Lawrence Solomon: Polar opposites

(July 1, 2011) A decision by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan becomes a different story through a media lens.

“Judge rules polar bear still threatened,” reads the headline in the Los Angeles Times. “Judge backs scientists on polar bears,” states the Newsday headline. “Threat to polar bears is real, U.S. Judge rules,” says the Canada Broadcasting Corporation.  “Global Warming Threatens Polar Bears, Judge Agrees With Scientists,” states the Huffington Post.

From these and dozens of other headlines describing a decision yesterday by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, a reader would be hard pressed to learn that the judge had decided to take no side in the scientific  dispute over whether polar bears were threatened.

The case stemmed from a 2008 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that deemed the polar bear threatened but not endangered. Environmentalists and others were now arguing before Judge Sullivan that the Service hadn’t gone far enough to protect polar bears; hunting organizations and others argued that the Service went too far.

The judge simply threw out the case. “The Service considered over 160,000 pages of documents and approximately 670,000 comment submissions from [numerous parties],” he ruled. It “is not this Court’s role to determine, based on its independent assessment of the scientific evidence, whether the agency could have reached a different conclusion with regard to the listing of the polar bear.”

One newspaper headline did get the story right, however. “Federal judge says polar bears have enough protection,” stated the Alaska Dispatch.

To read the judge’s actual decision, click here.

This article first appeared in the National Post.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and the author of The Deniers. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.

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