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Posted at 08:06 AM ET, 03/26/2012

Can polar bears put climate change back on the agenda?

For various reasons, the climate crisis has disappeared from the political dialogue. This is unlikely to change in 2012, unless polar bears put it back on the agenda.

Polar bears are running out of places to live due to climate change, which is warming their habitat in the Arctic — as it is in the other cold region where they don't live: the Antarctic.  In fact, this warming is occurring even more dramatically than even some of the most dire projections, and now there is a discussion about whether we can even preserve the species.

Polar bears are potentially the kind of galvanizing symbol of man's environmental destruction that whales once were. (The world's outcry about the destruction of whales did not result in a significant effort to save our oceans, which continue to die, in large part due to increased CO2 emissions, but it did create protections). They capture our attention and imagination as dry climate science cannot. It isn't a coincidence that Coca-Cola, perhaps the world's greatest marketer, featured these magnificent creatures in one of its most famous campaigns.

The debate about polar bears’ future is currently confined to zoos and other wildlife specialists, not exactly breeding grounds — pardon me — for political foment. And even in these political obscure circles, the conversation is disheartening at times. Some of the zoos seem to see the bears as solely a good, new gate attraction, and others talk about how zoos have played a positive role in the past in reintroducing threatened species. Uh, if the North Pole ice disappears on schedule in 20 years, where will that be? Are they thinking of moving them to the South Pole and wiping out the other favorite symbol of our polar regions, the penguin?

But others understand that polar bears are — again, forgive me — the tip of the iceberg. Climate change is here, and it is going to take away things we love. The longer we wait, the more we lose.

By  |  08:06 AM ET, 03/26/2012

 
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