It is true that Interior Secretary (and noted anti-environmentalist) Dirk Kempthorne has hopefully proposed adding polar bears to the 'threatened' list.
However, this was not some out-of-the-blue show of seriousness in response to the growing crisis of global warming. Rather, the Interior Department's hand was forced by a court order.
The decision from Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees endangered species, coincides with a court-ordered deadline. In February 2005, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace petitioned Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the polar bears. After Fish and Wildlife officials missed a deadline for deciding earlier this year, the groups sued and agreed on Wednesday's deadline. (Ibid)Furthermore, at least two news articles (the Yahoo! article linked above and this one from MSNBC) did not have specific quotes from Interior acknowledging that greenhouse gas emissions were causing the warming that they acknowledged was melting arctic sea ice. Global warming deniers frequently make the latter acknowledgement these days, but they deny that human activities are affecting average global temperature.
Such a decision would require all federal agencies to ensure that anything they authorize that might affect polar bears will not jeopardize their survival or the sea ice where they live. That could include oil and gas exploration, commercial shipping or even releases of toxic contaminants or climate-affecting pollution.What more proof is there of the Bush administration's failure to overtly admit to greenhouse gas emissions causality, at least in this case, than a statement that denies oil and gas activities' guilt in the polar bears' plight?
Kempthorne, however, said his department's studies indicate that coastal and offshore oil and gas exploration — heavily promoted by the Bush administration, particularly in Alaska — shouldn't be curtailed.
"It's very clear that the oil and gas activity in that area does not pose a threat to the polar bears," he said. (Yahoo! article)
This comes only 10 months after the largest oil spill in the arctic last March. Furthermore, any natural gas (methane) that leaks from wells and doesn't make it into the pipeline is emitted into the air as a very harmful greenhouse gas. Most obviously, continued oil drilling in Alaska is feeding the nation's gluttonous appetite for easy motoring, releasing over 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. And that is just the U.S.
We can rejoice that at least the process (which will take at least a year) is being started to give polar bears their long overdue place on the 'threatened' list. But let's not think that the Bush administration has had a "Saul-to-Paul" moment when they reluctantly agree to something due to a court order.
It is always best to focus on ourselves: what can we do now, voluntarily, to mitigate climate change, as opposed to waiting for the government to force us to do something (or refrain from doing things)?