Today the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing: “On thin ice: the future of the polar bear.” The room was full, and there was a fairly good turnout of at least eight Congressmen and women. Children were among those in attendance, their eyes wide as they absorbed the strong words that flew from all sides of the room. Some “polar bears” even made an appearance, positioning themselves for coverage on C-SPAN and holding up signs.
Chairman Markey called the hearing today to press the Department of the Interior about its decision to delay the listing of the polar bear as threatened — under the Endangered Species Act — for up to one month, and to simultaneously offer up almost 30 million acres of the Chukchi Sea — the polar bear’s habitat — for oil and gas lease sales on Feb. 6, before the decision is made. The hearing also provided a forum to learn more about the plight of the polar bear and the potential impacts drilling could have on polar bear populations. Markey called this hearing because people are paying attention; several editorials have been run in major papers in the US (Washington Post, NYTimes, LATimes, etc) regarding the status of this iconic species and our reckless oil habit – – the situation will not continue quietly if such pressure continues. If listed, the polar bear’s protection would be linked to the impacts of global warming — a first in history.
Throughout the course of the hearing it became overwhelmingly clear that the science surrounding the status of the polar bear is unequivocal. The threats posed to this great creature are tangible, quantifiable and ever increasing as we emit more global warming pollution each day. Congressman Inslee (D-WA) put it the best when he said that the polar bear is the largest canary in the largest coal mine regarding the future of our planet. And it is only with willful ignorance and habitual arrogance that we choose to ignore science for a temporary oil fix from the newly opened northern seas. Not only is drilling in the Chukchi Sea devastating for wildlife, it does nothing to help us move away from our addiction to oil.