In 2008, the U.S. government placed the polar bear on the threatened species list because of the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice, becoming “the first to be designated as threatened because of global warming.”
But in 2008, media mega-star Sarah Palin was still the governor of Alaska. Fearing that protecting the polar bear would “cripple oil and gas development” off Alaska’s coasts, Palin — a well-worn climate science denier — sued the government to remove the species from the list. Palin pointed to the high population of polar bears in 2008 and dismissed climate models that predict continued loss of sea ice as “unreliable,” “uncertain,” and “unproven.”
But U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan backed the government scientists’ finding this week “that global warming is threatening the survival of the polar bear.” In a 116-page opinion, Sullivan dismissed Palin and hunting groups’ arguments as “nothing more than competing views about policy and science” and ruled on the side of science:
Notwithstanding a handful of references to uncertainty that appear in record documents, Joint Plaintiffs have failed to persuade this Court that FWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] implemented the ESA [Endangered Species Act] “haphazardly.” Accordingly, the Court concludes that FWS did not act arbitrarily in relying on and drawing reasonable conclusions from the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] reports and climate models in making its listing determination for the polar bear.
Under the judge’s ruling, the polar bear is still listed as “threatened,” not “endangered,” on the endangered species list. The U.S. Justice Department stated yesterday that “it was pleased that the court agreed with its argument that the decision was based on the science available at the time.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, however, noted after the decision that “even if polar bears could be considered only threatened in 2008, they are clearly endangered today.” While the estimated population of Arctic polar bears in 2008 stood at 20,000 to 25,000, the U.S. Geological Survey predicted that “two thirds of the world’s polar bears will disappear in the next 50 years because of a decline in Arctic sea ice.” Indeed, “climate change has turned some polar bears into cannibals as global warming melts their Arctic ice hunting grounds.”
Regardless of the facts, Palin said in a 2009 op-ed that she “took a stand against politicized science” in this case and “stood by my view that adding a healthy species to the endangered list under the guise of ‘climate change impacts’ was an abuse of the Endangered Species Act.”