The Polar Bear Family and Me
‘My time with Lyra and Mickey has shown me how vulnerable polar bears really are. They belong here, and only here. They are part of this extraordinary Arctic world. But their world is changing and their future is unsure. … For thousands of years polar bears have been shaped, been fine-tuned by this landscape, the climate, the ice, the seals that they hunt. To that extent that polar bears aren't just a symbol of the Arctic, they are the embodiment of all life here in the Arctic. It's easy to understand how polar bears have become this powerful emblem. And it is almost unimagineable that there could be a future without them’.
Just a few days after watching the last episode, I spotted an article in the Guardian suggesting it might not long before we need to start feeding polar bears (something that is currently illegal, at least in Svalbard) to supplement their dwindling access to sea ice seals . The fact that enthusiasts are already standing by to fund raise for this speaks volumes for the attachment we have to the animals.
There is no disputing the fact polar bears have become an emblem for the Arctic, a ‘charismatic species’, though how useful and appropriate this is does merit critical discussion. Without turning this into an epic piece, I’ll outline the main points and recent things I’ve come across which relate.
Climate change, as mentioned in the previous post, can be hard to relate to, some researchers cite the lack of clear imagery to associate with climate change as one reason for this . As with Chasing Ice and its calving glaciers, images of polar bears and how climate change is affecting them, can make this abstract concept come to life. One could argue the polar bear gets a few steps closer to us, we engage emotionally with the living species, and certainly with a named family of bears we are ‘getting to know’ through this series. Slocum  shows that in Northern regions, the polar bear is also employed as a familiar character and as a way to localise climate change:
They are also politically significant in that the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (signed in 1973) to prohibit hunting them was one of the first of its kind to protect both species and its habitat . Whilst there are still some issues with managing the kinds of hunting that is allowed (e.g. to support traditional ways of life), it is generally considered a success, one which climate change puts into jeopody.
Polar bears as a species to save are located firmly in ‘nature’ (and one which is for most of us rather remote and exotic): Slocum argues that by appealing to ‘save’ them, we are reinforcing the binary that puts humans over and above ‘nature’ with the power to save or destroy in our hands only, which surely does not give bears, or ‘nature’ a fair run. I think perhaps the relations between humans and bears, and their potential to surprise and adapt is something that was portrayed quite well in My Polar Bear Family and Me and indeed the above quote nudges us towards thinking whether we as a species would be the same if polar bears were extinct. Yet this is undoubtedly a worthwhile critique.
There is surely a lot more I will have to say about polar bears in the future, and the necessity of learning to shoot one (only as a last resort for self-defence) is looming in the foreground. I’ll leave this post on a more cheery note though. Climate change campaigns are often more interesting when a little bit of humour is involved, and I think this topical song strikes a good balance between a funny/ ironic ditty and deadly serious/ sad:
 Slocum, R. (2004) ‘Polar bears and energy-efficient lightbulbs: strategies to bring climate change home’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 22, 413–438.
 Fikkan, A., Osherenko, G., Arikainen, A. (1993) ‘Polar Bears: The Importance of Simplicity’, in Polar Politics: Creating International Environmental Regimes, Cornell University Press: London, 96–151.
 Manzo, K. (2010) ‘Imaging vulnerability: the iconography of climate change’, Area, 42(1), 96–107.
 Manzo, K. (2012) ‘Earthworks: The geopolitical visions of climate change cartoons’, Political Geography, 31(8), 481–494.