It's been a hard week for polar bears. Last Wednesday, the New York Times reported that scientists and officials from the five Arctic nations concluded that climate change is "the most important long-term threat" to the bears. Now the U.S. Minerals Management Service is considering the approval of oil and gas leases in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas-- also known as the Polar Bear Seas.
These two developments remind us--as if we needed another reminder--of the precarious state of our Northern ecosystem. I saw it for myself when I traveled by boat through the Svalbard archipelago in the high Norwegian Arctic.
I will never forget passing a polar bear stuck on an island, stranded because the sea ice had receded so far from shore. I knew the bear would not eat until the winter--it simply couldn't hunt without the ice. The climate scientists onboard the ship made it clear that with summer sea ice melting at such alarming rates, the bear we saw stranded was just one of many.
Before the ice melts for good, we've got to do two things: 1) We have to create national and international programs for curbing global warming, and 2) We have to establish an international regime for managing the Artic Ocean. If we don't protect the last undeveloped ocean on Earth, it will go the way of all the other oceans.
Jane Lubchenco, Obama's choice for undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, will be an important voice in this, but the challenge is that the United States is just one piece of the Arctic puzzle. We need all the Arctic nations to come together before it is too late. Later in the spring, I will be attending a meeting of the Aspen Institute's Arctic Commissions in an ongoing effort to build that consensus.
In the meantime, there is something you can do.
Please click here to tell the Obama administration you don't support the Minerals Management Service giveaway of Arctic wilderness to oil and gas giants. If approved, an invasion of oil rigs could decimate the heart of critical habitat for polar bears and other Arctic wildlife.
One-fifth of the world's polar bear population, along with walruses, whales and other marine mammals, depend on this fragile Arctic ecosystem for their survival.
An oil spill would be devastating for these animals, which are already threatened by global warming, habitat loss, and existing oil development. It's unconscionable to allow oil and gas leasing in this imperiled habitat when scientists fear the extinction of Alaska's polar bears by 2050.
The deadline for comments is March 30th, so please act now and urge the Obama administration to cancel any new oil and gas leasing in America's Arctic.
This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.