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Impact: New York Times Features EPW Polar Bear Report
February 1, 2008

Posted By Marc Morano - Marc_Morano@EPW.Senate.gov - 3:43 PM ET

Impact: New York Times Features EPW Polar Bear Report

[See also the U.S. Senate Minority Report released January 30, 2008, "U.S. Senate Report Debunks Polar Bear Extinction Fears" - Link ]   

The New York Times reported this week on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) Minority report debunking fears of polar bear extinction. John Tierney's January 31 article, titled "Polar Bears and Seer Suckers," called the EPW Minority's report "persuasive at debunking the predictions of polar bears going extinct this century."

Tierney noted that polar bear extinction fears are "being stoked to build support in the U.S. for listing them as a ‘threatened' or ‘endangered' species even though it's not clear that their overall numbers are declining." (LINK)

Tierney noted that the EPW Minority's polar bear report featured "one very hard piece of evidence that casts doubt on the doomsday predictions: a polar bear jawbone that appears to be at least 110,000 years old, meaning that polar bears have survived eras with considerably warmer temperatures than today." [Note: For more on the discovery of an ancient jaw bone which "confirms the polar bear was a morphologically distinct species at least 100,000 years ago" and thus survived past warming periods, see - LINK]

"The report points to, among other sources, an amusing analysis of the polar-bear predictions conducted by three researchers, including J. Scott Armstrong of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Armstrong, the editor of a standard text, ‘Principles of Forecasting,' is the originator of what he calls the Seer-Sucker Theory: ‘No matter how much evidence exists that seers do not exist, seers will find suckers,'" Tierney wrote.

"Dr. Armstrong and his coauthors, Kesten C. Green of Monash University and Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, conclude that the most influential forecasts of polar-bear populations violate at least 73 of the 90 relevant principles of scientific forecasting," Tierney wrote. "They criticize the forecasters for making large extrapolations based on sparse data and questionable models, relying too heavily on a single expert, ignoring contradictory data and tailoring conclusions to fit a political goal (listing the polar bear as a ‘threatened' species)," Tierney added.

Methodology of Computer Models Challenged

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that the polar bear population is currently at 20,000 to 25,000 bears, up from as low as 5,000-10,000 bears in the 1950s and 1960s. A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey of wildlife in the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain noted that the polar bear populations "may now be near historic highs." As Tierney noted, the alarm about the future of polar bear decline is based on speculative computer model predictions many decades in the future. And the methodology of these computer models is being challenged by many scientists and forecasting experts.

Internationally known forecasting pioneer Dr. Armstrong, along with his colleague, forecasting expert Dr. Green co-authored a January 27, 2008 paper with Harvard astrophysicist Dr. Soon which found that polar bear extinction predictions violate "scientific forecasting procedures." The study analyzed the methodology behind key polar bear population prediction and found that one of the two key reports in support of listing the bears had "extrapolated nearly 100 years into the future on the basis of only five years data - and data for these years were of doubtful validity." (LINK)

"To date, there are no scientific forecasts of the polar bear population over the 21st century. Nor are there any forecasts to suggest that a decision to list them would produce benefits," Armstrong testified at the EPW hearing titled "Examining Threats and Protections for the Polar Bear," on January 30. (LINK) & (LINK)

Sea Ice Geologist Richard Glenn, the Board President of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, is a subsistence hunter. Glenn testified at the EPW hearing, "I believe that a threatened listing for the polar bear will do little to aid the polar bears' existence." (LINK)

"The proposed listing of the polar bear is not based on polar bear population levels or trends, but based on the art of modeling. There is not enough observational data as there should be for a listing. I am concerned that the listing is directed at being used as a legal tool to address climate change issues well away from the Arctic, not as a means to conserve a species," Glenn explained.

"There are many international mechanisms, laws and commissions set up to conserve and protect the polar bear. Some of these have been strengthened in recent years. In moving to the Endangered Species Act, let us not ignore those groups and activities and laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act," Glenn added.

Ocean researcher Dr. John T. Everett, a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) senior manager and past co-chair of the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Working Group 2 Polar Regions Chapter, also expressed skepticism about polar bear endangerment fears during a separate April 17, 2007 House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans.

"Polar bears have endured warmer periods than are forecast by IPCC, having evolved into their present form some 700,000 years ago (or 100,000 years ago) (or 200,000 years ago) or before the beginning of the last interglacial) and their molars changed some 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. Importantly, polar bears were likely present in some final version of their present form, during the last interglacial (130-110,000 years ago) when there was virtually no ice at the North Pole and average Arctic temperatures at that time were 5.7 to 9.5 degrees F (3 to 5 degrees C) higher than present (IPCC, 2007). This date of evolution should be determined factually, as a first step, before taking action. If polar bears survived the past interglacial, the present warming may be of little consequence. In any case, the 20 polar bear populations need to be looked at individually, in terms of their threats and adaptability, and the management systems that govern their conservation," Everett testified.  (LINK)

Political Motives Behind Polar Bear ESA Listing

Canadian Inuit people have voiced strong objections about what they called "political reasons" behind the potential listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

"Similar to their Petition action to list the Polar Bear, we once again see these environmentalist groups pressuring the US government to make a decision on the Polar Bear," stated Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit of Canada on January 14, 2008.  "And they're doing this in a very public way by using the Polar Bear for political reasons against the Bush Administration over greenhouse gas emissions, and as Inuit we fundamentally disagree with such tactics." (LINK)

During the January 30, 2008 EPW hearing, Ranking Member Senator James Inhofe called the potential listing of the polar bear as a threatened species "a classic case of reality versus unproven computer models."

"Listing the bear as a threatened species is not about protecting the bear but about using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to achieve global warming policy that special interest groups can not otherwise achieve through the legislative process," Inhofe said. (LINK)

"But the people who will suffer first under an ESA listing are the local, indigenous people in Alaska and Canada.   For example, Alaska's shipping, highway construction, and fishing activities will have to be weighed against the bear. Furthermore, the decision to list the polar bear would irreparably damage a culture," Inhofe added.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) called the potential listing of the polar bear under the ESA "unprecedented" in his testimony to EPW. 

"None of the almost 1,900 previously listed species were occupying their entire geographic range at the time of listing, yet the polar bear is readily found throughout the Arctic," Stevens said in testimony submitted to EPW. "None of the previously listed species had rising populations at the time of listing, yet the global population of polar bears has been steadily increasing for 40 years. This proposed listing is unique because it is based on mathematical models as opposed to biological observations," Stevens explained. (LINK)

"Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the proposed listing is the potential for it to undermine the ESA - our nation's most celebrated tool for species conservation. Models of climate change predict that global biodiversity may decline by 35 percent by 2050. Does this mean that we should list, in addition to the polar bear, the multitude of species that are currently abundant but may decline as a result of a changing climate? This is an unwarranted expansion in the interpretation of the ESA which could open the door for potential abuse of this law, to the detriment of species that would be affected by a weakened ESA and deviates from my original intent when I voted for this Act. But with the listing of the polar bear as threatened, the ESA would be used as a tool to curtail or eliminate the use of fossil fuels - not a goal of the ESA," Stevens said.

"Arctic sea ice has been declining for the past 200 years - well before modern industrial activity. Moreover, Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu of the International Arctic Research Center has found that the rate of melting has not changed despite recent increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," Stevens added.

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Related Links:  

U.S. Senate Report Debunks Polar Bear Extinction Fears (January 30, 2008)

Opening Statement: Examining Threats and Protections for the Polar Bear  (January 30, 2008)

U.S. Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007 (Released December 20, 2007)  

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