Research Handbook on Climate Disaster Law
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Research Handbook on Climate Disaster Law

Barriers and Opportunities

Edited by Rosemary Lyster and Robert R.M. Verchick

Through assessing climate disaster law in relation to international, public, private and environmental law this Research Handbook considers the unique challenges, barriers and opportunities that climate disasters pose for law and policy. Scientific and empirical evidence suggests that the laws addressing natural disasters cannot be adequately applied to disasters that are caused by climate change. Featuring contributions from leading international experts, this Research Handbook will be a useful resource for those with an interest in environmental law and international policymaking.
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Chapter 15: The law of the polar bear

John Copeland Nagle


The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) is intended to prevent disastrous extinction. A “metastasizing biological disaster,” as a supporter of the proposed law once put it. The ESA rests on the congressional realization that numerous species “have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation,” while other species “have been so depleted in numbers that they are in danger of or threatened with extinction.” Those species “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” The purposes of the ESA, therefore, “are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the international agreements that seek to conserve wildlife.” The survival of the polar bear was of concern even before Congress enacted the current version of the ESA in 1973. A senator in a 1966 hearing referred to “the endangered polar bear.” An environmental group unsuccessfully sought the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969, and a court declined to “substitute its judgment for the expertise of the Secretary of the Interior.” By 1972, an environmental leader told Congress that “[t]he indiscriminate killing of polar bears may have already rendered the animal virtually ‘extinct’ in the U.S.” He complained that the Department of the Interior had refused to add the polar bear to the original 1966 list of endangered species, which he blamed on unspecified “outside pressure.” A department official responded that “it is the unanimous opinion by the experts on the polar bear that he should not be on the endangered species list, if we are going to maintain the integrity of the list.”

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