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September 17, 2008

A Polar Year

Polarmeltdown
Photo: Arne Naevra

by Sara Tucker

When Norwegian photographer Arne Naevra entered this picture in the London Natural History Museum's controversial Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the question of whether to list the polar bear as an endangered species was still the subject of hot debate in the U.S. In May, the bear was officially added to the ranks of the threatened. Meanwhile, four months after Naevra's photograph was chosen as runner-up for the One Earth Award, which honors images that "demonstrate the power and resilience of our planet," the contest's sponsor placed a record-breaking bid for drilling rights in Alaska's Chukchi Sea. The sale, opposed by environmentalists, opened 30 million acres of polar bear, walrus, and whale habitat to oil and gas companies. Friends of the world's 25,000 or so remaining polar bears filed suit, generating enough support to win legal protection--for Shell and the six other oil companies involved in the sale. Summer gifted the Arctic with unprecedented melting of sea ice, as well as a record number of tourists, lured in part by doomsday predictions. In early June--as countries scrambled to lay claim to Arctic oil reserves and opponents of the bear's new status gathered their forces--a lone polar bear swam over 200 miles through Arctic waters before reaching the coast of Iceland, where it was shot dead.

Comments

A terrific piece, with a conclusion as bleak as anything in Vonnegut. I dream of a world in which the Palins and McCains of the world are forced to swim 200 miles for shelter (though, given their disadvantage as human beings, maybe just one mile would be enough) and, on reaching dry land, are netted and shot with tranquilizer guns. I panic less easily than those Icelandic cops.

We are living in strange times. This afternoon I suddenly found myself reading about Maura Harrington's ongoing hunger strike against Shell, now on YouTube. I was actually researching a post on folding bicycles, but I ended up, as I often do, at the Guardian's environmental blog:guardian.co.uk/environment/blog. After that, I needed to lie down.

Great article. It is so sad that when man meets nature nature always looses. It reminds me of the cougar that made it all the way from somewhere to Chicago and was promptly shot. It is too bad that the people who need to read this article probably won't. I really do not like cold weather but find myself rejoicing at every bitter cold day.

The Chicago Reader has an interesting article about the cougar that was shot by Chicago cops last April (http://www.chicagoreader.com/features/stories/cougars/). Author Stephen J. Lyons reports that "the midwest is the eastern frontier for young male cougars getting crowded out of western states by human settlement. They can travel up to 100 miles in a day, and the Roscoe Village cougar likely followed a rail, water, or wooded corridor into the city." In Vermont, it's moose, in Alaska and New Jersey, bears. In Tanzania, I once saw a guide scare away a male lion with a can of Doom, the bug spray we used for mosquitoes. One spritz was all it took. Neither guide nor lion was harmed.

A chilling tale, for sure. Perhaps the gripping photo will serve as a sobering reminder and give pause to those who might shoot down carbon-neutral solutions to travel (and other activities) without further consideration.


Columnist Paul Scheckel winds up the story of his ongoing contest with the bear that likes to raid his bee hives and the woodchucks that help themselves to his wife's garden with this comment: "We eke out a portion of our food supply at the edge of an old farm field that is a perfect wildlife habitat  of course the animals expect that our food is theirs. Why shouldn't they? They share their living rooms with us; can't we share a few meals with them? Our individual and collective activities displace more than a few animals, and we sometimes unknowingly provide false habitats for those that remain. It seems only fair, and it's sometimes surprising how we interact." My sentiments, exactly. You can read Paul's funny and wise essay "Of bears, bees and biodiesel" at the Times-Argus's Web site.

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