Should the new icon of the climate challenge be the puffin?
Way, way back when I first set up Terra Infirma, I ordered a set of corporate Christmas Cards featuring a polar bear stalking across the ice. I was trying to find the overlap between the climate crisis and a snowy, kinda Christmassy scene.
A few months later I saw a presentation by George Marshall where he argued the polar bear was probably the worst emblem of the climate crisis as it lives in distant lands (from a UK point of view) and pretty much the only animal on earth which will go out of its way to hunt us down for food. The use of the polar bear reinforces the idea that ‘the environment’ is a high falutin’ moral issue that we should really do something about, rather than an existential threat that we must do something about. It also opened up a whole opportunity for the climate denial movement to cherry-pick data to argue that the polar bears are doing OK, thank you very much (they aren’t).
Needless to say, I didn’t print any more polar bear cards (or any cards, bit of a waste). And if you watch my Green Jujitsu animation, you’ll notice I deliberately included a ‘save the polar bear’ poster as an example of what doesn’t work.
On the other hand, we all love nature and charismatic species are a great entry point to give people an understanding of the natural world that supports us. Watching David Attenborough’s new series Wild Isles about the UK’s wildlife last night, it struck me that the puffin could fulfil the role of climate icon much better than the polar bear. A native to the UK, impossibly cute, and under threat due to the migration of sand eels in warming seas, these wee birds have a great climate story to tell. Who could say no to a puffin?
Photo: By Charles J. Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography.co.uk, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106949397