Lawsuits Will Save the Polar Bear


As a wide-eyed environmental idealist, I naturally assumed that it would be “the people” that got the environmental movement rolling.

polarImage by Ansgar Walk

I figured we’d succeed with some petition signing, some marches, maybe a few celebrity appearances.

I was an idiot. As an American, I should have known better. The way to win isn’t through the hearts and minds of Americans, it’s through lawsuits.

I’m only half kidding. Lawsuits really can be particularly effective political devices. That also seems to be the reasoning of the National Resources Defence Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace. They’ve filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration for missing the deadline on whether to include the polar bear in the Endangered Species Act.

The government has been delaying the decision for months after missing a January 9 deadline. Campaigners believe this is because the government wants to sell oil and gas leases in polar bear habitat, an action that would be made much more difficult should the bear be named an endangered species.

Andrew Weitzer, director of the NRDC’s Endangered Species Project, said: “The Endangered Species Act is absolutely unambiguous: the Fish and Wildlife Service was required to make a final decision months ago. Now it’s up to a federal court to throw this incredible animal a lifeline.”

Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity said: “The Bush administration seems intent on slamming shut the narrow window of opportunity we have to save polar bears.”

According to the NRDC:

“Since the petition to protect polar bears under the Endangered Species Act was first filed in February 2005, new science paints a dim picture of the polar bear’s future…Global warming is worsening, with impacts in the Arctic outpacing predictions. September 2007 shattered all previous records for sea ice loss when the Arctic ice cap shrank to a record one million square miles – an equivalent of six times the size of California – below the average summer sea-ice extent of the past several decades, reaching levels not predicted to occur until mid-century.

Shrinking sea ice also drastically restricts polar bears’ ability to hunt their main prey, ice seals. In the spring of 2006, scientists located the bodies of several bears that had starved to death. Unprecedented instances of polar bear cannibalism have also been documented along the north coast of Alaska and Canada.”

I commend the efforts of the groups. In a time when most lawsuits appear to be frivolous money grabs filed by ambulance chasing lawyers with bad TV commercials, it’s refreshing to see one that’s actually trying to make a difference.

Info from National Resources Defense Council