Environmentalists Say Polar Bears off Alaska At Risk
Zulima Palacio29 December 2010
Polar bears are in trouble. Experts say if nothing changes, polar bears could disappear during the current century. The experts point to a loss of habitat; Arctic ice is melting. And there's a build up of toxic substances in the polar bears' food. Now, polar bears find themselves at the core of an environmental debate. While new offshore gas and oil exploration is planned closer to the bears, the U.S. government is preparing to enforce regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and greater protection of the nation's wilderness.
Scientists increasingly worry that the polar bear will not survive. Robert Irvin is a senior vice president at Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group.
"The predictions are that if we continue on the path we are with greenhouse gas pollution, the polar bears in Alaska will disappear in less than 50 years and that is a sobering thought," said Irvin.
Irvin was referring to the latest study on polar bears released by the U.S. Geological Survey. It says polar bears can be saved if greenhouse gas emissions are cut.
There are an estimated 22,000 polar bears worldwide. They can swim great distances and live for short periods on land. But their habitat - ArcticSea ice - is rapidly melting.
"They hunt for their food out in the Arctic ice," said Irvin. "They raise their young out in the ArcticSea ice."
Other studies show that polar bears have alarming levels of toxic substances in their bodies.
Those chemicals are mostly used in agriculture. They run off into rivers and then into oceans, where they enter currents that end up in the Arctic eco-system.
Doug Inkley is a senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation
"Unfortunately PCV levels have been found quite high in polar bears," said Inkley. "There has been at least seven polar bears in the Norway region that we reported, that had genitalia of both male and female and this may be because of the pollution."
In the past few weeks the U.S. government has acted on several measures affecting the polar bear.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to curb global warming.
Then the Interior Department designated almost a half million square kilometers in the ArcticSea and coastal areas as critical habitat.
Third, the administration decided not to change the polar bear's designation from "threatened" to "endangered." Environmentalists say the administration responded to pressure from lobbyists. The change would have allowed greater protection of polar bears and their environment.
As a result, the oil and gas industries could begin exploring new areas in the ArcticSea by mid 2011.
Richard Ranger is senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute. It represents the US oil and natural gas industry.
"Many people, not just in our industry, but in government, notably the U.S. Geologic Survey, believe there is high potential for significant amounts of oil and natural gas to be found in the U.S. Arctic Continental shelf, meaning below the sea floor," said Ranger.
Environmentalists say an oil spill in the Arctic, like the one earlier this year in the Gulf of Mexico, would spell disaster not only for polar bears but for whales, seals and other wildlife.
They say this region, frozen and dark six months of the year, has little or no emergency response equipment.
But Ranger says the oil and gas industries have been operating in the Arctic for over 40 years. He says the industry has collaborated on studies about polar bears to avoid harming them.
"We have drilled safely in that environment over a period of a number of years and believe we can do so to the satisfaction of the government, the satisfaction of the public and for the protection of the environment up there," he said.
But environmentalists say one of the last great places on earth should not be put at risk.
"When polar bears are healthy, it tells us that the environment is healthy," said Robert Irvin. "So when we protect polar bears, we are actually protecting ourselves."
Environmentalists say if the polar bear is not saved, other species will be next to meet the same fate.
1.Polar bears are currently facing great dangers, such as a loss of h_______t, and the t_______c s________s embedded in their food.
2.The threats to polar bears are mainly from the greenhouse gas p_______n, the e_______n of oil, and c________s used in agriculture.
3.In the light of the fact that polar bears’ lives are at risk, the U.S. government has a______ted ____ several measures, including r_______g greenhouse gas e________ns to c___b global warming, d_______g an area as critical h______t.
4.Also, polar bears remain to be the "t________d" species.
5.There has been a d________e going on between the oil and gas industry and the environmentalists.
6.The oil and gas industry is confident that they could d_____l for oil without h_______g the environment whereas the environmentalists hold opposite attitude toward this issue.
7.Environmentalists suggest that the health condition of polar bears directly reflects the health condition of the e_________t, which is why we should p______t polar bears.
- habitat; toxic; substances
- pollution; exploration; chemicals
- acted on; regulating; emissions; curb; designating; habitat
- drill; harming
- environment; protect