Polar bears: An overused image of climate change?

Flickr: Rita Kravchuk

How many of us can actually say we’ve seen a polar bear? And I don’t mean by simply watching TV documentaries or looking at posters of them. I’m going to take a wild guess and say not many of us have been lucky enough to say we have.

That, of course, hasn’t stopped campaigners of climate change from using the polar bear image which has become synonymous with the debate on climate change as the melting arctic sea ice continues to threaten its survival.

Known as the ‘poster child’ of global warming, the polar bear is an image we’ve seen through organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenpeace.

But, is it one that is becoming overused when many of us don’t have polar bears on our doorsteps?

Does it then become a sense of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when the polar bear and its struggles, thousands of miles away, fail to filter into our daily thoughts?

If you’ve read the news you’ll know about Siku, the polar bear who is being hand reared by carers at Denmark’s Scandinavian Wildlife Park after his mother didn’t produce any milk. Born last November there is a webcam, which allows people from across the globe to watch him grow up at his new home.

Once again though the image of a polar bear is used to bring attention to the polar bears plight as thousands of Siku’s relatives suffer in the wild with the sea ice they depend upon melting with the warming of the earth.

But will it be effective at generating a response from those who view the day-to-day life of Siku?

Polar bear campaigners are hopeful that the new project will reverse the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ adage with the introduction of the Siku Cam in a bid to get more of the world’s population thinking about climate change to stop it and to save the polar bears.

Even though Siku has proved popular among viewers, that’s not to say that the sight of Siku growing up will produce a much needed turnaround in people’s actions when it comes to reducing their carbon footprint.

While we are ‘closer’ to Siku does that mean it will change our attitude to climate change? Unfortunately, I don’t think it will, despite the fact that Siku is an extremely cute bear.

But, with the melting arctic sea ice still thousands of miles away and reductions in our carbon footprint demonstrated in long-term action plans for the future, there are many who fail to see the importance of acting now as it does little to produce the response needed compared to if action plans were more immediate.

Not only that, but while the plight of the polar bear is something that we should all be thinking about, have we simply become too used to the seeing the image the polar bear for it to trigger a passive audience into action?


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