The following editorial first appeared in the Anchorage Daily News:
A laska's political leaders generally condemned the listing of the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
They had two main complaints. They denied the science that drove the listing, saying it was "speculative." And they predicted economic doom for Alaska, with "extreme environmentalists" and outside interests trying to tie up Alaska resource development projects in court.
Gov. Sarah Palin joined the deniers and plans to launch a legal counteroffensive. The state will file suit against the listing decision, she says, because the science is "uncertain," "unproven" and "arbitrary." She OK'd $2 million in the state budget to be used for questioning the Endangered Species Act listing.
All this oppositional energy and effort is sadly misplaced. Instead of fighting the listing, Alaska's political leaders should be fighting to reduce the threat of global warming - because the human contribution to the global warming isn't just threatening the polar bear, it's also threatening Alaskans' way of life.
Saying the science behind the listing is mere "speculation" or "arbitrary" makes it sound as if the scientists are relying on a Magic Eight Ball or reading tarot cards.
On the contrary. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, hardly a raving greenie, was driven to the listing decision by the power of the scientific evidence.
"First, sea ice is vital to polar bear survival," he said. "Second, the polar bear's sea-ice habitat has dramatically melted in recent decades."
There's no serious argument on either point.
"Third," Kempthorne said, "computer models suggest sea ice is likely to further recede in the future."
That prediction is the "speculation" that Alaska critics decried.
But that prediction is no more speculative than most modern-day science. Using evidence to make predictions is what scientists do. Funny how Alaska developers and their political allies don't complain when some scientists predict that oil development won't harm caribou or whales.
Critics of the polar bear listing are forgetting this important point: The same global warming that threatens the polar bear has already begun to inflict what will be billions of dollars of harm on Alaska. Several coastal villages are washing away. Melting permafrost jumbles up highways and plays havoc with building foundations.
Alaska leaders would be happy if we get billions in federal money to fix the damage. But that money is not going to come without a simultaneous effort to prevent global warming from getting worse. That effort would be good for the polar bear's survival, and it would be good for Alaska's people too.
As to the threat of endless litigation, it's probably overblown. Secretary Kempthorne noted "the professionals' best scientific and legal judgments (are) that the loss of sea ice, not oil and gas development or subsistence activities, are the reason the polar bear is threatened."
If the state is going to fight a legal battle, this is where it should be waged - making sure courts don't block projects whose contributions to greenhouse gas pollution are insignificant. Going to court to deny the scientifically obvious danger to the polar bear is a waste of time.
Secretary Kempthorne warned, "this listing will not stop global climate change or prevent any sea ice from melting. Any real solution requires action by all major economies for it to be effective."
That's where Alaska and the nation should put their efforts, not on legal battles where disgruntled politicians try to discredit sound science.
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.