24 June 2008

No country for old animals

The abstract point is familiar: oil, gas and mineral development impact wildlife directly through habitat destruction as well as indirectly through climate disruption [1]. The examples multiply: Chinese infrastructure to support extraction in Congo or arms supplies to the Zimbabwe junta in return for mining rights, for instance.

But examples are not limited to poor developing countries. Where energy policy is unwise -- for example in the U.S. (Friedman) -- large animals (which, as James Hansen reminds us [slides, pdf, 23 June], don't vote and don't talk) are among the first to be affected [2]. Two examples. First (from New Scientist, 23 June),
The US Fish and Wildlife Service stands accused of giving oil companies a "blank cheque to harass polar bears". The row revolves around the seven oil companies that paid $2.6 billion in February for the rights to look for oil in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska. Some 2,000 polar bears live in the region - a significant chunk of the estimated 20,000 to 25,000 bears worldwide.
Second, between a fifth and quarter of land in Wyoming is now leased to oil companies, says Alexandra Fuller, author of The Legend of Colton H Bryant. Fuller compares the high plains to the Serengenti and suggests that the animal migrations under threat [or already destroyed] are [or were] comparable.


1. Ethanol production can also impact animal wildlife of course, whether it be in Amazonia, S E Asia, Africa (see this case from Kenya), or elsewhere.

2. Related comments on oil extraction and energy policy here and here.

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