News / USA

Environmentalists Say Polar Bears Off Alaska at Risk

Zulima Palacio

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.

"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 Robert Irvin, a senior vice president at Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group.

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 - Arctic Sea ice - is rapidly melting.   

"They hunt for their food out in the Arctic ice," said Irvin. "They raise their young out in the Arctic Sea 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.  

"Unfortunately PCV levels have been found quite high in polar bears," said Doug Inkley, a senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. "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 Arctic Sea 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 Arctic Sea by mid 2011.

"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 Richard Ranger, who is senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute which represents the U.S. oil and natural gas industry. 

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.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs