Polar bear decision “a rare case of science actually triumphing over politics”


The Center for Biological Diversity, which brought the lawsuit that forced the Interior Department to make a decision under the Endangered Species Act about proposing to list the polar bear as threatened, says in an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times: “This proposal marks the first legally binding admission by the Bush administration of the reality of global warming….The Bush administration could refuse only by denying the science of global warming. So protecting the polar bear was the only decision it could legally make.”

Kassie Siegel, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), an organization that is dedicated to the conservation of imperiled plants and animals, wrote in the LA Times:

Don’t wait to save the polar bear
We have to act quickly to stop the species from becoming a casualty of global warming.

By Kassie Siegel
January 8, 2007

On Dec. 27, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced a proposal to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act because of the loss of its sea ice habitat from global warming. This proposal marks the first legally binding admission by the Bush administration of the reality of global warming. The significance of the polar bear decision has not been missed by those who stand to benefit from a continuation of the administration’s head-in-the-sand approach to global warming. Once protection for the polar bear is finalized, federal agencies and other large greenhouse gas emitters will be required by law to ensure that their emissions do not jeopardize the species. And the only way to avoid jeopardizing the polar bear is to reduce emissions.

Predictably, opponents of emissions cuts are doing what they have always done: claim a scientific dispute where none exists and urge that no action be taken until the science is “conclusive.” Singing this tired tune, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal last week called the proposal to protect polar bears a “triumph of politics over science,” arguing that polar bears are “overly abundant” and that the species cannot be considered threatened until its population has further declined.

The Journal got it wrong in every respect. What is remarkable about the polar bear decision is that it is a rare case of science actually triumphing over politics, not the other way around….

CBD, along with other conservation groups, also filed suit November 14 in federal district court against the Bush administration for refusing to conduct a second U.S. National Climate Change Impacts Assessment.  The suit contends that such an integrated scientific assessment, due in November of 2004, is required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. See our November 14, 2006 post on this.

CBD is well aware of the administration’s problem with straightforward discussion of scientific findings on climate change—including suppressing the National Climate Change Impacts Assessment process, essentially ignoring the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, efforts to impede public communication by federal climate scientists—and at the top, the President’s continuing unwillingness to make a direct, honest statement acknowledging human-induced global warming. CBD’s effort in this case to force action to address the threat to the polar bear’s existence posed a direct challenge to the administration’s strategy of denial on the causes, impacts, and policy implications of global warming.

Siegel says:

From burying the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on the United States to trying to gag top NASA climate scientist James Hansen, the Bush administration has systematically attempted to suppress science on global warming.

However, the “best available science” standard required by the Endangered Species Act forbids political and economic considerations. That was the basis for the strategy of my organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, when, on Feb. 16, 2005 (the same day the Kyoto Protocol entered into force without the participation of the U.S.), we filed a petition requesting protection of the polar bear. The Bush administration could refuse only by denying the science of global warming. So protecting the polar bear was the only decision it could legally make.

Unfortunately for the polar bear, the “best available science”—in fact, the only available science—paints a grim picture….

Read the full article.

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