White House twitters; polar bear suffers
Well, you know Twitter has gone mainstream when the White House jumps onto the twittering bandwagon. On May 1, the White House start twittering, showing yet again how Prez Obama and his administration have embraced social media. The first tweet was about swine flu A(H1N1) and directed Americans to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website to get further information. Twenty-five Federal agencies now have their own YouTube channels and 30 agencies of joined Facebook. The CIA is on Facebook (this would sure fuel the conspiracy theory that Facebook is a government-funded project).
But whilst Obama is trying to connect with citizens and make the business of government more transparent, he’s not embracing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The US Department of Interior listed the polar bear as an endangered species. It’s projected that there will be a 30% decline in sea ice by 2050, which will leave poor polar bears swimming aimlessly for kilometres looking for an ice floe to rest on (if there any polar bears left that is). The ESA required the US government to do something to protect polar bears – and that something would be the control of carbon emissions. But the Bush Administration limited the ability of the ESA to curb green house gases and Obama promised to review this dodgy ruling.
I had hoped that Obama and his Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, would tackle this issue. After all, Obama recently signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act 2009, placing more than 2 million acres of public land in nine states under Wilderness Act protection and giving Salazar’s department authority to protect wild public lands and natural resources. Of course, Bush – in his final hours as Prez – was pushing harmful polices and regulations through that favoured Big Oil and Big Business at the expense of the environment and species. Just check out the shameful list here.
So thumbs up to Obama for signing the new Act but thumbs down for following Bush when it comes to polar bears. Full protection for the polar bear ‘aint happening under Obama. On May 8, Salazar (who was a rancher) announced that the Bush rule would remain in place because the ESA should not be used to curb carbon emissions. He says: “When the ESA was passed, it was not contemplated it would be a tool to address the issue of climate change. It seems to me that using the Endangered Species Act as a way to get to that global warming framework is not the right way to go”.
Salazar is taking a limited view of the ESA – that it’s there to protect local species, so stuff any dangers to globally endangered species. This would have been an opportunity for Obama and his administration to take a global lead when it comes to global warming and endangered animals. But they’ve squandered this opportunity by following the Bush administration argument. A US wildlife official says:”From a scientific standpoint they’re wrong. By doing this, the Obama Administration is missing a chance to tell the American people what global warming is doing to their wildlife.”
What Obama’s Interior Secretary is saying is that scientists will be limited to looking at the habitat of polar bears in Alaska but cannot take into account greenhouse gases that are cooking the planet and threatening sea ice. So emissions from some coal plant in the US, for example, cannot be tied directly to the rapid decline in sea ice habitat for polar bears. The irony is that during the press conference to announce this decision Salazar said:”The single greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of Arctic Sea ice due to climate change”.
I’m disappointed in this decision. I think that Obama had an opportunity to widen the debate and have scientists examine the causal link between greenhouse gas emissions and the melting of sea ice. I think the ESA could have been used as a framework to start capping carbon emissions. But if the Obama administration and Salazar think that the ESA is not the appropriate tool, then what actions will be taken to save the polar bear? The clock is ticking.