When the Interior Department, under court order, finally made a decision on May 15th to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, many environmentalists celebrated, hoping that the designation could help combat global warming, polar bears' main threat.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne dashed those hopes, suggesting that the listing can’t be used to argue for a decrease in greenhouse gases. “When the Endangered Species Act was adopted in 1973, I don’t think terms like ‘climate change’ were part of our vernacular,” he said, according to an article from The New York Times.
Even if the consequences of human-caused global warming weren’t as widely accepted then as they are now, shouldn’t the laws be adapted to fit today’s environment? The act was created to protect species no matter what the cause of their decline.
In other situations, the environmental offense that led to a species listing resulted in efforts to mitigate that threat. With the spotted owl, for example, habitat destruction was the cause of the bird’s decline, so development in the area slowed to allow the species to recuperate. So why is the case of the polar bear listing any different?
This listing cemented the polar bear’s position as the poster species of global warming, even though it may not help to reduce greenhouse gases. Still, it has stirred debate. The governor of Alaska is planning to sue the government because of the decision, suggesting that some people fear that the protections will prevent the lucrative oil and gas industry from thriving in polar bear habitat (like the Chukchi Sea) . But for now it seems that the bears, if not the Endangered Species Act, will have to adapt.