Wednesday is International Polar Bear Day, an unofficial holiday
that is gaining increasing attention as more and more people become
worried about the future of this unique species.
Nobody seems to know how Polar Bear Day got started, but it has
strong connections to the Alaska
Zoo in Anchorage and to
Polar Bears International, which is leading an enthusiastic
campaign to curb global warming and reduce the loss of sea ice,
which may be the greatest threat to polar bears.
The campaign goes by the name Save Our Sea Ice! or just SOS!.
this bulletin board created by first and second graders at
Carpathia School in Winnipeg.
Arctic drilling may be delayed until next year, because Shell’s
oil-containment vessel is still not ready, according to Secretary
of Interior Ken Salazar.
“I will hold their feet to the fire in terms of making sure that
we are doing everything we can to abide by the standards and
regulations we have set, and to make sure that the environment and
the Arctic seas are protected,” Salazar said during a press
conference in Anchorage.
A shell spokesman expressed hope that the drilling would still
begin this fall.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza is not sitting around waiting for
Shell to begin its drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. Greenpeace
biologists have reported the presence of a soft coral at the drill
site. I’m not sure how significant this is, but Julie Eilperin of
Washington Post has the story. Greenpeace
has the photo.
UPDATE, June 29
The U.S. Department of Interior released a five-year plan for
oil and gas leases yesterday, as two Shell exploratory rigs headed
out of Puget Sound on their way to the Alaskan Arctic.
The Shell drilling vessels Kulluk and Noble Discoverer were
headed for Alaska’s Dutch Harbor, where they will wait until the
ice clears in Beaufort and Chukchi seas. See
Vigor’s news release about alterations made to the two
news release with links to the plans, David J. Hayes, deputy
secretary of the Interior, said :
“We are committed to moving forward with leasing offshore
Alaska, and scheduling those sales later in the program allows for
further development of scientific information on the oil and gas
resource potential in these areas and further study of potential
impacts to the environment. We must reconcile energy resource
development with the sensitive habitats, unique conditions and
important other uses, including subsistence hunting and fishing,
that are present in Alaska waters.”
UPDATE, June 27
This week, the Obama administration will announce a five-year
program for offshore oil-leasing. It will include targeted areas
for exploration and drilling in Alaska’s Arctic, Secretary of
Interior Ken Salazar said yesterday.
Salazar said permits to allow Shell to conduct exploratory
drilling in the Arctic, as we have discussed in this blog, are
likely to be issued soon.
UPDATE, June 22
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza has arrived in Alaskan waters. Photo
posted on Twitter.
UPDATE, June 12, 3 p.m.
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza has left Seattle on its way to the
Arctic, according to ongoing reports on Twitter. As
of 3 p.m., the ship is just crossing the Edmonds-Kingston ferry
UPDATE, June 12, 2:30 p.m.
I’ve added maps of the two drilling areas at the bottom of this
After anchoring for nearly a week in South Kitsap’s Yukon
Harbor, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza on Friday moved over to
Seattle, where it now waits for Shell’s oil-drilling rigs to shove
off for Alaska.
Shell obtained an
injunction (PDF 32 kb) against Greenpeace in hopes of
preventing environmental activists from boarding its oil rig and
unfurling banners or causing more serious damage.
“After obtaining multiple approvals from various federal
agencies, and after completing preparations that have been years
and billions of dollars in the making, Shell intends to lawfully,
safely, and responsibly carry out an exploration drilling program
on its leases in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the summer of
“Greenpeace intends to prevent Shell from doing so, and has
initiated tortious and illegal actions to accomplish this
publically-stated intent. Greenpeace’s past and present actions
establish that Greenpeace can and will engage in dangerous and
illegal activities that place human life, property, and the
environment at risk, all in an effort to impose its will and to
capitalize on publicity generated by its antics.”
Greenpeace says its goal is to shadow the oil rigs and document
the activities from miniature submarines to help the public
understand the dangers that drilling poses to the fragile Arctic
See Kitsap Sun, June 4.
For environmentalists, the biggest question is: How did this
drilling ever get approval? Why did a Democratic president allow
Shell to get all the permits necessary to explore for oil in the
Arctic, after strong opposition through the years succeeded in
keeping drilling rigs out of the Arctic.
Shell was strategic in its approach, as described in a
well-researched story by John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss for the
New York Times:
“Beyond the usual full-court lobbying effort, Shell abandoned
its oil industry brethren and joined advocates pushing for a strong
response to climate change.
“Ultimately, Shell won the backing of a president it had viewed
warily during the 2008 campaign. While he signaled conditional
support for the proposal years ago, Mr. Obama came under pressure
from rising gasoline prices and the assiduous lobbying of a
freshman Democratic senator from Alaska eager to show he could make
things happen in Washington.
“The move also provides the president a measure of political
cover. ‘Alaska tends to be a litmus test for the energy debate,’
said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of energy policy research at Rice
University. ‘When Romney says the president is anti-drilling and
causes high gas prices, Obama can turn around and say, “I approved
drilling in Alaska.”’”
executive order, Obama set up a special interagency commission
to oversee “the safe and responsible development of onshore and
offshore energy resources and associated infrastructure in
Obama’s steady pressure in favor of drilling in the Arctic
(“It’s not deep water, right?”) eventually overcame concerns within
his own administration, despite warnings from the commission
investigating the BP oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the NY Times article:
“The commission’s final report said that for Arctic drilling to
be done safely, ‘both industry and government will have to
demonstrate standards and a level of performance higher than they
have ever achieved before.’ …
“The government strengthened its Arctic research programs to
better understand the impact of increased industrial activity in
the northern ocean. Those and other concessions seemed to placate
officials at the permitting agencies, who were navigating between
their regulatory duties and the president’s obvious desire to
“Shell’s permits came in a rush.
Interior approved exploration in both seas by last December.
Response plans were endorsed in February and March of this year.
The EPA’s appeals board cleared the final air permits at the end of
March — just as the whaling season got under way. NOAA came through
marine mammal permit in early May.”
As far as I can tell, Shell is waiting only for its final
drilling permits from the Department of Interior and for the ice to
clear in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
As Shell’s oil rigs prepare to pull out of Seattle, Alaska’s
governor and the state’s two U.S. senators recently visited Seattle
to take a look at Shell’s oil rigs on the eve of the historic
drilling activity, as reported by Jennifer A. Dlouhy of the
Dlouhy quoted Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, as expressing
confidence in Shell’s ability to drill safely: “I think they know
as well as anybody that there is no margin for cutting
The article also included environmental concerns about an oil
spill in the fragile Arctic ecosystem, which could be worse than
the Exxon Valdez in Prince Williams Sound, where oil is still
showing up 23 years after a multibillion-dollar cleanup.
“If there is a spill in the Arctic, the oil and damage will
almost certainly degrade slower and last longer,” Richard Steiner,
former marine conservation professor at the University of Alaska
was quoted as saying.
A new story out this morning in
Macleans magazine includes an interview with Peter Voser, chief
executive officer of Royal Dutch Shell, who touches briefly on this
summer’s drilling in the Arctic:
In searching for amusing material, I came to realize that polar
bears and penguins have developed an amazing friendship — at least
in cartoons and amusing videos.
The examples are numerous, and I’ll share some of my favorites
with you now:
1. A dancing bear who has moved in with a penguin angers the
bird with his wasteful use of water. This video was produced for
Environment Agency UK. (Click on the video player at right. And, of
course, the “full screen” version is available.)
2. Apparently, a male polar bear can develop a close
cross-species relationship with a female penguin, but he’d better
watch what he says. The second video on this page is from 4Mations,
another UK website dedicated to interesting and funny cartoons.
4. Who can forget the Coke commercial in
which the polar bear family accidentally invades a Christmas party
being held by a large group of penguins?
5. Here’s one called “Cold Friendship,”
but I have to admit that its subtle message runs a little too deep
for me to locate.
6. Animal Planet’s series called “Animals Save the
Planet” includes a cartoon about the benefits of energy-saving
light bulbs. I’m not sure if the penguin is a slave or just enjoys
a lot of exercise.
7. Someone put a couple of wildlife videos together to
demonstrate the different
lifestyles of penguins and polar bears. (By the way, I’ve heard
that polar bears crawl along thin ice to reduce the risk of
While I enjoy all this paring of polar bears and penguins, I
have to wonder how they ever got together. Polar bears live in the
Arctic on the top side of the world, while penguins live in the
Antarctic on the bottom.
Cartoonist Dave Farley has his own vision about what would
happen if these two species ever got together. See cartoon at
right. Check out Dave’s complete archive of cartoons at the
Now on a more serious note, an online magazine called “Beyond Penguins and Polar
Bears” has been written for elementary school teachers who wish
to integrate science and literature. It’s a good place for anyone
to learn about the polar regions of the Earth. According to the
website’s creators, the first step toward understanding the two
poles is to
“develop a sense of place,” realizing that the Arctic and
Antarctic are very different environments.
If the world’s leaders were to learn that all civilizations on
Earth were going to be attacked by alien beings from outer space,
and if they knew they had only a few years to respond, what do you
think they would do?
Would they search for evidence to show that aliens could not
possibly exist, declare the idea a hoax and insist that any defense
of our planet would not be worth the cost? Or would they study ALL
the evidence, analyze the risks and look for the best way to
address the uncertain crisis?
I keep thinking about this hypothetical alien scenario when I
hear certain members of Congress ignoring climate change and
essentially spitting in the face of climate scientists by calling
their best research a “hoax.”
Greenhouse warming may seem like an alien concept to some
people, but here’s my point: If you run and hide until the aliens
have landed, you face a much greater peril than if you face the
problem in a practical way.
Now I’m all for discussing the many uncertainties — such as how
high ocean waters may rise under various assumptions. But please
don’t tell me that some basement scientist has disproved the idea
that temperatures are rising or has shown that humans could not
possibly affect the Earth’s climate.
Here’s what I’m wondering: Would those who turn their backs on
climate change act the same way if the entire Earth were under
attack from a common enemy? Maybe our nation’s leaders would be
better able to deal with a direct attack, uncomplicated by the
uncertainties of science.
That’s more than I wanted to say about people who choose to
ignore climate change. What I really wanted to write about is the
U.S. Navy’s serious approach to the topic, which can provide an
example for the rest of us.
Scientists have discovered that plain old soot — otherwise known
as “black carbon” — could be an important factor in explaining the
rapid melting of Arctic ice.
In a report released today at an international meeting in
Norway, scientists say black carbon could be part of the reason
that the northern region is melting faster than climate models
Given that black carbon comes from older diesel fuels, burning
wood and crop debris, and flaring of natural gas wells, governments
in the Northern Hemisphere have the potential of reducing the rate
of warming in the Arctic even without a major reduction in carbon
“The good news,” states reporter Bob Weber in a story for the
Canadian Press, “is that black carbon could be relatively easy
to clean up. That would buy the international community time to
deal with the much more complex issue of carbon dioxide
He quotes Lars-Otto Reiersen, who worked on the report: “There
are easy to put in place some actions that can be in operation
within a few years while you are getting the CO2 negotiations in
One organization called Clean Air – Cool Planet is calling
attention to this issue. See a
fact sheet (PDF 64 kb) addressing the issue of short-lived
pollutants (including soot, ozone and methane), or go to the
group’s Web site.
It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out, but
leaders of major countries in the hemisphere have pledged to work
together on the problem.
A news release from Clean Air – Cool Planet includes this:
“People concerned about the rapid deterioration of the Arctic
region because of warming and melting there have something to
celebrate,” said Arctic authority Brooks Yeager, vice president for
policy at Clean Air – Cool Planet. “Short-lived forcers (SLFs) and
their role in climate change in the Arctic was a major part of this
meeting, and the ministers agreed to create a task force that will
look at furthering the science and implementing immediately
“Science has been telling us for some time that these so-called
‘short-lived forcers’ are speeding up warming and melting in the
Arctic,” Yeager said. “This in turn has exacerbated climate change
in the rest of the globe, and caused huge changes to ecosystems in
the Arctic region, endangering species, natural resources, and
The magazine piece, written by Thomas Omestad, discusses a
treasure of oil and minerals, scientific discoveries, commercial
potential and possible geopolitical clashes. I recommend it to
anyone interested in the confluence of global warming and
map of this remote area shows how the legendary Northwest
Passage could become an important route between the East and West
After describing some strategic flurries in the Arctic by Russia
and Canada, Omestad offers this observation:
The United States, for its part, has not acted with the same
urgency. “We are behind when it comes to what is happening with our
other Arctic neighbors,” says Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of
The lagging begins with the Law of the Sea convention. Despite
Bush administration support, Senate ratification of the 1982 treaty
remains blocked by conservative Republicans fearful that the treaty
will give away American sovereignty. The other four Arctic coastal
states have adopted the convention and are eligible to file their
claims for economic control.
The Pentagon has also appeared slow to focus on the region. The
U.S. Coast Guard maintains just two working icebreakers, with
another docked until repairs are authorized. The question of
expanding the icebreaker force has been left unanswered, while a
broader, interagency review of Arctic policy has continued for
nearly two years….
I recently cited some sketchy stories about this subject on
Watching Our Water Ways. Now this U.S. News article has placed
the issue into the appropriate context. If the prescribed dominoes
begin to fall, international tensions will no doubt rise in this
remote part of the Earth.
With vast oil reserves waiting to be taken from the Arctic, it
is interesting to read about Russia’s saber-rattling and
implications for the United States, Canada and other countries that
want to claim a piece of what lies below the frozen earth.
I don’t know much about geopolitics in the Arctic — and I may be
reading too much into recent news stories I’ve seen — but there may
be something going on in the world that we should watch.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev directed his top Kremlin
officials to develop a comprehensive and assertive strategy to
exploit the region’s vast Arctic frontier — including the
demarcation of boundaries and the exploiting of polar resources
Initial reports of Mr. Medvedev’s address to Russia’s national
security council suggested he was advocating unilateral action to
secure Arctic territory at a time when the five polar nations —
including Canada — are collecting geological data for planned sea
floor territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the
Later in the same piece, there is a discussion about Russian
aircraft invading Canadian air space in Far North. Continue reading →