Dismissed out-of-hand by some as merely another symbol, the polar bear is an apt icon of our times.
Take, for instance, this story from Nature earlier this year. It begins in 2006 with a survey finding a number of polar bears that had apparently drowned off the coast of Alaska, having failed to find ice upon which to rest; a reasonable assumption, given that Arctic ice is now clearly in full retreat (see, for instance this news release just a week ago).
Nature then goes on to describe how a US government agency — arguably fully under the influence of the fossoil industry — caused the research into the plight of the bears to be suspended. The current state of play appears to be that the researcher’s work has been allowed to continue.
Bearing in mind what’s currently happening in the Antarctic, here’s one cynic (me) who thinks that this is only the case because it no longer matters what the research turns up — the end result will be the same.
The plight of the polar bear mirrors our own; we, too, it seems, are powerless to resolve our predicament.
Now, five years after the observations were reported, the bears have become the focus of charges ranging from scientific fraud to political interference in science. Last week, it emerged that the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) had suspended a researcher involved in the survey, wildlife biologist Charles Monnett.
Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) claims that the suspension is a politically motivated attack on Monnett’s research at a time when the BOEMRE is considering whether to allow an expansion of oil drilling off Alaska’s northern coast. The bureau denies this, and any accusation of playing into the oil industry’s hands is highly sensitive, because the bureau (then known as the Minerals Management Service) was accused of poor oversight of the industry leading up to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.