Heard on the Hill

Frostpaw still can’t bear climate change

That’s why this gigantic polar bear roams around Washington

Bill Snape dons his Frostpaw outfit in Philadelphia for the 2016 Democratic convention. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

If you see a 7-foot polar bear around D.C., don’t panic. It’s probably just Frostpaw.

“It’s akin to hot yoga,” said Bill Snape, who’s been donning the iconic costume for several years. “Whenever I first put it on, I have these five minutes of claustrophobia and discomfort, and then I just relax and find my breathing pattern and get into this love trance.”

That’s about as heated as things get. Frostpaw has turned up at climate rallies in Washington and around the country, not to mention political conventions, agency hearings and President Donald Trump’s inauguration. But aside from a stray arrest on Wall Street in 2014, the bear has kept the mood pretty chill.

“It seems silly, to dress up as a big animal,” said Snape, who shares bear duties with other employees of the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, where he works as senior counsel. “But what I discovered is that wearing this huge outfit is just a magnet. It inspires almost any person of any type to want to engage and talk.”

The message is simple: If glaciers keep melting at the current pace, polar bears won’t make it to the end of the century. Or as Snape puts it, “Frostpaw is completely and utterly screwed if we don’t address climate change. The only polar bears left will be in zoos and dorks like me wearing outfits.”

So why doesn’t Frostpaw make it to the Capitol more often? The bear has ventured inside for a hearing or two, but logistics make it difficult. Getting the bulky costume through security is a challenge, and Snape sees the character as primarily an educational tool rather than a lobbying one.

That’s not to say the bear won’t be showing up in support of the Green New Deal. “Frostpaw’s new hero is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” according to Snape.

Some climate activists have turned up the volume in the Trump era, especially after the president withdrew from the Paris climate deal and cast doubt on his administration’s finding that extreme temperatures and rising sea levels could hurt Americans. But Frostpaw has stuck to a low-key script.

“I don’t go around saying, ‘Trump sucks,’ even though Frostpaw doesn’t like Trump very much. That’s not a good message,” said Snape, who also teaches classes at American University’s law school. “Frostpaw would have to turn into a very angry bear, and we’ve decided not to make that turn yet.”

Instead, Snape wants people to see his bear costume and think of the future. That much, at least, doesn’t have to be partisan, he said.

“Even at the Republican National Convention in 2016, after Trump had already said climate change is a ‘hoax,’ I cannot tell you the number of Republicans who’d come up and say, ‘We love you, Frostpaw. We’ll do something to save you.’”

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