In December 2006 the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially
listed the polar bear as a 'threatened' species, due to the
meltdown of its sea-ice habitat caused by global warming.
Unfortunately it took a lawsuit by Greenpeace and the Natural
Resource Defense Council (NRDC) to force the US administration to
put the polar bear on the list and even now its listing is a
proposal so could take another year to be made official.
But the implications of the listing go far beyond just the polar
bear. Listing under the Endangered Species Act will provide broad
protection to polar bears, including a requirement that US federal
agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorised, or funded
by the US government will not jeopardise the continued existence of
polar bears, or adversely modify their critical habitat.
"The United States has failed to lead the world in tackling
global warming. With under five percent of the world's people, we
generate more than 20 percent of the global warming pollution,"
said Kert Davies, Greenpeace research director. "We must start
cutting greenhouse gas emissions or the Polar Bear will be pushed
to the brink of extinction within our lifetime."
While the policy news for the polar bear was good, news from the
Arctic was distinctly bad. What used to be the Ayles Ice Shelf has
broken off from Ellesmere Island, Canada. The shelf was the size of
Polar bears live only in the Arctic and are totally dependent on
the sea ice. A growing body of evidence shows that the Arctic ice
is vanishing much faster than previously expected. The thick
multiyear ice has been shrinking eight to 10 percent per decade,
with some climate models predicting that the Arctic could be
ice-free in summer as early as 2040. In some polar regions, the sea
ice season has shortened as much as three weeks, and scientists
have discovered that the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming
rate - losing an area the size of Colorado - more than a million
square miles - in just the last year.
The polar bear and the melting of the Arctic are probably the
most charismatic and dramatic indicators of our changing climate.
It's going to take a lot more than the Endangered Species Act to
save the polar bear and stop dangerous global warming.
While the talk about taking action to tackle global warming
increased in 2006, there was still too much talk and too little
action from world leaders.
Carbon up, temperature up
Carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest cause of global warming,
are now rising at more than 2 percent a year. The longer measures
to reduce carbon emissions are postponed the more drastic those
measures will need to be.
As surely as carbon emissions are rising so are global
temperatures. It has already been predicted by the UK Met Office
that 2007 is likely to be one of the warmest years on record. This
is partly due to El Nino and also due to increasing carbon
What's needed in 2007 is action -- from governments,
corporations, but from all of us as well -- to cut carbon emissions
and slow rising temperatures.
Next time you leave a light burning unnecessarily, think about
the polar bears. The next time you buy a product, look at its
energy efficiency and think about the polar bears. And next time a
politician isn't crystal clear that the planet has a problem that
needs fixing, vote with your paw.
Give the polar bears a helping hand