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Arctic Fairy Tale
The polar bear isn't threatened, but Big Oil should be.


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The decision on Wednesday by the U.S. Interior Department to declare the polar bear a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act is a major victory for environmentalists who have been looking for a back-door legal mechanism to limit carbon-dioxide emissions.

The decision was made after nine U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) studies looked into the possibility that the polar bear might be faced with extinction late in this century. Polar bears need a sea ice environment for most of the year to thrive. But summer sea extent has been receding for the last 30 years that we have been monitoring it with satellites, and as a result, two of the 13 subpopulations of polar bear have seen population declines. The other eleven subpopulations have been stable or growing. In all, the total polar-bear population is believed to be at or near a record high — 20,000 to 25,000.

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So how is it that the eventual extinction of the polar bear has been forecast in the face of record-high numbers? Well, as in the case of global-warming projections, experts relied on computer models that predict continued global warming and continued melting of summer Arctic sea ice.

And the scientists had some help. Hollywood did their part by producing the heartwarming movie Arctic Tale, which followed a polar bear family struggling to survive on a fixed budget and without a father around to help out. Queen Latifah did her part by channeling the polar bears’ thoughts for us, since the last person who tried to interview a polar bear was eaten.

Parents did their part by taking their kids to see the movie. Then the kids pestered their parents to both pester their elected representatives and to contribute to the Save the Polar Bear Fund.

Those nice folks at the Natural Resources Defense Council also helped out by finding experts willing to say that “if” the sea ice continues to recede, the polar bears “could” end up being at risk of extinction.

But by now we all have learned that you can find an expert who will support whatever position you need to have supported. Two experts can look at the same data and come to completely different conclusions. This is perfectly normal in science because it is always easier to collect data than it is to figure out what the data are telling us in terms of cause and effect.

In fact, the only peer-reviewed paper addressing the forecasting of polar-bear population (“Polar Bear Population Forecasts: A Public Policy Forecasting Audit,” which will appear soon in the management science journal Interfaces) found that those unpublished USGS studies did not follow accepted principles of scientific forecasting. Apparently, the “peer reviewed and published” requirement that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has for its gathering of global-warming information does not apply to polar bear research.

The Inuit didn’t want the polar bear listed as threatened. They rely on the polar bear for their livelihood, and had been harvesting them at a sustainable rate. Even a former assistant secretary of the interior, William P. Horn, has warned Congress that listing of the polar bear under the ESA would be a mistake that would result in a number of negative unintended consequences.

Quite frankly, I don’t believe the activists who have succeeded in getting the polar bear listed under the ESA really believe that the polar bear is threatened. This was just one more tool that will enable a gaggle of lawyers to go after the real object of the environmentalists’ disdain: Big Oil.

And with three presidential candidates who all agree with the environmental activists, the coming months and years are looking pretty bleak for freedom, capitalism, and prosperity. Meanwhile, the polar bears will do just fine, just as they have during previous warm periods in history.

I only hope when global warming ends, and is accepted to be a largely natural phenomenon rather than manmade, that all of the regulatory mistakes we’ve made can somehow be undone.

– Dr. Roy W. Spencer is a principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He is author of the new book, Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians, and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor.



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