Save The Polar Bears?

Move over, hockey moms. Oil-bathing Alaskans must now swallow the fact that 120 million acres (187,000 square miles) off the north coast of their state have been designated as “critical habitat” for the polar bear. The new ruling, issued Wednesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), comes amid a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) concerning the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In 2008, the DOI classified the polar bear as “threatened” rather than “endangered” — a designation that would have afforded polar bears increased protections under the ESA. Instead, the DOI issued a ruling allowing the continuation of unregulated greenhouse gas emissions in polar bear habitat — in other words, “Drill, baby, drill.”

In response to the ongoing lawsuit brought by the NRDC, Greenpeace and CBD, the DOI is currently reassessing the classification and must decide by Dec. 23 whether or not to designate polar bears as endangered, as well as whether to allow offshore oil drilling in the designated habitat.

The habitat designation is a good start. But the DOI seems to be ignoring the underlying problem here — in effect, treating the symptoms, not the causes. This could be a clever attempt at a “Save the Polar Bears” PR campaign from the government while it does zilch to treat the real disease here: an obsession with oil.

Climate-change legislation has sat dormant in Congress, and the “clean energy” bills that have been proposed have contained increasingly less “clean” and more and more coal and nuclear. Hopes for a renewable electricity standard — which would require the U.S. to procure a certain percentage of its energy from renewable energy resources — have all but diminished.

Unless swift action is taken to combat global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the polar bear could be extinct by 2050, according to estimates from the NRDC. Simply designating territory in Alaska as “critical habitat” for the polar bear will not single-handedly save the species. But it is a satisfying slap in the face to anyone who’s ever chanted “Drill, baby, drill!”

To urge Secretary Salazar to protect the polar bears, click here.

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