If you are reading this blog then I would imagine that you pay attention to media about wildlife to some degree. If so, you have probably seen these gut-wrenching images of a polar bear that was in the throes of starving to death:
Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen
If you are not following Cristina, Paul, and SeaLegacy on social media then you are missing out. Cristina and Paul specialize in documenting Arctic and oceanic wildlife. The images they produce are absolutely stellar!
Paul’s Original Polar Bear Clip
Paul and Cristina documented the aforementioned wasting polar bear and posted a video about the bear on Paul’s Instagram (see below).
My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”
Paul does not say that this particular bear was dying because of global warming.
He does say that in the not too distant future the spectacle of wasting marine mammals will become common due to the effects of global warming.
And that is where things went sideways with this incredible video.
NatGeo ran Paul’s video, but changed the verbiage on the video to “This is what climate change looks like”. The nuance of the change is slight, but it is enough to indicate that this particular animal was dying due to the effects of global warming.
NatGeo’s version of the polar bear video went viral with 2.5 billion views.
Other media outlets picked up the video with NatGeo’s global warming narrative and expounded upon it.
The askew global warming narrative had become a viral juggernaut.
Narrative Course Correction
Cristina Mittermeier, to her credit, recognized NatGeo’s askew narrative. In this month’s issue of NatGeo she set the narrative straight.
“Perhaps we made a mistake in not telling the full story—that we were looking for a picture that foretold the future and that we didn’t know what had happened to this particular polar bear.
I can’t say that this bear was starving because of climate change, but I do know that polar bears rely on a platform of sea ice from which to hunt.”
NatGeo, also to their credit, fell on the sword and acknowledged that they erred in the video’s narrative:
“National Geographic went too far in drawing a definitive connection between climate change and a particular starving polar bear in the opening caption of our video about the animal. We said, “This is what climate change looks like.” While science has established that there is a strong connection between melting sea ice and polar bears dying off, there is no way to know for certain why this bear was on the verge of death.”
Credit Where Credit Is Due
I give Cristina and NatGeo full credit for their efforts on trying to set the narrative of this story straight. It must have taken some editorial guts to make the call to set the record straight.
Global Warming Science
If you are curious as to what the data on climate science looks like feel free to check NASA’s data on the subject. As per always, do your own research, form your opinions, and don’t simply accept what you are told.