Honors Senior Theses/Projects

Date of Award


Exit Requirement

Undergraduate Honors Thesis/Project


Honors Program

Faculty Advisor

Mark Henkels,

Honors Program Director

Gavin Keulks


Over the period of 1950 to 2010, the observed global average surface temperature increased from 0.6°C to 0.7°C. In their Fifth Assessment Report, released in November 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined that more than half of this observed temperature increase was caused by an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations from anthropogenic forcings—the consequences of which are seen incontrovertibly in the Arctic ecosystem. Since satellite observations began in 1979, the rate of decrease in Arctic sea ice extent—which has decreased every season without fail—was in the range of 3.5% to 4.1% per decade; it has most rapidly decreased during the summer, in the range of 9.4% to 13.6% per decade. The apex predator of the Arctic ecosystem, the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), is one of several creatures whose survival depends entirely upon the existence of sea ice. The polar bear has long been used as the captivating poster child of climate change to encourage conservation efforts. However, despite the widely known realities of climate change, there still appear to be significant barriers that prevent individuals from taking sustainable actions on a daily basis. What strategies, then, are needed to foster community engagement efforts that confront and eliminate that disconnect? I address this query through an in-depth examination of scholarly research, a review of survey data from individuals within the field of polar bear-conservation, and the implementation of a grassroots conservation project. My findings lead me to propose a two-pronged approach to successfully tackle those perceived barriers: the provision of (1) evidence of one’s sustainable habits having a positive effect, and (2) simple tools to help maintain one’s sustainable habits.