Monday, May 11, 2009

Polar Bears: Interior secretary leaves them in peril

Recently, despite a strong response from supporters and pressure from several leading conservation groups, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar chose to let stand the 11th hour ruling handed down during the Bush administration that limited protections for the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The basic crux of the problem is that by listing the polar bear as endangered (as opposed to threatened), the ESA requires that the circumstances or causes of the endangerment must be corrected. That would mean correcting global warming (previous post).

While the incremental progress of the political process can eventually get things done - as in the case of the recent developments regarding the Canadian seal hunt (previous post), in this case this is where the wheels fall off the bureaucratic wagon. It's one thing to deny a power plant that threatens an isolated butterfly or restructure a dam project because it could wipe out a small minnow - that's treating a specific endangered species with a specific contained solution. But in the case of the polar bear, to address the issues that have put the animal in peril require such a monumental societal and commercial paradigm shift that it's just too big to handle.

It was said that the ESA was not the appropriate vehicle for addressing global warming. Then what is? The Clean Air Act has been used to push forward major commercial and societal change. What legal avenue can put global warming on the front burner? With the best of intentions, we can talk about the moral imperative of climate change, talking ourselves right into extinction, but it will be the rule of law that actually gets the job done - if only we have the courage to use it.

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