Global Warming Woes Polar Bears on Thin Ice as Climate Changes

The Bush administration is to propose listing polar bears as an endangered species. The move recognizes that the bears are under pressure due to global warming.


In former United States Vice President Al Gore's climate change movie "An Inconvenient Truth," an animated polar bear is depicted swimming for its life after the polar ice cap which forms its habitat melts. Now the current US administration is reported to be recognizing that the fate shown in the movie is a real possibility.

A polar bear in Alaska in May 2006. Polar bears are under threat because of the melting Arctic ice cap.
AP

A polar bear in Alaska in May 2006. Polar bears are under threat because of the melting Arctic ice cap.

US President George W. Bush's administration is proposing to list polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act because of warming temperatures in the animal's habitat, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The proposal, described by an Interior Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity, marks the first time the administration has identified climate change as the driving force behind the potential demise of a species, the paper said.

The move is in response to fears that global warming will destroy the animal's natural habitat. "We've reviewed all the available data that leads us to believe the sea ice the polar bear depends on has been receding," the Post quoted the official as saying. "Obviously, the sea ice is melting because the temperatures are warmer."

It further quoted the official as saying officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Service have concluded that polar bears could be endangered within 45 years.

Once a species is listed as threatened, the government is barred from doing anything to jeopardize the animal's existence or its habitat. In the case of the polar bear, environmentalists hope to force the government to curb emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide that can contribute to global warming.

The move is in response to a lawsuit filed in December 2005, by three environmental groups: the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace. Their suit argued that the US government, which has been examining the status of polar bears for more than two years, was moving too slowly. By submitting the proposal Wednesday, the government would be meeting a deadline under a legal settlement with the three groups, the newspaper reported.

The much-loved giant mammals are estimated to number between 22,000 and 25,000 worldwide. Populations exist in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia.

While their population has been stable in recent years, the bears face threats from global warming, environmental contamination and potential over-hunting.

The Bush administration has consistently rejected the scientific thesis that human activity contributes to global warming and has resisted capping greenhouse gas emissions because of fears it will impact negatively on the US economy.

dgs/ap/reuters

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