The Corner

Polar Bear in a Coal Mine

So there’s a new story out there about how polar bear cubs are having a rough time because of melting polar ice. I like polar bears. I don’t like the image of the little buggers drowning. Etc etc. 

But what bugs me about these canary-in-a-coal-mine global warming stories is that they are hyped in no small part to prod the public to adopt policies that will do nothing to save polar bears or [Insert global-warming threatened critter here]. Let’s assume that all of the assumptions behind global warming are true and let’s assume Kyoto were adopted tomorrow. What will that do for drowning polar bears searching for ice floes that don’t exist? Absolutely nothing, at least  not for a very long time. If the models on global warming are true,  it’s hardly as if curbing greenhouse emissions today will suddenly result in rapid re-freezing in the arctic. Or am I missing something?

It seems to me that if A) we believe that man is responsible for the dire plight of polar bears (or even if he’s not) and  B) we think the polar bears are worth saving and  C) we think that doing so won’t have outsized negative consequences elsewhere in the ecosystem, Why not intervene to save polar bears? Would building big, free floating docks help? Would moving polar bears and their families to different areas do the trick?

But here’s the catch-22, when you propose these sorts of things, some people complain  that you’re interfering with nature. But the whole point is that we’re interfering with nature already via global warming. If global warming, or over-fishing (a more pressing problem in my opinion) are such grave threats, it strikes me as idiotic to find a solution in simply withdrawing human impacts on the world because it’s not going to happen and even if  we could overnight leave only footprints and take only pictures, the gains wouldn’t be realized in our lifetime, at least in many respects. Enough of this Rousseauian nonsense about returning to a state of nature. If we’re going to preserve the things we like about the “natural” world, we should look at it like an engineering problem.