Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Great Polar Bear Swindle

Everyone loves polar bears. Nobody wants them to go extinct because of climate change. But as currently worded the current US Fish and Wildlife plan to list the bear as "threatened", the category that's normally followed by listing as "endangered", will do nothing to save the polar bear. I believe that listing the bear is just a swindle, a "feel-good" measure to reassure people of the Lower 48 that yes, the government is concerned with the polar bear and is somehow "protecting" it...but there's nothing in the current wording of the proposal to protect the polar bear. Not a word.

Below I describe why. Unfortunately, while my descriptive narrative of visiting the polar bear's habitat last Winter is being published as a travel piece later this year, I haven't been able to get a single newspaper to print the article (2,400-word version or 785-word version) from which the following is excerpted. No publisher, it seems, can be seen to take the position that the bear shouldn't be listed as "threatened" or "endangered"---even if such listings will do absolutely nothing to protect the species.

Excerpt from "To Save the Polar Bear" by Cameron M. Smith


Listing a species as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ is meant to force federally-backed action to preserve species habitat. But the polar bear listing proposal doesn’t do this at all. As Kieran Suckling wrote in The Albuquerque Tribune on January 9th, 2007 “[the current listing proposal] refuses to designate critical habitat areas, deeming the bear’s habitat needs ‘undeterminable’. This, after pages and pages of analysis showing that polar bears need sea ice. Worse, the proposal steadfastly refuses to identify the cause of global warming. The words carbon, emissions, and greenhouse gas do not appear anywhere. It’s as if the Arctic ice just decided to up and melt itself.”


Since the currently-worded listing couldn’t force federal action on the core issue of sea ice retreat, and because the bear is already effectively protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Iñupiat believed that listing was a toothless ‘feel-good’ measure that would only mislead the public into thinking that something was being done about the polar bear and global warming.


Since the Supreme Court ruled on April 3rd, 2007, that the Environmental Protection Act can be used to regulate greenhouse gas emissions via the Clean Air Act, there is hope—but only if the listing proposal is reworded such that it attributes sea ice retreat to human activity (via global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions), a position supported as recently as last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
If this link isn’t made, listing of the polar bear will do nothing to save it.


The decision on listing the bear has been postponed for about a month. If you'd like to hear what Mayr Itta, of Alaska's North Slope Borough thinks about polar bears and listing them as "threatened" or "endangered"--and remember, he represents many natives who lives on the same land as the bear, breathe its same air, and trek and hunt on the bear's same snowscapes--you can hear his statements to the US Fish and Wildlife which I videotaped in Barrow, Alaska, in February 2007 (below): if you don't want to watch the whole thing, his most important statements are around 4:30 seconds in (drag the slider over to find that time):

Photo at top: polar bear claw exhibit at a museum.

(c) 2008 by Cameron McPherson Smith

Monday, January 14, 2008

It Doesn't Have To Be Cold To Be Cold

It was 37F this morning, and I just about froze solid waiting for the streetcar. Although I've lost track of the time I've spent in subzero temperatures, shivering through days and nights, feeling cold is feeling cold. I don't care if it's 50F; if I'm in a t-shirt and it's 50F and it's raining, I'll go hypothermic in a few hours like anyone.

The sensation of deep cold is that of a vast absence, the Earth's blanket stripped off, the void of space reaching down to sear and to cripple. Cold is not malicious, but these are its effects on the human frame.

Last winter on Alaska's north shore the cold almost crippled my hands; after a day of hauling my sled, wearing an experimental insuation system (photo above; it didn't work so well in this case), my hands were no better than claws, and I was barely able to set up my tent and crawl inside to set up the stove and rewarm.

I'd broken the first rule of staying warm, which is to stay warm; if you feel a little cold, do something about it. Your body isn't lying to you, it's pleading with you. Listen to it. Stave off cold space for a little longer. Insulate yourself. Headbanging through the cold will only work for a little while. After all, you're resisting the enormity of space, which, if left unattended, will draw every calorie of heat from your body.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Toppled Giant

I love living in a place where people mourn the passing of good old trees. An email from Linfield College, where I'm setting up an archaeological field class for Summer 2008, about the fall of a grand old giant (photo above).

From: Fred Ross [mailto:fross@linfield.edu]
Sent: Tue 1/8/2008 4:51 PM
To: all-macempl@linfield.edu; all-ptdempl@linfield.edu
Subject: The Old Oak

Dear Friends -

I am writing with the sad news that, today at 1:35 pm Pacific time,
Linfield's Old Oak tree just toppled over. We in the President's Office
heard a loud crash sounding quite a bit like thunder, but very quickly
could see that the sound was the falling of this venerable symbol of our
College. As you have probably heard, some pruning had been done recently
to the Oak to cut out diseased wood, and plans were under way to add new
supports for its lower limbs. We've had very wet weather with lots of wind
and some snow, but today was a typical McMinnville winter day - gray and
wet, with light winds. What finally caused the Oak to fall I can't say,
although the base of the tree is now clearly visible and not many large
roots remained.

Tom Hellie is returning from a trip to the east coast this evening: I
notified him of what has happened as soon as I could. We plan to save as
much of the healthy wood as possible, and discussions have begun about how
to preserve that wood. In the meantime, we mourn the passing of a giant.

Fred Ross