Bearing Witness? Polar Bears as Icons for Climate Change Communication in National Geographic

Author(s)
Dorothea Born
Abstract

This article investigates how polar bears were established as icons of climate change in the popular science magazine National Geographic. In a multistep process, anthropomorphized depictions first established polar bears as subjects of identification. Then, polar bears were visually connected to the endangered Arctic. Finally, they emerged as ambassadors of a threatened ecosystem and icons of climate change. I highlight the wider political contexts of this process of iconization and the semiotic and cultural resources on which it draws, showing what kind of climate change communication the polar bear icon enables or inhibits. The icon lends itself to being deployed in visual communication strategies creating personal concern and public awareness for climate change. At the same time, the icon fosters an individualized, emotionalized, and localized account of climate change but does not make its wider causes visible.

Organisation(s)
Department of Science and Technology Studies
Journal
Environmental Communication
Volume
13
Pages
649-663
ISSN
1752-4032
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2018.1435557
Publication date
12-2018
Publication status
E-pub ahead of print
Peer reviewed
Yes
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
509017 Social studies of science
Keywords
Climate change communication, icon, national geographic, popular science magazines, visual communication
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Environmental Science (miscellaneous), Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
Portal url
https://ucris.univie.ac.at/portal/en/publications/bearing-witness-polar-bears-as-icons-for-climate-change-communication-in-national-geographic(cdee1630-f053-4d6d-b988-bbe50f53f1f0).html