I’ve always liked polar bears. Some animals just have a higher cool factor than others, and polar bears are one species that just seems to have it going on.

I’ve never seen a polar bear in its natural habitat, and I probably never will. But I like knowing that they’re up there in the Arctic doing their thing, and I find the notion that we might one day live in a world without polar bears to be strangely troubling.

As you may have heard, the clock is ticking on these great white beasts and they may indeed be on the road to oblivion. The polar ice caps are slowly melting away, and the bears are running out of habitable real estate.

An international group that tracks the health of the earth’s ecosystem issued a report this week that says that 16,000 species around the world, including my beloved polar bear, are threatened with extinction. The chief cause of the threat in most cases is human activity.

Things like global warming, pollution and destruction of natural habitats threaten to wipe out a third of the world’s amphibians, a quarter of all mammals and coniferous trees, and one in eight bird species.

Tree huggers everywhere are beside themselves with angst, but is this really something that the average schlub should care about? After all, we’ve got terrorists, high gas prices, and the national debt keeping us up at night. Do we really need to add the fate of polar bears and hippopotamuses and desert gazelles to our long list of concerns?

Maybe we do. Because even if you wouldn’t share my grief over the loss of all these unique forms of life, your own personal well-being, and the possibly the long-term survival of humanity, is tied up in their struggle for existence.

Although we don’t like to think of ourselves as animals, we are part of an interconnected, interdependent web of life on this planet. If too many pieces of the web disappear, the whole thing could start to unravel. Precious commodities like breathable air, clean water, and tasty plants and animals could end up becoming increasingly hard to come by and our own survival as a species could face a real threat in the long term.

So we all have a stake in not screwing up the environment, and there are things we can do to make the prospects of the polar bear as well as our own children and grandchildren a little more promising.

The next time you buy a car, take fuel efficiency into account. Turn off your car’s engine if you’re going to be sitting idle for more than a minute. Walk more, drive less.

Recycle. Try and avoid using Styrofoam – the stuff doesn’t break down like paper and cardboard. Be mindful of how much water you use. Turn off the faucet when you’re brushing your teeth.

Conserve energy. Replace old appliances whenever possible – the new ones are more efficient. Turn off lights when you leave a room. There’s also a new super-efficient light bulb that is more expensive than the traditional incandescent bulb but will last ten times longer and save you money on your power bills.

Want some more good ideas? The Internet is full of information that can help you be more earth-friendly and, in many cases, save you money at the same time. Here’s one link you can check out: www.earthday.gov

As the dominant species we pretty much rule this planet and can do with it as we wish. It is certainly within our power to destroy it. Abe Lincoln said “nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

As more and more forms of life are sacrificed at the altar of convenience, what kind of character are we demonstrating?

Bill Ferguson is a columnist for the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph.

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