When it comes to climate change, overcoming apathy is an enormous struggle: many people would rather deny its existence and make jokes about the cold than come to grips with the irreversible damage we are doing to our planet and the animals living on it. This week, a photographer’s footage of a dying polar bear is helping to overcome that indifference and to spark the public’s attention.
Photographer Paul Nicklen filmed a starving polar bear on a trip with conservation group Sea Legacy in northern Canada (in the Arctic Circle) last summer, and the video is making the rounds on social media this week — and bringing everyone who watches it to tears.
In the video, the emaciated polar bear rummages for food in a garbage can, then, failing to find any, collapses onto the ground, slumping in defeat.
“It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me,” Nicklen wrote on his Instagram caption, “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.”
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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 [email protected] or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”
The video has struck a chord with the public on Twitter, with people reaching the same conclusion Nicklen stressed in his caption: climate change needs to be addressed.
Climate change is the single biggest threat to polar bear survival, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found in 2015. Disappearing seals and ice make it more and more difficult for the bears to hunt for food, and the melting of sea ice will only make the problem worse for this threatened species.
“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like,” Nicklen concluded to National Geographic. “Bears are going to starve to death. This is what a starving bear looks like.”
The video is admittedly upsetting to watch, as it is too late for this polar bear. Hopefully the viral footage will serve as a much-needed wake-up call to many people who are not concerned about, or do not believe in the existence of, global warming.