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The great polar-bear crisis

Well, that’s it, then. The Al Gore Inc special-interest lobby has won another victory. The United States has declared the polar bear to be an endangered a threatened species. So from today, global waffling alarmists can cite the doomed polar bear in support of their doctrinaire opposition to energy production, industrial projects and economic development.

Care to make further strides in reducing poverty, increasing life expectancy, growing prosperity and improving quality of life? Sorry, poor pretty polar-bear cubs with small plaintive voices will stand astride history yelling: “Stop!” This is what, these days, they call “progressive”.

Yesterday’s press release was to the point:

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced that he is accepting the recommendation of US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar-bear habitat. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species.

I’ve pointed out in considerable detail before that polar bears should not be listed by any reasonable interpretation of the various criteria that apply. The motives for listing them as endangered threatened — opposition to oil exploration and pathological fear of climate change — are also quite explicitly stated by the green lobby. The only possible scientific reason for listing them (the reason cited by Kempthorne) is wild speculation about future changes in their habitat, combined with the assumption that polar bears won’t bother to adapt to their environment, if it did indeed change.

But here’s what’s really happening to the population:

The great polar bear crisis

(Studies, in chronological order, are by: IUCN, Schuhmacher, DeMaster & Stirling, Nowak & Paradiso, Watson, Garner, Truett & Johnson, Schliebe, Lunn et al, IUCN, IUCN. Background photograph is by Steve Amstrup of the US Geological Service.)

Alarmists have a nasty habit of citing the high estimate in 1996, and the low estimate in 2006, to make their case for being alarmed. This technique of carefully selecting time intervals to “prove” a dubious point by noting changes from an outlier is a very common and simple means of lying with statistics.

Given these studies, the more honest interpreter would use the longest available data series along with the most conservative estimates to guess at a doubling in the population in the past 40 years. Or, if you prefer, you can assume the early research for technical reasons to be incomplete and inaccurate, and argue that the population appears stable at worst. However, that would appear to be unnecessarily pessimistic, as this article from last year points out:

“There aren’t just a few more bears. There are a … lot more bears,” biologist Mitchell Taylor told the Nunatsiaq News of Iqaluit in the Arctic territory of Nunavut. Earlier, in a long telephone conversation, Dr Taylor explained his conviction that threats to polar bears from global warming are exaggerated and that their numbers are increasing. He has studied the animals for the Nunavut government for two decades.

Native wisdom, usually treated with great reverence by the environmentalist left, is undoubtedly a crock of self-serving lies in this case:

Inuit hunters make their own estimates of the polar-bear population based on the number of animals they encounter on their travels. Taylor says scientists have ignored the anecdotal evidence of the Inuit, who say bear numbers were rising. Inuits also report more polar bears wandering into their towns and villages, where they are a threat to children.

“I’m pretty sure the numbers [of polar bears] are climbing,” says Pitselak Pudlat, an Inuit hunter and manager of the Aiviq Hunters and Trappers’ Organisation at Cape Dorset, Baffin Island. “During the winter there were polar bears coming into town.”

(To be fair, note the chart in my earlier post, which shows growing, stable and declining populations.)

I reckon if the environmentalists are really so concerned about tiny areas of industrial activity in the vast wildernesses of the Arctic, they should just ship the fluffy little man eaters to the Antarctic. It’s uninhabited by people, full of nutritious food and the ice is getting thicker over there.

This suggestion is, admittedly, not as funny as the pathetic caveat that Kempthorne, having caved to the pressure groups, adds to his press release:

In making the announcement, Kempthorne said: “I am also announcing that this listing decision will be accompanied by administrative guidance and a rule that defines the scope of impact my decision will have, in order to protect the polar bear while limiting the unintended harm to the society and economy of the United States.”

Good luck, Mr Kempthorne. You have a polar bear’s chance in hell. Perhaps you can get a job with Al Gore’s investment company, though. The self-serving capitalists of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers certainly owe you one. Maybe he’ll let you be a roadie on his next great rock-star tour.

(First published (and since corrected) on my own blog.)