Polar bear sculpture shapes climate change concern

A British sculptor carving a polar bear out of ice, with a bronze skeleton inside, hopes to make a powerful environmental message when the Arctic animal art piece melts.

A British sculptor carving a polar bear out of ice, with a bronze skeleton inside, hopes to make a powerful environmental message when the Arctic animal art piece melts.

Mark Coreth started creating the ice polar bear on Friday in Kongens Nytorv Square in Copenhagen, Denmark, close to where nearly 20,000 people are expected to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from Dec. 7 to 18.

Coreth got the idea after visiting Churchill, Man., in November, and observing the bears and the sea ice.

He said he was struck by the plight of the animals due to climate change, and became convinced "that we have got to do something about this and do it quick."

At 1.8 metres, the bear sculpture will be the same height as the average thickness of the floating sea ice in the Arctic Ocean as measured during the Catlin Arctic Survey earlier this year, he said.

Observers will be encouraged to be interactive with the sculpture, he added, saying that anyone who touches it will help change the shape and "represent the human aspect of warming the planet.

"We hope that this creative act will bring home to each person how humanity has the power to affect the delicate balance of nature," he said.

Coreth doesn't know how long it will take for the ice bear to melt into a pool of water, but as it does, he hopes it will send a message to the world.

"When the skeleton begins to appear, it's going to become terrifying. When the bronze appears, it is going to take warmth through the skeleton and melt that ice even more," he said. "That is akin to a lack of ice in the arctic north — the deep, dark ocean absorbs heat and continues to melt it."

Coreth said his idea has been strongly supported by Arctic scientists and researchers.

"It's extraordinary how the scientists, every one of them, have come up and said this is the message we want people to have, we want to tell people this," he said. "They've given it a complete blessing."

Coreth also has the support of federal Liberal David McGuinty, Canada's critic for energy and the environment, who will be in Copenhagen as part of this country's official delegation at the conference.

He hopes it'll shame the Harper government into signing onto a global climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Canada has moved from leader to laggard on the international scene," McGuinty said.

Polar bear image being exploited?

However, there are critics.

Jose Kusugak heads the Kivalliq Inuit Association in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and doesn't believe polar bears are at risk or in decline. And he doesn't like to see them used to generate sympathy for the cause.

"I have no doubt that the polar bear image is being exploited. They seem to have to use a nice-looking animal to get more money for their cause, so that's why they're using the polar bear," he said.

Coreth said his project isn't political, even though it's funded by the World Wildlife Fund and associated with Polar Bears International, a non-profit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of polar bears and their habitat.

The message, he said, should transcend politics.

"We can stop this process if we get ourselves in order," he said about climate change.

A recent report from Polar Bears International suggested the late formation of Arctic sea ice might be forcing some hungry and desperate polar bears in Churchill  to resort to cannibalism.

Eight cases of mature male polar bears eating bear cubs have been reported this year among the animals around Churchill, according to scientists.

But Kusugak said the incidents are non-events, and it's wrong to connect the bears' behaviour with starvation. He said it's a normal occurrence among the bears.

Kusugak admitted some communities are having polar bear problems because warmer-than-average temperatures mean sea ice hasn't yet formed properly.

But he disagrees their numbers are dwindling or that polar bears are in other danger because of climate change.