Frostpaw Marches Against Coal in Bonn
A powerful symbol of what’s at stake in the fight against climate change
I’m a scientist by training and inclination. I read academic journals for fun. I even like peer review. But the other day I dressed up as a giant polar bear to educate people about climate change — and I loved it.
On Saturday we took to the streets of Bonn, Germany with 25,000 people from all over the world to demand climate justice and an end to coal. We marched to the site of this week’s UN climate conference where world leaders will negotiate the implementation of the Paris climate agreement.
The march was filled with powerful symbolism. Many marchers wore red in recognition of the red line demonstration at the 2015 UN climate conference in Paris. Because the region around Bonn is one of the largest and most-polluting coal mining regions in Europe, people carried black balloons representing carbon dioxide from local coal power plants.
And, of course, we brought Frostpaw, a symbol himself.
That’s where I came in.
Frostpaw always draws attention, being a 7-foot tall polar bear far from the Arctic, and this day was no different. Inside the costume, I got a polar bear’s-eye view of how much people love animals — and how deeply they care about protecting our planet’s web of life from global warming.
Frostpaw is a reminder that climate change is already harming polar bears, and that the fate of polar bears and other threatened wildlife is linked to our own. Frostpaw drove this message home wielding a sign that said, “Climate change is real. Clean coal is not, Mr. Trump,” and wearing a t-shirt that said “Keep it in the ground” in reference to fossil fuels.
This comes as the Trump administration prepares to send a team to Bonn that will promote “clean coal” and natural gas as the answer to climate change. Trump has extolled the virtues of coal and other fossils fuels since even before his presidency, and coal production has risen since his election.
Yet we know from the recently released National Climate Assessment Volume I that curbing climate change will require a phase-out of fossil fuels. Thus, Trump’s fossil-fuel-first messaging is dangerously irresponsible and puts us even further behind other countries in the fight against climate change.
As Frostpaw made clear with his sign and T-shirt, fossil fuels are not the answer to the very real problem of climate change. All coal is dirty coal, and all fossil fuels are dirty fuels.
Global warming will do incalculable harm to human beings, as the National Climate Assessment made clear.
But there’s something about the looming loss of the polar bear that drives home how much is at stake in the fight to ward off climate chaos.
How people responded to Frostpaw on Saturday shows that he is much more than the sum of his parts: a person in a polar bear suit. He is a powerful symbol of the fight against fossil fuels and climate change.
Before even knowing Frostpaw’s message, people were drawn to him, wanting pictures, or handshakes or hugs. Children just wanted a chance to touch Frostpaw, dragging their parents in his direction while yelling ‘eisbär’ (polar bear in German — ‘ice bear’ both in pronunciation and translation) with excitement.
Few people have seen a polar bear in real life, but they have grown up with its image and an appreciation for its existence. Climate change is a threat to the polar bear and to the wider natural world that we love so deeply even in this era of iPhones and self-driving cars.
It was heartwarming to hear young children shout out in recognition of the eisbär. It is heartbreaking to imagine a world where children no longer shout out because they don’t recognize a polar bear driven to extinction by climate change. It is heart-breaking to imagine a world where the natural wonders we currently enjoy are unavailable to future generations.
And it’s absolutely tragic to consider that kids so entranced by Frostpaw today will face a hotter, bleaker, more dangerous future unless we get our act together.
We’ll be participating in the conference to implore U.S. leaders — from Trump to California Governor Jerry Brown — to take real action to protect our people and wildlife from devastating climate change. We want a future where the natural splendor we see today is just as magnificent — a world where children are happy, healthy and unthreatened by a strange new world.
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