The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Obama administration is “setting aside 187,000 square miles off Alaska as a ‘critical habitat’ for polar bears.”
A consequence of this is that oil and gas companies wanting to drill in the area would come under increased scrutiny and possible restrictions.
I'm a big fan of polar bears. But the danger is to the entire ecosystem, not just polar bears. Climate Change threatens pretty much all animals, including humans.
I like setting aside conservation land, and I'm also in favor of stopping offshore drilling for oil and gas. But that's not just because I'm pro-polar-bear, it's because I'm pro-life.*
I guess what I'm trying to say is that while this action by Obama will have some effects that I really like, I'm still not sure the cited rationale is a good one. In fact, I think it's the kind of politically well-intentioned act that could backfire.
This move appears to blame some very useful and important conservation on a rationale that is not compelling to many people. The political opposition will use it as fodder to claim that once again, animals are being seen as more important than people. I don't personally buy that argument, but I perceive that there are many who do.
I'd like to see those bears saved as much as anyone, but there's a risk that this particular action could trivialize what's really going on and end up being counter-productive. What we need is a serious discussion about the need to fix the real problem, which is that looming Climate Change risks a mass extinction, possibly to include humans. That problem cannot be fixed by setting aside more and more refuges.
By blaming drilling restrictions on the polar bears, we draw attention away from stronger reasons not to drill. And if we don't address those stronger reasons, it won't matter about the polar bears. All this will do is delay the inevitable. Frankly, Climate Change is such a serious threat to the planet that it probably won't be until we start to lose species in a visible way that we all start to pay attention. And if it takes losing a fine and visible species like the polar bear to make this point, I'm not so sure it would be a bad trade.
Polar bears are just the canaries in the coal mine. Creating an oxygen-filled safe-room in that coal mine to protect these metaphorical canaries from deadly gases just isn't the point. When the canary starts dying, that's a shame, but what we must do first is get out of the coal mine—or start repairing its air flow. And since I don't see us investing in any desperate NASA efforts to immediately colonize another planet, it's time we started to take care of the planet we have.
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For more information on Climate Change, see my Climate Change page.
*Relax. In calling myself “pro-life,” I don't mean the term in the sense it's been hijacked to mean in the abortion debate. Rather, I intend the more general meaning indicated by the actual component words: I want the ecosystem we live in, the system that keeps us all alive, to continue to function. And, right now, I think that ecosystem is at serious risk—that we are at risk of a mass extinction or some other highly disruptive event that threatens human society globally.