Three major environmental groups filed a petition last Thursday with the United States Department of the Interior to grant polar bears protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Act, the U.S. government would have to ensure that no actions jeopardizing the continued existence of the polar bears, or adversely modifying habitat critical to their survival are carried out. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and Greenpeace USA all claim that the species' continued existence depends entirely on the survival of the Arctic ice shelf which is slowly disappearing due to global warming.
Sea ice has in fact been melting at alarming rates: scientists claim that the Arctic ice is shrinking 8-10% per decade. Some scientific models even predict that the Arctic could be virtually ice-free by 2050. Ice is critical to the polar bear's survival. Without ice, their mating and hunting patterns will be severely disrupted and they must swim greater distances between ice shelves for survival. Though fantastic swimmers, some bears have already been found dead this year due to drowning -- an unusual occurrence, probably due to ice shelf scarcity.
If the U.S. government declares polar bears an Endangered Species, the bears would be the first species declared endangered due to global warming under the Act, effectively linking the polar meltdown to global warming. Environmental groups already make this correlation, but the U.S. government has yet to acknowledge that ice shrinkage and global warming are connected. This move could lead to widespread policy changes, as the U.S. is the world's largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions, the major human catalyst of global warming.
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Source: ENN.org, The Wall Street Journal
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