The Magazine

The Polar Bears Are All Right

So cool it about the Arctic ice.

Apr 14, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 29 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Polar bears, on the other hand, are expected to see few benefits, even if the threat they face from warming is a matter of dispute. Lindzen flatly describes worry over polar bears as "gibberish." "Polar bears are going up in number," he says. "They're not worried; they can swim a hundred kilometers." The notion of threatened polar bear populations was recently challenged by J. Scott Armstrong, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. In an article for the journal Interfaces, Armstrong and his coauthors argued that a series of complex and "erroneous assumptions" undergird much of the research showing polar bears at risk, and they offer compelling evidence that the animals have survived far warmer conditions in the past.

Still there is a push to have the polar bear officially listed as a "threatened species." Hugh Hewitt, who practices natural resources law in addition to hosting a radio show, explained in a recent column that the move would clear a path for environmentalists to "argue that every federal permit that allows directly or indirectly for increased emissions of hydrocarbons is a federal act that might impact the polar bear." Such permits would thus be subject to a new range of environmental regulations affecting all manner of industry.

Assuming the threat to the bears from climate change is real, and that the computer models are to be believed, there may be a less costly solution. The warming of the last century has had no real effect on the ice floes of the Antarctic. In fact, the Antarctic Ocean appears to have become more favorable to the formation of sea ice over the last 30 years. Could the polar bear be relocated? In Antarctica, Rigor says, "the polar bear would have the issue where most of the sea ice is seasonal, so [with] the big retreat of Antarctic sea ice during the summer, the only place where polar bears could go is onto the Antarctic ice sheet, which probably isn't the happiest place to be."

Can a polar bear's happiness really be allowed to impede the future intercourse of mankind and the commerce of distant nations?

Michael Goldfarb is a Phillips Foundation fellow and online editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.