international court ruling we should pay attention to.