The Sierra Club wants you to join them. Why? To save the polar bears from oil and natural gas drilling in the Arctic, of course — despite booming bear populations and little to no evidence that polar bears are killed by drilling activities.
“For a mother polar bear and her cubs, the ice is already melting around them. The last thing they need to contend with is an oil spill,” Michael Brune, the Club’s executive director, wrote in a recruiting email. “But, that’s what they will have to contend with. We’re days away from decisions on two enormous drilling leases that could make oil drilling in the Arctic a reality.”
The Obama administration recently announced it would hold lease sales in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. Brune argues that “when you drill for oil, at some point it inevitably spills.” His warning on oil spills hurting defenseless polar bear cubs is followed up by a plea to join the Sierra Club (for a nominal fee, of course) to lobby against Arctic drilling.
But Brune seems to be arguing against the evidence. Polar bear populations are higher than forty years ago and there’s little to no evidence of polar bears being impacted at all by Arctic oil spills despite billions of barrels of oil being produced in the region.
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Oil production could pose a threat to polar bears. The World Wildlife Fund says Arctic oil drilling that can poison bears if ingested, prevent their fur from keeping them warm and destroy their habitats through development and through global warming.
But these are the potential impacts of drilling on polar bears. Polar bear experts say there is little evidence that oil development has directly harmed bear populations or even caused any bears to die.
“I have heard of no such deaths on record,” Dag Vongraven, chair of the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG), told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I have checked quickly with senior members of the PBSG, and they all concur. None know of any such deaths confirmed.”
“The risk remains but there is no knowledge of any spills that have been confirmed to influence bears at present,” Vongraven told TheDCNF.
Environmentalists often point to the plight of the polar bear when trying to protest drilling in the Arctic. Last year, about 3,000 Greenpeace protesters marched alongside a giant polar bear puppet named Aurora — which was manned by 15 puppeteers — to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling operations.
Most famously, depictions of polar bears swimming featured in former Vice President Al Gore’s global warming film “An Inconvenient Truth.” Gore’s hype about polar bears being threatened by global warming, which he blames on fossil fuel use, helped get the bear listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act — the first animal to be listed due to global warming.
But limits on the hunting and trading of polar bears have actually helped their population grow over the last forty years.
Current estimates put the global polar bear population between 20,000 and 25,000 bears, living in places like Canada, Alaska, Russia and Scandinavia. But even those estimates likely undercount the true polar bear population.
Zoologist and polar bear expert Susan Crockford says there are likely thousands more than official estimates claim. This is because PBSG numbers don’t include numbers from five major polar bear subpopulations. Crockford says “it appears there are probably at least another 6,000 or so bears living in these regions and perhaps as many as 9,000 (or more) that are not included in any PBSG ‘global population estimate.”
There is also evidence that polar bears have been a genetically distinct species for one million years, meaning they have survived warm periods of shrinking ice coverage as well as periods of high ice coverage. This runs up against claims made by environmentalists that polar bears are facing an unprecedented threat from global warming, which could allegedly leave the Arctic ice free at some point.
“It seems logical that if polar bears survived previous warm, ice-free periods, they could survive another,” said Matthew Cronin, professor of animal genetics at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Cronin led a recent study which reinforced previous findings that polar bears have been around for ages.
“This is of course speculation, but so is predicting they will not survive, as the proponents of the endangered species act listing of polar bears have done,” Cronin said.
Environmentalists have become particularly active against Arctic drilling upon news that Shell will once again attempt to unlock vast oil reserves in the frigid waters off the north Alaskan coastline. The Bureau of Land Management has also promised to auction off oil leases in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. Though Obama administration critics have charged this is more of a political move.
“I wish I could applaud the administration for planning another lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “Unfortunately, this sale – like the previous one – is simply a diversion.”
“In Alaska, where the federal government controls more than 60 percent of the land, there is zero oil and gas production from federally managed lands,” Murkowski added. “And under his leadership, fully half of the 23.5-million-acre NPR-A is off limits. The results of the last lease sale in NPR-A predictably raised little interest – and for good reason.”
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