The Polar Bear Shuffle

You probably heard that the Bush administration decided to open Alaskan oilfields for exploratory drilling last year, and then declared that the licenses for drilling would go on sale on Feb. 6th of this year. Meanwhile, the same department (Interior) making the drilling sale decisions has also stalled a call on whether or not polar bears are a threatened species- topical, because about 16,000 of them live in the same area that will be put up for sale. A house committee today advised the department to classify the bears before the sale, though I have no idea if that’s a binding command.

“Rushing to allow drilling in polar bear habitat before protecting the bear would be the epitome of this administration’s backward energy policy, a policy of drill first and ask questions later,” Rep. Ed Markey said at a hearing of the House (of Representatives) Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which he chairs.

An administration official in charge of investigating the endangered status of the bear isn’t arguing.

Hall has previously acknowledged there is no substantial scientific uncertainty, as defined under the Endangered Species Act, about the polar bear case. He said the volume of material from scientists and public hearings caused the delay in making the decision on whether to list the bear as threatened.

Ah, so it’s the backlog, not the facts, that prevent the administration from going forward with the assessment. I see.

Polar bears are scientifically proven to be adorable, especially when they are branded and marketed, as Berlin’s zoo’s Knut has shown. Now that Das Eisbaer is big enough to look more like one of those head-ripping-off bears instead of an awkward fluff ball, his star might be fading. Fortunately the Nuernberg Zoo is filling the gap with Flocke, the one cub rescued from a total of three born to two different mothers. One mother ate her two babies, and Flocke looked to be in similar danger from her own mother, so she’s being hand-reared now. Adorable!

Just as those squeezable stuffed Knuts are a proxy for the real predatory, baby-eating deal, the objection to beginning drilling in Alaska because of polar bear populations is a proxy for larger questions on global warming and fossil fuel use. Sad, that these bears are projected to die because of melting sea ice due to global warming caused in significant part by fossil fuel emissions, and we’re invading their homeland to drill for more fossil fuels to burn to create emissions to, well, you know. The drilling will go ahead with an estimated 1/3-1/2 chance of an oil spill, according to the participating drilling companies. Last time I checked in real places, this isn’t an acceptable rate of failure, but it’ll do for drilling in wildlife refuges!

The drilling will reduce our dependence on foreign oil which I think is great, but it won’t do a lick to reduce our dependence on oil, which I find to be totally lame, and it puts me off the whole idea. You may argue that renewable energy sources are just too expensive to substitute right now, and that’s correct, and it will continue to be correct until we actually invest serious time, money, and government attention in those sources. There’s a fun catch-22 for anyone who sees the irony in “free” markets.

Anyway, fuzzy as bears are, I think this story would be more compelling for me personally if penguins were threatened. They don’t eat their babies, but they do vomit in their mouths! Awwwww!

8 Responses to “The Polar Bear Shuffle”

  1. 1 Marianne January 18, 2008 at 12:00 am

    Based on my statistical modeling of how prolonged the “aww’s” are when a sample group of women are shown images of polar bears versus penguins, I’m forced to conclude that while penguins increase the cuteness factor of an icy landscape by 27%, polar bears account for a significant 50% increase in cuteness.
    Still, these are mere preliminary models. Further testing will be conducted to determine the effect of watching both species engage in frolicsome behavior versus still photographs.

  2. 2 satiricalobservations January 18, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Polar Bears are in no danger, the Coca Cola commercials show how adept they are at adapting to the modern world. Besides if God wanted them to survive then he wouldn’t make them only able to live in cold weather. By that same token he wouldn’t have put oil under the land that they live. If the Arabs have to change their way of live so too do the bears of the polar regions.

    Also for future attempts at humor, please leave it to the professionals. Nothing is more pathetic than someone who is not funny and trying to demean someone else’s point of view by attempting to be funny. Then again the biggest joke in the country Presidential Candidates of the Republican Party.

  3. 3 virescent January 18, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Another awesome thing about penguins is they fit right in the freezer, but with polar bears you have to cut them into steaks first. Actually, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

  4. 4 Marianne January 18, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    I hope that S.O. was the only one who took offense at my comment. It was not my intention to demean your point of view. But I am a vocal proponent of the fact that polar bear cuteness trumps penguin cuteness.

    You shouldn’t extrapolate from your own actions that the rest of us seek out blogs we disagree with in order to mock them with poorly executed attempts at satire.

  5. 5 Marianne January 18, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    On a more discussion-oriented note, the governor of Alaska has opposed listing polar bears as endangered species, due to the success of past and current policies which increased the polar bear population in the last 40 years. Her op-ed is here:
    Two things to note while reading it. The first is that she is considerably closer to the attempts to protect polar bears than most of us and probably knows a considerable amount. On the other hand, it’s clearly in the best interests of her state to allow more oil drilling.

  6. 6 virescent January 19, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Mari, I interpreted Satob’s remarks as referring to his own attempts at humor. In that light, they were highly amusing.

    The Alaskan governor probably knows a great deal about the efforts there, and it bothers me that she doesn’t discuss any of them in her article. I’m sure the drillers and the wildlife preservation people can come to some agreement that will keep the wildlife away from the pipelines and safe from the very likely spills, to prevent immediate risk to them from drilling in their habitat. As for the longer-term risk of global warming fueled by fossil fuels melting other crucial bits of their habitat, well. One thing we’ve hopefully learned from the global warming debate is, just because a political figure claims insufficient evidence in a completely unreferenced op-ed, that doesn’t mean there actually is insufficient evidence. As cited in the news articles in my original post, Bush administration officials have said in this case that there is good evidence to be concerned about habitat reduction for the bears from global warming. If they can say it, there must be very, very good evidence.

    She is caught in a tough position, because drilling will give money to her state, but if there is no drilling, fossil fuels from other sources are still going to be continued to be burned at greater rates anyhow, endangering her polar bears while not allowing her more funding to continue protecting them.

  7. 7 Bruce January 20, 2008 at 11:11 am

    It is so sad to see people who only look at one side of an issue to base a position. Their are a number of environmental groups claiming the demise of the polar bear if drilling continues or we keep making green house gas.

    If you research, you will find that their are groups that are actually in the field and evaluating the condition of polar bears and from their perspective, the population is increasing even though some areas have seen a slight decrease.

    Global warming, hmmm. lets see, the latest report shows that the earth reached it peak (highest average temperature in 1999. The studies also point to the fact we are at the end of a global warming cycle of the earth adn the rest of the planets in our solar system (huh, you mean they have global warming on Mars? Yep, the American rovers have contributed significantly to this I am sure).

    A number of studies actually point to the fact that we are about to enter into a period of global cooling? Have you noticed the global warming alarmist are no calling it Global Climate change? I wonder why?

    Try researching some of the facts I have inferred here. You may be surprised at what you find. Real scientist versus committees made up of selected scientist and politicians. I am always cautious of things decided in committee, often their is an agenda. Note, Al Gore makes several hundred thousand dollars per speaking engagement on Climate Change and is making over 15 million dollars a year doing this. He has also created a business that the rich pay into to buy carbon credits to off set their use of their big jets and stuff.

    Evaluate the motives of people that claim we are doomed.

    The facts: the world population is growing. Population densities are increasing (in some areas dramatically). Just how much or how large can the Earth support and continue? What are we doing about this? To me, this is a very significant problem. This problem causes all other problems. If we do not start killing each other soon, I am sure the world will die. 😀

  8. 8 virescent January 20, 2008 at 12:37 pm


    Please actually read my commentary on the topic. I have already said that the bears and the drilling can coexist, if proper measures are taken, so I’m not sure what your commentary refers to.

    As for your chiding that global warming doesn’t exist, well. I can only refer you to the work of the 4,000 real scientists for the IPCC, who have compiled thousands and thousands of studies by other real scientists. An article from the BBC ( explains how their climate change review process works. Their 2007 study concluded, based on the largest comprehensive study of hard science and climate models from all over the world, that climate is changing, and that the actions of humans are part of the reason why climate is changing. The article contains a link to another article about the limitations of the IPCC’s work, but that article also concludes that the IPCC data is the best we have. If the IPCC doesn’t do it for you, too bad: there is no better authority supporting either side of the climate “debate”. You are free to believe as you wish, but please consider the known facts before you enter the fray.

    You have inferred much from your cursory reading of the facts and opinions I present here, I see. From your comments, I can only assume that you have concluded that I am a climate change radical, intent on spreading fear and ignoring facts, in order to spread my desire for a return to the Stone Age, or a serious Modest Proposal. That is very plainly not the case, so double-check your assumptions before you accuse me of extremism.

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