As Arctic Sea Ice reaches 2008 low, Street Art project highlights shared fate of polar bears, humanity

Feature story - September 18, 2008
We've unveiled a collaborative art project with well-known street artist Mark Jenkins. The project highlights the shared plight of polar bears and humans in the face of global warming. We hope these polar bear street art installations help people draw a deeper and more immediate connection to the reality of the crisis.

Jenkins, a Washington, D.C.-based artist who creates sculptures primarily from packing tape, has earned international recognition for his street art installations, many of which feature astoundingly realistic human figures. For this series, Greenpeace and Jenkins added polar bear heads and ragged clothing to human figures to convey a sense of displacement and homelessness. To date, four sculptures have been deployed throughout the D.C. area in locations chosen to reach a variety of audiences and address different aspects of the global warming crisis. One bear bore a sign reading "S.O.S.," while another had signs saying: "Victim of Oil Addiction" and "Global Warming Refugee. Help a brother out?" 

"My intention with this project was to leverage my street installations to promote awareness about the issue of global warming and the plight of the polar bear," said Jenkins. "It was our shared goal that the public would develop empathy for the polar bear as they have for the homeless which we see as two connected issues."

Watch a video of the bears in Washington:

Disappearing habitat

The fourth piece in the series, featuring a homeless bear foraging in a trash can, was deployed Tuesday, September 16th, coinciding with an announcement by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) that Arctic sea ice has reached its second lowest annual extent in recorded history. The Arctic sea ice has fallen to a low of 1.74 million square miles, roughly 0.86 million square miles below the long-term average.  That's an area of polar bear habitat three times the size of Texas lost this summer as a direct result of global warming.

Coastal communities around the world-from Alaska to Africa-are already being affected by sea level rise and increasingly severe storms that have turned once familiar landscapes into unfamiliar and increasingly inhospitable regions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that millions of people will be displaced by global warming in the next few decades by rising sea levels, extended droughts, and more extreme weather events that force migrations and make returning home more difficult-as experiences with Hurricanes Katrina and Ike bear out. Already, coastal communities are losing land to sea level rise, severe storms, and increased erosion.

Watch a video on creating the polar bears: 

Time to act

The street art also coincided with a Congressional vote that accelerated fossil fuel use and global warming by punching holes in a longstanding moratorium on offshore oil drilling. Just as we have delayed action to protect the polar bear, we have delayed action to protect our own species from the threat of global warming for far too long. The window for action is closing rapidly. More offshore oil drilling will be bad for Americans, bad for the polar bear, and bad for the planet we share.

The Senate will be voting on a broad energy bill soon. They need to hear from their constituents to vote against any bill that opens up more coastal waters to oil drilling, or props up the dirty coal, nuclear and shale oil industries.

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