Icy polar bear melts in Copenhagen while politicians argue

By Ecumenical News International
December 16, 2009

Olaf Storø is a burly Norwegian with a white beard and mane much like that of the ice-sculpted polar bear standing on top of the plinth in front of the Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen's Lutheran cathedral - writes Peter Kenny.

Storø climbs up the plinth to reach his half-ton ice creation, named Trude. The sculptor trims the bear's beard with a paint chipper, and scrapes off flecks of blue paint that a vandal sprayed on to the work of art the night it was erected on 12 December 2009.

Trude's icy beard melted slightly out of shape on his journey from the polar nights of Storø's home in Longyearbyen, one of the world's northernmost towns. Longyearbyen lies on the west coast of the island of Spitsbergen, has around 2075 residents, and is the administrative centre of the archipelago of Svalbard. The icy area is home to about 3000 polar bears, and Storø is the resident artist.

"The frozen bear will be a silent cry from the Arctic," said Storø in a low gruff voice, after he had prepared the bear for its official blessing at a 13 December service called, "an ecumenical celebration for creation", in the cathedral.

The service marked the midpoint of United Nations-organised talks in the Danish capital to reach agreement on limiting emissions held responsible for causing climate change.

"People here are very excited about the bear. It is a creature those who are not familiar with life north of the Arctic can easily relate to," Storø told Ecumenical News International as another passerby asked the sculptor to pose for a photograph next to his bear. "It is easy for people to understand climate change when they see a 500 kilogram bear slowly melt and disappear," the artist said.

Asked why the bear was on the plinth in front of the cathedral, Storø said, "The bear chose the place itself. There was a classical statue of David here but shortly before this climate conference it was stolen, so this was a natural place for the bear to fill the space."

Storø said he was able to get support from Norway's department of the environment, and the bear was transported from Longyearbyen in a special vessel with a freezer-cargo hold. When he arrived in Denmark, Trude then went into a freezer-trailer for his final ride to Copenhagen.

"The temperature in Copenhagen today is around zero [degrees Celsius], so it is difficult to predict how long Trude will last." Storø told ENI. "What is clear is that it will be melting while climate scientists and politicians discuss the climate summit here."

Polar bears are important not only for their beauty but are at the top of the Arctic food chain. Pollutants carried to the High Arctic by winds and ocean currents threaten the bears.

Storø named the bear Trude after the ice polar bear he made for the 2008 opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Longyearbyen, a key global food grain preservation venue.

At the Copenhagen service that followed the arrival of the polar bear, Bishop Sofie Petersen, the Lutheran bishop of Greenland, offered prayers for the people of the north. Although in the Arctic, Greenland is an autonomous country within Denmark.

After the service, Petersen told journalists, "The fishermen and the hunters in Greenland are being impacted by the lack of ice on the sea. Hunters cannot go hunting …We need to eat the food the hunters and fishers get.

"As church people it is important that we keep telling politicians we have something special. Every one of us should have respect for creation. We do not need to consume as much as we do, especially in rich countries."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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