How does one respond to that without coming off like a total yahoo? Hmm, let's think. “Not me, I just want to make lots of money.”? “Now, now, don’t you worry your pretty little head about the polar bears–they’ll be just fine.”? “Oh, I’m sure natural selection will toughen them up in plenty of time.”? Although most environmentalists delude themselves into thinking their concerns are grounded in science, arguing science with them soon reveals they are in the grip of a very passionate fundamentalist faith. They no more want to hear encouraging news about polar bears than a fundamentalist Baptist preacher wants to talk about forgiven sins. There seems to be no answer other than “Indeed”.
Anyway, she should worry no more because none other than George W. Bush is on the case, taking some well-deserved time off from promoting freedom and democracy worldwide in order to direct his awesome powers to saving the cute and cuddly little things. Now, if I were a polar bear, I might worry that GWB’s support would cause every leftist in the world to buy a shotgun and join the annual hunt, but that’s unlikely to happen. The one issue that always seems to unite Americans and Europeans of all political stripes is the urgent need to save the Canadian wilderness.
The Euros, having long since destroyed their own wilderness, can be positively splenetic about this, as is revealed today in The Independent, a leftist broadsheet that can make The Guardian look like the Wall Street Journal. Here is their voice of dispassionate reason on the subject:
Starving polar bears are presenting an unprecedented challenge to George Bush's refusal to take action over global warming - and may succeed where environmentalists and other governments have failed in getting him to curb pollution.
Despite the President's obdurate stance on climate change, the US administration last week took the first steps towards officially listing the bear as an endangered species. The Arctic ice on which the iconic animal lives is melting away as the world heats up and, if the listing is finalised, the Bush administration will be obliged to modify its pollution policies to try to save the bear.
The move comes as the President faces attack for the first time over global warming from some of his strongest allies. Evangelical Christian leaders last week took out TV ads urging action, while, in Britain, Tony Blair has warned that the world has less than seven years to get to grips with climate change....
The centre believes that the rate of retreat is accelerating. Worse still for the bears, the melting is starting earlier, depriving them of seals in the spring, when they have always stocked up on food to see them through the summer.
In desperation, more and more polar bears are swimming to land, and marauding through towns and villages. Made fearless by hunger, the half-ton animals have even broken into houses in search of food. One killed a 15-year-old girl in the far western Russian Arctic, while children in the northern Canadian town of Churchill are being taken to school under guard. There is even evidence from north-east Russia that polar bears have taken to eating their own species.
This is not the kind of hysteria that invites an informed response. I doubt the editor would thank me for pointing out polar bears have always marauded in Churchill in the fall and children have always been kept indoors and bussed door-to-door. That’s why the town is famous. (As to those savage Russian bears, what do you expect–they’re Russian!) Or that wildlife biologists on the ground do not share the panic. Polar bears do not stock up on food. No one wants to hear that, while bear counts have fallen in one or two populations, they are rising in numerous others. The fact that the worldwide polar bear population may be at an all time high is presumably of little interest. No, the urban West is on a self-righteous roll, just as it was with caribou herds, fur-trapping and seal-hunting. As with those campaigns, the current polar bear panic-fest will probably have little or even a detrimental effect on the Arctic ecology, but it will cause hardship and further social pathologies in northern communities.
Perhaps that is the only answer I could give the lady in the bookstore, that the future of Inuit children and their communities hangs in the balance, that unfocussed wildlife protection can harm both people and wildlife (viz. Africa), that the issue is extremely complex scientifically with much we don’t know and that her single-minded focus on saving predatory animals she has never encountered may do them more harm than good and keep the Inuit mired in poverty and welfare dependancy while doing little to save the bears. “That’s the rub”, I would thunder, “Will you not think of the children?”
But I’m afraid no matter how cogently I put all that, she would still see me as an insensitive yahoo, which is why I would take care to add that I can’t sleep at night for worrying about the koala bears and the Great Barrier Reef.