Threatened by Warming

Sunday, January 7, 2007

THE BUSH administration has done everything in its power to do as little as possible about climate change. Yet the reality of global warming has a way of intruding even on the most willfully heedless of politicians. Not even an administration dead set against mandatory curbs on carbon emissions can deny that the habitat of the polar bear, as Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne put it the other day, "may literally be melting." In response, the administration is proposing to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Such a listing would have symbolic and practical importance. Polar bears live most of their lives on sea ice, which is diminishing in an Arctic region warming much faster than more temperate regions of the globe. A formal designation, following a lengthy period of comment and analysis, would acknowledge that the law compels action at least to mitigate the effects of global climate change. What's more, it's hard to see how one could act to preserve polar bear habitat without taking steps to reduce fossil fuel consumption and slow the rate of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

The administration proposed the polar bear designation only after environmental groups petitioned for it and then sued to force a decision. Still, when confronted with the need to make a decision, it made the right one -- and thereby set the stage for action down the road. Cuddly, loveable animals -- even ferocious ones that can kill a seal with a single blow of a monster-strong paw -- have a way of precipitating steps that non-furry creatures just can't manage. Unfortunately, the threat to these majestic giants of the North is all too real.

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