This polar bear is starving, but it’s not ‘what climate change looks like’: National Geographic

‘National Geographic went too far in drawing a definitive connection’
In an editor's note, National Geographic said they went too far in drawing a connection between climate change and images of an emaciated polar bear in regards to a video they picked up last year and added subtitles to.

National Geographic is walking back its claim that a video of a starving polar bear is an example of “what climate change looks like.”

The video, which the magazine posted to the internet on Dec. 11, 2017, showed an emaciated polar bear chewing on garbage in a cove on Nunavut’s Somerset Island.

It was taken by Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier of SeaLegacy, an organization that produces video and photography in an effort to spread ocean conservation awareness.

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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 or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”

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Nicklen posted the video on Instagram, saying, “This is what starvation looks like.”

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National Geographic would later post the video with subtitles which read, “This is what climate change looks like.”

It would go on to draw more views that any National Geographic video ever has on its website — with over 1.5 million on YouTube alone. Global News would cover it too.

An editor’s note attached to an article in the magazine’s August 2018 issue said, “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 December 2017 video about the animal.”

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In the article, Mittermeier wrote that the video drew an enormous response.

Some were thankful that they had drawn attention to climate change, while others, who deny climate change even exists, said the video was “another example of environmentalist exaggeration.”

“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,” she wrote.

READ MORE: Heart-wrenching video of emaciated polar bear likely a result of climate change, expert says

This is not the first time that environmental issues have been subject to conflations or exaggerations.

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In 2016, the sinking of five islands in the Solomon Islands was blamed on climate change — but that wasn’t quite the case, The Guardian reported.

It was more accurate to say that “sea level rise” was responsible, rather than tying the phenomenon directly to climate change, said Dr. Simon Albert, who authored a study examining the islands.

And in 2013, David Suzuki told a university audience that if a fourth plant at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant failed, then it’s “bye bye Japan and everybody on the West Coast of North America should evacuate.”

A study out of Simon Fraser University later determined that B.C.’s coast didn’t suffer any adverse effects from that disaster.