January 1, 2007

1/1/07 JVNA Online Newsletter

Shalom everyone,

This update/Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) Online Newsletter has the following items:

1. JVNA Plans for 2007

2. Using Blogs To Help Spread the Jewish Vegetarian Message

3. Worst Fears Re Global Warming Exceeded by Reality

4. Excerpts From European Vegetarian Union (EVU) Newsletter

5. Jewish Week Article on Conservative Movement Workplace Certification

6. Federal Lawsuit Against NY State Foie Gras Company Planned

7. On-Line "Judaism and Nature" Class Scheduled

8. European Vegetarian Union (EVU) Plans Event on “Vegetarian Answer to World Hunger”

9. Dan Brooks' Letter to Times Re Their Editorial “Meat and the Planet”

10. Polar Bears Threatened by Global Warming

Some material has been deferred to a later update/newsletter to keep this one from being even longer.

[Materials in brackets like this [ ] within an article or forwarded message are my editorial notes/comments.]

Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the JVNA, unless otherwise indicated, but may be presented to increase awareness and/or to encourage respectful dialogue. Also, material re conferences, retreats, forums, trips, and other events does not necessarily imply endorsement by JVNA or endorsement of kashrut, Shabbat observances, or any other Jewish observance, but may be presented for informational purposes. Please use e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and web sites to get further information about any event that you are interested in. Also, JVNA does not necessarily agree with all positions of groups whose views are included or whose events are announced in this newsletter.

As always, your comments and suggestions are very welcome.


1. JVNA Plans for 2007

Once again, best wishes for a wonderful New Year to everyone.

While much more remains to be done, there was much progress last year, a year that saw:

* an increase in JVNA membership and in the number of JVNA advisors;

* a continued increase in the number of vegetarian food items at supermarkets and health food stores;

* many media articles on vegetarianism, including many on the health benefits of vegetarianism and on the trends toward vegetarianism among youth and others;

* increased concern about threats related to global climate change and many reports about the significant contributions that animal-based agriculture makes to global warming, including a special UN Food and Agriculture report that indicated that animal-based agriculture contributes more to greenhouse emissions than vehicles.

I'm sure that you can add many additional positive events.

I hope that we can build on these positive events to make 2007 am even more successful year.

Briefly, here are some of my plans and hopes for the New Year:

* Complete our movie “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values To Heal the World” and distribute it widely. If you have suggestions about raising money to complete and distribute the movie, please let me know.

* Take over as director at the Israeli Jewish Vegetarian Society Center in Jerusalem, and turn that Center into a focus for vegetarian, animal rights, environmental and health education and activism.

* Build a coalition to promote the idea that a switch toward vegetarianism is an essential part of responding to global climate change and other environmental threats.

* Try to turn Tu B'Shvat into an “Environmental Shabbat.”

* Work daily to spread the Jewish vegetarian message and that a shift toward vegetarianism is both a societal imperative and a Jewish imperative.
Please stay tuned for much more information on these and other projects in future JVNA newsletters.

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2. Using Blogs To Help Spread the Jewish Vegetarian Message

JVNA Advisor Maida Genser, who several weeks ago set up e-mail distribution lists of Jewish media and Jewish groups, has just completed a very extensive list of web addresses of Jewish-related blogs, including many maintained by rabbis.

This list provides great opportunities to engage a wide variety of Jews on vegetarian-related issues.

You might send a message such as the following (suggestions for improvements very welcome) to some of the blogs:

Dear __________ ____________ ,

Kol hakavod (or kudos or congratulations) on your very interesting blog. I especially enjoyed your discussion of ______ ____ _______ (if there is something you feel that you can compliment them for).

I wonder if you would like to comment on the following: As a member of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), I believe that Jews should seriously consider a switch toward vegetarianism, since animal-based diets are having devastating effects on human health and the health of our imperiled planet, and the production and consumption of meat and other animal products violate basic Jewish mandates to take care of our health, treat animals with compassion, protect the environment, conserve natural resources and assist hungry people,

Many thanks,

If you would like to get Maida's list, please contact her at maidawg@comcast.net.

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3. Worst Fears Re Global Warming Exceeded by Reality

[The trend of reports on global warming threats continues. I hope that we can greatly increase awareness of the great role that animal-centered agriculture plays re global warming.]

Review of the Year: Global Warming
By Steve Connor
The Independent UK

Friday 29 December 2006

Our worst fears are exceeded by reality.

It has been a hot year. The average temperature in Britain for 2006 was higher than at any time since records began in 1659. Globally, it looks set to be the sixth hottest year on record. The signs during the past 12 months have been all around us. Little winter snow in the Alpine ski resorts, continuing droughts in Africa, mountain glaciers melting faster than at any time in the past 5,000 years, disappearing Arctic sea ice, Greenland's ice sheet sliding into the sea. Oh, and a hosepipe ban in southern England.

You could be forgiven for thinking that you've heard it all before. You may think it's time to turn the page and read something else. But you'd be wrong. 2006 will be remembered by climatologists as the year in which the potential scale of global warming came into focus. And the problem can be summarized in one word: feedback.

During the past year, scientific findings emerged that made even the most doom-laden predictions about climate change seem a little on the optimistic side. And at the heart of the issue is the idea of climate feedbacks - when the effects of global warming begin to feed into the causes of global warming. Feedbacks can either make things better, or they can make things worse. The trouble is, everywhere scientists looked in 2006, they encountered feedbacks that will make things worse - a lot worse.

Next year, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will publish its fourth assessment on the scale of the future problems facing humanity. Its last assessment, published in 2001, had little to say on the subject of climate feedbacks, partly because, at that time, they were such an unknown quantity. This year, scientists came to learn a little more about them, and they didn't like what they learnt.

During the past two decades, the IPCC has tended to regard the Earth's climate as something that will change gradually and smoothly, as carbon dioxide and global temperatures continue their lock-step rise. But there is a growing consensus among many climate scientists that this may be giving a false sense of security. They fear that feedback reactions may begin to kick in and suddenly tip the climate beyond a critical threshold from which it cannot easily recover.

Climate feedbacks could turn the Earth into a very different planet over a dramatically short period of time. It has happened in the past, scientists say, and it could easily happen in the future given the unprecedented scale of the environmental changes caused by man.

There are two types of feedback that can play a role in the future direction of the Earth's climate. The first is a "negative" feedback, which is largely good for us, because it works against things getting worse. The classic example of a negative feedback is the fertilizing effect of carbon dioxide. As concentrations rise, then so does the amount of carbon absorbed by the higher growth rate of plants. The result is a negative feedback that tends to check rising levels of carbon dioxide.

A "positive" feedback makes things worse by adding to the existing problem. It brings about a vicious circle, in which a rise in carbon dioxide or global temperatures causes some change in the climate system which, in turn, leads to further rises in carbon dioxide or temperatures.

A classic example of a positive feedback is the melting sea ice of the Arctic. As temperatures rise, the ice floating on the Arctic sea melts, exposing dark ocean where once there was white ice that reflected sunlight, and heat, back into space. The newly revealed dark ocean absorbs more sunlight and heats up, causing more ice to melt, and so reinforcing the positive-feedback cycle.

But even this simple description belies the true complexity of life on Earth. In fact, there is a negative feedback at work as well with Arctic sea ice, which insulates the underlying ocean and keeps it warmer during the cold, dark northern winters. However, on balance, it is the positive feedback that dominates here, as it does in several other instances investigated by scientists in 2006.

"The main concern is that the more we look, the more positive feedbacks we find," says Olivier Boucher, a climate scientist at the Met Office. "That's not the case when it comes to negative feedbacks. There seems to be far fewer of them." The sentiment is echoed by Chris Rapley, the director of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge: "When we look at the list of all the feedbacks in the climate, the list of positive feedbacks is worryingly long - a lot longer than the negative feedbacks. To be honest, it's a wonder that the climate has remained so stable."

Let's stick with Arctic sea ice a bit longer before looking at other issues that emerged 2006. In March, NASA satellites monitored a 28-year record low for winter sea ice. Normally sea ice recovers during the long Arctic winter, but this was the second consecutive year that the ice failed to re-form fully to its previous winter extent.

This meant there was less ice at the start of the northern summer, with the result that last September saw the second monthly minimum for summer sea ice - almost hitting the record minimum set in September 2005.

During the past four or five years, there has been an acceleration in the rate at which sea ice is melting, a change that some scientists put down to a positive feedback. "Our hypothesis is that we've reached the tipping point," says Ron Lindsay of the University of Washington in Seattle. "For sea ice, the positive feedback is that increased summer melt means decreased winter growth and then even more melting the next summer, and so on."

Professor Lindsay likens the positive feedback in the Arctic to a ball that has begun to roll down a slope, gathering momentum and speed as it goes. In order to reverse the direction of movement, the ball has to be pushed back up the slope. But how? "Perhaps a cooling period could reverse the situation," he says. "But with global warming, temperatures are only bound to rise."

While we are in the northern hemisphere, take a look at another positive feedback that scientists investigated in 2006. This is connected to the frozen permafrost of Siberia and northern Canada, which lock up vast stores of carbon in the form of methane, a gas formed by the decomposition of organic matter. For more than 12,000 years, this methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide - has been safely stored under the permanently frozen ground. But now the permafrost is melting and the gas is bubbling free into the atmosphere.

Sergei Kirpotin, a botanist at Tomsk State University in Russia, has been studying the extent of the melting permafrost of Western Siberia, the site of the world's biggest frozen peat bog. During the past few years, he has watched lakes getting bigger and bigger as the solid permafrost underneath liquifies.


Another study in 2006 looked at perhaps the most important climate feedback there is. Yet it went unreported - so listen up. The Earth has been a very accommodating planet. During the past 200 years, it has absorbed more than half of all man-made emissions of carbon dioxide through natural carbon "sinks", mostly in the ocean but also on land. The rest of the emissions have been left in the air to aggravate the Earth's natural greenhouse effect, so raising global average temperatures.

But what if something were to interfere with these very useful carbon "sinks"? Can we forever rely on them to remain sinks, or could they turn into dangerous sources of atmospheric carbon? A huge international team of climatologists asked these questions in a little-known study published in the July issue of the Journal of Climate. The conclusion makes depressing reading.

The scientists investigated what would happen if they tinkered with 11 of the world's biggest computer models of the complex climate-carbon cycle. They wanted to simulate what would happen to the carbon sinks on the land and the ocean for each model as the world gets warmer. All the models agreed that as the world heated up, the ability of the land and the oceans to keep on absorbing carbon as efficiently as they have in the past 200 years gets appreciably worse.

In other words, we cannot rely on planet Earth to be so accommodating in terms of mopping up half of our carbon pollution. But could something even worse happen? Could these carbon sinks turn into carbon sources? The answer is yes. Many models suggest that the terrestrial biosphere could become a net carbon producer by the mid 21st century. Signs are that it is already happening in some parts of the world.

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4. Excerpts From European Vegetarian Union (EVU) Newsletter


Dear friends,

The last months of this year brought very uplifting news, namely the health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle were praised frequently in the international press and furthermore international attention was drawn to smart veggies: 'High IQ link to being vegetarian'. Such information is lovely to read but we knew that already.

However, what really came as a total surprise (an end-of-year-present with the compliments of the UN?) was the FAO press release, dated 29 November 2006, stating 'Livestock major threat to environment '. Thank you, FAO, for seeing the light at last and admitting something which is very obvious but so far had been ignored with lots of official determination. Hopefully the old meat-pushing days will now be over and a better strategy be put in place to restrict the damage the meat industry has already done.

Such information certainly offers a little hope for billions of animals being sacrificed each year on the altar of meat-consumption. Because an astronomical number of them have already or will be killed for the upcoming festivities, we have compiled a list of prayers and blessings which we want to offer to you and everyone visiting our website. We hope that you like the collection (designed for easy print-out).

On behalf of the board of the EVU, I wish you peace and health, success and happiness in the New Year.


Best regards

Renato Pichler
European Vegetarian Union

1.Health - Benefits and Dangers
2.Smart vegetarian children
3. FAO: Livestock major threat to environment
4.Politicans and scientists for animals
5. The vegetarian wave is getting stronger
6. Saints and Sinners Festive Menu

[Not all items in the EVU Newsletter are included in this JVNA newsletter.]

Vegetarians' low-calorie diet gives new cancer-cure clues
Researchers studying a group of vegetarians whose diet was low in protein and calories found they had reduced blood levels of several hormones and other substances that have been tied to certain cancers.

Garlic, onions may offer wide-ranging cancer protection
High intake of garlic and onions was associated with significantly reduced risks of a wide-range of cancers...

Eating soy protein benefits the heart

Dairy products may increase testicular cancer risk
A new study from Germany shows that dairy product consumption may increase the risk of testicular cancer.

Too Much Protein may Increase Cancer Risk



The Party for Animals, founded in October 2002, won two seats in last month's Dutch general election

Party for the animals gains 2 Parliamentary seats in the Netherlands

Animals Party at Parliament
What are the chances of cows getting voting rights in parliament? In Holland this is for real. In the UK animals will now also be properly represented through a new political party, 'Animals Count'….

UK/Oxford: Thinktank launched to debate animal ethics
The new animal ethics center… aims to "put animals on the intellectual agenda". The centre's director, the Rev Professor Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest, writer and University of Oxford theologian, is well known for his opposition to animal testing....

UK: Press Release from the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics:
100 Academics Support New Animal Ethics centre at Oxford

'Kucinich's personal ethics begin on his plate'. He is a vegan
US Representative Dennis Kucinich has entered the field of possible contenders for the 2008 presidential election…

Just Ask: Kucinich Answers, 'Yes, I Am'

Congressman Dennis Kuninich thinks we need tougher laws to protect the animals we use as food.


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5. Jewish Week Article on Conservative Movement Workplace Certification

Rabbis Consider Workplace Certification

Worker conditions at meat plant just as important as kashrut, says Conservative commission.

Stewart Ain - Staff Writer

The Conservative movement is studying the possibility of granting a “tsedek hecksher” attesting that companies like AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa, are manufacturing food in a socially responsible way.

Saying the eating of kosher food is a “religious obligation,” the Conservative movement revealed this week that it has established a commission to investigate reports of unsafe working conditions at the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant.

Rabbi Morris Allen of Mendota Heights, Minn., chairman of the commission, said its members have visited the plant, AgriProcessors in Postville, Iowa, and are working with its owners to correct the problems.

He said also that the commission is studying the feasibility of creating what it calls a “tsedek heksher,” a certificate to attest that companies manufacturing food are doing so in a socially responsible way.

“There are Jews who care about keeping kosher but who have additional requirements about the production of kosher meat,” Rabbi Allen said. “We should not be in a situation in which the way kosher food is produced is less than honorable.”

Richard Lederman, director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's Public Policy and Social Action Commission, stressed that were the committee to recommend creating a new heksher, the certification would have no bearing on the way in which the food was prepared or the animal slaughtered. “We are not going to implement a new mark of kashruth,” he said. “And we will give it only to those foods that have a heksher [kosher certification] already.”

Lederman said the commission is still considering what criteria would be used in determining that a company met the standards for a tsedek heksher. Among the ideas under consideration are workers' rights, their safety and wellbeing, environmental issues, and animal welfare. Although AgriProcessors has kosher food inspectors from the Orthodox Union on the premises, they are concerned exclusively with the kosher aspects of the facility, according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU's kashruth director.

“It is not that they are ignored,” he said of the safety issues and other concerns expressed by the Conservative movement. “These are areas under the purview of the federal government. There are standards in place regarding worker safety that are monitored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and product safety is handled by the United States Department of Agriculture. All meat factories have several USDA inspectors on the premises.”

Rabbi Genack said the standards set by the Conservative movement would thus be “more stringent” and he said those standards are “not easy to define because they are subjective.” And he said environmental issues are “fraught with political implications.”

Rabbi Allen said his commission has been asked to submit recommendations about a tsedek heksher to the leadership of the movement's Rabbinical Assembly and its United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism within six months.

The Conservative movement thus joins the Union for Reform Judaism in taking an interest in the production of kosher food in the United States. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported in October that a “handful of Reform rabbis are talking about creating a Reform board of kashrut, which would certify foods as 'fit to eat' according to ethical and political, as well as biblical and rabbinic, considerations.”

That interest comes in light of an unpublished 2000 survey that found that half of the movement's congregations - 344 in all - had some adherence to the kosher laws. It found that fully 10 percent had kosher kitchens, that 80 percent ban pork or shellfish, and that nearly half would not serve milk and meat on the same plate or platter. And the JTA said the Union has been fielding an increasing number of calls from Reform congregations interested in making their kitchens kosher.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said that both his organization and the Rabbinical Assembly are “committed to actively pursuing” the idea of a tsedek heksher. “We believe that because the idea of kashruth is to connect us with God, we are concerned not only with the soul of the animal being slaughtered but also with the soul of the people preparing the food,” he said. “We decided that we have to look into labor practices and making certain that people are treated fairly and appropriately. We have had concerns over the years about this.”

A series of stories in the Forward, a New York-based Jewish weekly, triggered the movement's latest push in this area. The five-member rabbinic and lay commission members visited AgriProcessors over two days in August and spoke not only with the plant's management but also with employees and community leaders. It also reviewed reports from the state Department of Labor that found inadequate or non-existent worker safety training; inadequate safety procedures when turning off machines for cleaning; concern about unsafe chemical use; unclean and unsafe lunchroom conditions, and a lack of safety equipment.

Rabbi Allen said the commission recommended that AgriProcessors invite the state Department of Labor to inspect the entire plant to make sure it is in full compliance with the law, that plant management meet regularly with workers, and that all training material be in Spanish. He said that about 85 percent of the 750 plant employees are immigrants. Officials of AgriProcessors did not return calls, but Rabbi Allen said they have been cooperative and would prefer to hire their own consultant to evaluate employee safety and health procedures rather than ask the Department of Labor to conduct the inspection. In addition to discussing work conditions at the plant, commission members also discussed how more non-glatt kosher meat could reach the market, according to Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly.

“Producing more of it would lower the cost to the kosher consumer,” he said. Rabbi Allen said non-glatt kosher meat had virtually disappeared from meat shelves in Minneapolis-St. Paul and that after he spoke with the management at AgriProcessors earlier in the year, it reappeared. “There is a significant price difference between glatt and non-glatt meat,” he said. “If you want people to keep kosher - and since there is no halachic [Jewish law] reason not to eat [non-glatt meat] you want to have it available. There is up to a 20 percent price differential.” Members of the commission also inspected the Empire Poultry plant in Mifflintown, Pa., on Oct. 18 and after meeting with management and employees said it found “working conditions, safety conditions and general worker welfare and community relations not to be issues of concern.”

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6. Federal Lawsuit Against NY State Foie Gras Company Planned

Thanks to JVNA advisor and author Lewis Regenstein for forwarding this item to us:

Ferndale - The Humane Society of the United States plans anotherfederal lawsuit against Ferndale's Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

The animal rights group alleges the company is operating a manure lagoon without the state's approval, was discharging waste in a nearby pond and failed to have an emergency action plan.

"Like many factory farms, Hudson Valley Foie Gras is operating in total disregard of the welfare of its neighbors, the environment and the animals confined in its facility," said the Society's vicepresident of animal Protection litigation, Jonathan Lovvorn, inannouncing the group's intent to sue for violations of the Clean WaterAct.

full story:

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7. On-Line “Judaism and Nature” Class Scheduled

Forwarded message:

Please join us as we try again to join together to study in the wonderous virutal classroom that amazingly brings together folks all over the world for an hour to share thoughts an ideas. Rabbi Dr. YosefLeibowitz will be leading the discussion as we explore the Psalm of Shabbat in light of the creation story, which connects up the needs of the human soul and the Shabbat. It will be a text-focused study, and the materials will be provided through the virtual classroom.

NEXT Thursday, 4 January, 9 pm ISRAEL TIME (that's 10 hours ahead of y'all in California)

Please pass this on to all who might be interested, and if you are interested in further study, but are unavailable at this time, also let me know, and which time is generally good for you!

Happy Winter!
kol tuv,
fivel yedidya

Attached is the information on how to register and Log on to Yad Yaakov's on-line live class Judaism and Nature To register for the class please follow this link:
When you wish to link into the class simply follow this link at the
appropriate time.
When prompted log in with the following information:
Classroom: yadyaakov (one word!)
Name: Your name as entered when registering
Important! If you have a popup blocker installed on your system, please make sure that you disable it before logging on. You can reset it following the class.
If you have not yet tested your computer we recommend you do it now. Please check your system with the following link: http://openroom.horizonwimba.com/wizard/launcher.cgi?wc=hm

You can also enter through the Yad Yaakov website (www.yadyaakov.org), click on elearning, look for Judaism and Nature, and follow intstructions there.

contact me or Chana, our tech support (twigo@013.net) with any questions!

Rabbi Dr. Yosef Leibowitz, the Director and Founder of the Yad Yaakov Fund, received his ordination from Yeshiva University and his Doctorate from Berkeley. He served for fifteen years as Rabbi in Berkeley California before moving to Israel. In Israel Rabbi Leibowitz taught for fifteen years at the Pardes institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and for ten years ran the Torah education program for the city of Kfar Saba. He is also Rabbi at the Minyan Hachadash in Kfar Saba. He has lectured in many cities across the United States and is currently publishing a book, The Journey of the Soul in Biblical Stories.

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8. European Vegetarian Union (EVU) Plans Event on “Vegetarian Answer to World Hunger”

Thanks to EVU Vice President Herma Caelen for forwarding this material:

EVU Talks 2007 - 'The veggie answer to world hunger'.

Comments and ideas from individuals and organizations interested in the
topic are very welcome. [I sent some Jewish-related material.]

Dear friends and colleagues,

The European Vegetarian Union, an umbrella for European vegetarian organizations in Europe, is preparing the EVU Talks 2007 and would like to hear your opinion about the topic.

Taking into consideration that this year's harvests in many regions failed and that even the FAO admits that change is called for because of the damage livestock creates for the environment, we want to discuss the dramatic issue of global hunger and how vegetarianism can help in alleviating the problem.

For this meeting we would like to hear ideas, comments and remarks and we are asking for your support. Please send us your texts so that we can collect views from many regions, print them out and hand them over to the audience consisting of leaders and representatives of some of the most important vegetarian organizations in Europe. Don't forget to add your exact contact details, please.

Of course, messages of support for our project are also very welcome!

I am sending you my best wishes for 2007 and thank you in advance for your interest and cooperation.

Best regards,

Herma Caelen
Vice President
European Vegetarian Union

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9. Dan Brooks' Letter to Times Re Their Editorial “Meat and the Planet”

Your editorial “Meat and the Planet” (Dec. 27) should shock the global conscience! With the livestock industry using and abusing 30% of the planet's land (crowding out other uses), destroying rainforests (squelching the lungs of the Earth), and being “responsible for about 18 percent of the global warming effect, more than transportation's contribution”, we need to move beyond simply “pushing livestock production in more sustainable directions”. As also reported this week, a massive ice shelf broke off of Canada, raising sea levels, and the Indian island of Lohachara is now submerged, creating over 10,000 refugees. We are standing at a precipice and minor changes will only yield minor results. It is increasingly clear, and increasingly urgent for planetary health as well as personal health, that we should switch away from not only gas-guzzling SUVs but also SUV lifestyles and SUV-style diets. For more information, please see my Eco-Eating web site at www.brook.com/veg.

Dan Brook, Ph.D.
Dept of Sociology
San Jose State University
San Jose, CA 95192

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10. Polar Bears Threatened by Global Warming

U.S. moves to list polar bears as threatened

Updated: 5:11 p.m. ET Dec 29, 2006

WASHINGTON - Polar bears are in jeopardy and need stronger government protection because of melting Arctic sea ice related to global warming, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

The Interior Department cites thinning sea ice as the big problem; outside the government, other scientists studying the issue say pollution, overhunting, development and even tourism also may be factors. Greenland and Norway have the most polar bears, while a quarter of them live mainly in Alaska and travel to Canada and Russia.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Wednesday proposed listing polar bears as a "threatened" species on the government list of imperiled species. The "endangered" category is reserved for species more
likely to become extinct.

"Polar bears are one of nature's ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world's harshest environments," Kempthorne said. "But we are concerned the polar bear's habitat may literally be melting."

A final decision on whether to add the polar bears to the list is a year away, after the government finishes more studies.

Energy, shipping impacts

Such a decision would require all federal agencies to ensure that anything they authorize that might affect polar bears will not jeopardize their survival or the sea ice where they live. That could include oil and gas exploration, commercial shipping or even releases of toxic contaminants or climate-affecting pollution.

Kempthorne, however, said his department's studies indicate that coastal and offshore oil and gas exploration -- heavily promoted by the Bushd administration, particularly in Alaska -- shouldn't be curtailed.

"It's very clear that the oil and gas activity in that area does not pose a threat to the polar bears," he said.

Similarly, Alaskan natives and other people who depend on hunting the bears as part of their subsistence diet probably will not be affected, Kempthorne said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the incoming head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the polar bear's plight reflects the health of the planet.

"Global warming is melting polar ice at an alarming rate and we are now beginning to realize the consequences of this," she said. "This news serves as a wake-up call to the U.S. Congress and the administration that we must quickly begin to address global warming through legislative action."

Environmentalists hope that invoking the Endangered Species Act protections eventually might provide impetus for the government to cut back on its emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases blamed for warming the atmosphere.

Secretary cites warming

The proposed listing also marks a potentially significant departure for the administration from its cautious rhetoric about the effects of global warming. Kempthorne cited the thinning sea ice brought about by
global warming as the main culprit, although he said his department wasn't required by the endangered species law to study climate change.

President Bush's steadfast refusal to go along with United Nations-brokered mandatory controls on carbon dioxide, the chief global warming gas, has contributed to tensions between the United States and other nations.

Polar bears, an iconic and cold weather-dependent animal, are dropping in numbers and weight in the Arctic. In July, the House approved a U.S.-Russia treaty to help protect polar bears from overhunting and other threats to their survival.

That vote put into effect a 2000 treaty that sets quotas on polar bear hunting by native populations in the two countries and establishes a bilateral commission to analyze how best to sustain sea ice. It also approved spending $2 million a year through 2010 for the polar bear program.

The Polar Bear Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union, based in Gland, Switzerland, has estimated the polar bear population in the Arctic is about 20,000 to 25,000, put at risk by melting sea ice, pollution, hunting, development and even tourism.

The group lists the polar bear among more than 16,000 species threatened for survival worldwide, and projects a 30 percent decline in their numbers over the next 45 years. It says sea ice is expected to decrease 50 percent to 100 percent over the next 50 years to 100 years.

The decision from Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees endangered species, coincides with a court-ordered deadline. In February 2005, the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace petitioned Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the polar bears. After Fish and Wildlife officials missed a deadline for deciding earlier this year, the groups sued and agreed on Wednesday's deadline.

"This is a victory for the polar bear, and all wildlife threatened by global warming," said Kassie Siegel, a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity. "There is still time to save polar bears but we must reduce greenhouse gas pollution immediately."

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