Behind the scenes as Greenpeace's giant polar bear Aurora prepares to invade London
Greenpeace can't match the public relations budget of Shell, but the environmental group's ambitious stunts make up for it – witness their woozy scaling of the Shard in June to unfurl a "save the Arctic" flag. So when Dazed received an email from the organisation with "Giant Polar Bear" in the subject line, we figured something epic was unfolding in their campaign against drilling in the Arctic. They invited us to a cavernous warehouse in the marshy edgelands of Hackney Wick to witness the creation of Aurora – a gigantic, walking, roaring polar bear bringing the fight to London this September.
"Burning oil caused the melting in the first place. The idea of companies exploiting the Arctic through the natural disaster they've caused has fuelled people's outrage," says Greenpeace "action creator" Hannah Davey over the flying sparks of welding machines as Aurora's metal skeleton – a little larger than a double decker bus – is built up piece by piece. One giant front leg twists forward on its hinges, ready for a paw to be attached. Taped to the walls are designer Christopher Kelly's sketches for the beast – a steampunkish creation with inner workings based on a ship's rigging, a nod to Greenpeace's famous Rainbow Warrior boats and early-20th-century explorer Ernest Shackleton. "The polar bear had to be symbolic," Kelly says, pointing to black-and-white photographs of the explorer. "Shackleton brought his crew back alive, whereas other explorers were pretty destructive."
At these temperatures the crude oil becomes thick gloopy stuff that just isn't possible to break down. A spill would be disastrous
The day we meet, a heartbreaking picture is circulating in the press, showing a polar bear starved to death in the Svalbard archipelago. "Climate change has shrunk Arctic ice to 75 per cent of what it was," Davey says, "so they've been forced to travel hundreds of miles in search of food." But for Shell and other oil companies gathering vulture-like around the Arctic circle, the melt is opening the way for drilling in previously impossible areas. "At these temperatures the crude oil becomes thick gloopy stuff that just isn't possible to break down," says Davey. "A spill would be disastrous." The ultimate aim for Greenpeace, she says, is to declare a global sanctuary in the high Arctic, protecting it from the world's prospectors.
Aurora will take that message to the streets on September 15, with a roar that Greenpeace hopes will reverberate across the globe. All it asks is for people to join her as she pads her way through London to Shell's headquarters. "Aurora can do a mega roar, an extended mega roar, a snarl, a moan and a growl," says Davey. "It's a soundscape soup of ice cracking, glaciers moving, ships creaking, and the cries and shouts of bears and everyone else who ever loved the Arctic. If you sign up to walk with Aurora, you're signing up to save the Arctic."
To see Aurora live and in action, join the parade on September 15.