Judge tells US to decide on polar bears, poll tells presidential hopefuls to gird for action

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A federal judge has rejected the Bush Administration’s bid for further delay and ordered it to decide by May 15 whether to provide protection for polar bears whose Arctic habitat is melting due to global warming.

The decision could also lead to restrictions on oil and gas exploration offshore Alaska and curbs on greenhouse emissions.

Meanwhile, a new poll has found that two-thirds of adult Americans believe the next president should do something about climate change, pronto.

The court decision requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to list the polar bear as endangered, or to put it in a lesser category of risk such as threatened, or to keep it off the list entirely – an option that would lead to further legal action from the conservation coalition.

If it is listed, campaigners will argue anything that might impinge on the bear’s habitat, such as recently announced plans for oil and gas exploration off the Alaskan coast, must either be cancelled or put under more rigorous scrutiny. They will also argue the only way to prevent the Arctic becoming entirely ice-free in summer in the coming decades is to make drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Two years ago, scientists compiling the Red List of Threatened Species included polar bears, listing them as Vulnerable to Extinction. Warming seas and a marked decline in ice during summer made it likely, they concluded, that numbers would fall by one third within three generations.

The White House had stalled since the original petition went forward in 2005. Judge Claudia Wilken of U.S. District Court ruled the government was in breach of its obligations: “Defendants have been in violation of the law requiring them to publish the listing determination for nearly 120 days.”

The court decision broke simultaneously with a new poll showing Americans not only want the next president to have a policy on climate change but also to take action against global warming soon after taking power.

Bill Becker, executive director of the non-partisan Presidential Climate Action Project, which commissioned the survey, said “when asked about the overall importance of climate change, it is clear from these numbers that strong majorities of American voters want action on the issue, and expect our next president to do something soon after taking office.”

All in all, not one of W’s better days. Be interesting to know what Hillary, Barry and Johnny think of the poll results.

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