Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne declared the polar bear an endangered species. Put simply, his reasoning is that the polar bear is in danger of extinction because its habitat (sea ice) is melting away.
Interestingly, Kempthorne said that “it would be ‘inappropriate” to use the protection of the bear to reduce greenhouse gases, or to broadly address climate change.” (New York Times)
On one hand, a case could be made in support of this view. While polar bears are certainly charismatic animals, they are but one animal. Hence, to reshape much of the world’s economy and environmental practices could be regarded as being needlessly extreme. To use an analogy, imagine an office building in which the overall temperature is uncomfortable for one office out of hundreds. Adjusting the entire building just to make that one office comfortable would be a bit much. Thus, using the polar bear as an excuse to reduce greenhouse gases and to address climate change would be a mistake.
On the other hand, the situation of the polar bear does seem to provide some justification for reducing greenhouses gases and addressing climate change. Returning to the building analogy, suppose that the actions of several offices (representing the human population of earth) were killing the inhabitants of one office. In that case, it would seem quite reasonable to take steps to put an end to that sort of harmful behavior.
Another moral concern is that Kempthorne seems to be at least implying that human actions are harming the bears while also saying that we shouldn’t use this fact to justify actually doing anything. Returning to the building analogy, it would be like saying that the inhabitants of the office are dying, but that this fact should not be used to justify or motivate any action to actually address what is killing them. This is typical of the politics of today: a pro-environment crumb thrown out for the bear huggers and a “don’t worry, we won’t really do anything” steak thrown out to those who would rather not do anything about climate change.