• Arctic paradox: polar bears, climate change and American environmentalism

      Loeffler, Carolyn Kozak; Ehrlander, Mary; Cole, Terrence; Boylan, Brandon; Woodward, Kesler; Hirsch, Alexander (2018-08)
      By virtually any standard of measurement, the Arctic is hotter than ever before, physically, politically and emotionally. Rising ocean temperatures, opening sea lanes, disappearing pack ice and global fear of environmental devastation have combined to make the Arctic Ocean the great question mark about the future of the human species with ursus maritimus, the "sea bear," standing as perhaps the most evocative symbol of our global responsibility and fate. In human eyes the polar bear has long been a paradoxical creature, mirroring a dilemma at the center of America's relationship to the Arctic today. The region's stretches of uninterrupted ecosystems and wilderness areas inspire strikingly disparate visions: a resource warehouse to some, and a sacred environmental preserve to others, pitting historical frontier identities against moral obligations to future generations. These conflicting visions of the Arctic ice pack and the bears who live there also symbolize the tension between the realities of consumerism and the ideals of global citizenship. In the last 150 years, our understanding of the polar bear has transitioned from ferocious to vulnerable, from a symbol of cold to a symbol of melt. An analysis of this change illuminates shifting historical perspectives and the roots of this ideological divide. This thesis demonstrates how polar bears first entered the American public consciousness as ferocious and sublime Arctic predators, before being commercialized, commodified, and eventually codified into the symbols they are today. Applied discourse analysis deconstructs how industrialization mediated the cultural shift of the polar bear from feared predator to vulnerable and politically contentious climate victim. Images and image analysis support the historical narrative, and act as entry points to our historic and contemporary understandings of American environmentalism.