National Geographic admitted it “went too far” in linking a starving polar bear, captured in an iconic video last year, to man-made global warming.
It only took National Geographic seven months to admit what polar bear experts and The Daily Caller News Foundation pointed out when the story was initially released — there’s no proof this particular bear was killed by global warming.
“This is what climate change looks like,” National Geographic reported on its website of the starving bear, photographed by environmental activists in August 2017. The magazine’s article on the image of the starving bear went viral, sparking media coverage that eventually led to the photo reaching an estimated 2.5 billion people.
Now, the magazine is recanting its earlier claim of death by climate.
“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,” National Geographic said in a statement updating the original article.
The magazine issued the statement in conjunction with an op-ed by Cristina Mittermeier who co-founded the group SeaLegacy with Paul Nicklen, the activist photographers who first released the image of the bear on social media.
Mittermeier described how they found the starving polar bear, tracked him to a cove, where they found him “like an abandoned rug, nearly lifeless.” Nicklen photographed the starving bear, and Mittermeier said she could hear other members of her team “sobbing.”
Mittermeier also defended her colleague’s releasing of the photo, which she said was meant to “help people imagine what the future of climate change might look like.” Nicklen “did not say that this particular bear was killed by climate change,” she wrote.
“We were, perhaps, naive,” she said. “The picture went viral—and people took it literally.” (RELATED: New Study Claims Global Warming Is Making Siberian Winters Even Colder)
While Nicklen didn’t explicitly tie the bear’s death to global warming, he heavily insinuated it was related. Nicklen’s Instagram post offered no caveat or explanation that there’s no way to know what actually killed the bear.
Instead, Nicklen said things like, “[w]hen 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.”
Mittermeier even noted in her op-ed her team “could tell he was sick or injured and that he was starving,” yet Nicklen still posted the bear’s picture online as a warning about global warming.
“We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth — our home — first,” Nicklen wrote in December 2017, sparking a wave of hysterical media coverage.
Mittermeier went on to criticize National Geographic for going too far in connecting the bear’s death to global warming. She claimed they has lost control of the narrative, despite successfully highlighting the risks polar bears may face from a changing climate.
“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,” Mittermeier wrote.
“A fast-warming Arctic means that sea ice is disappearing for increasingly longer periods of time each year,” she wrote. “That means many more bears will get stranded on land, where they can’t pursue the seals, walruses, and whales that are their prey and where they will slowly starve to death.”
However, zoologist Susan Crockford had harsh words for Mittermeier and Nicklen, calling the activists “callous and self-absorbed” for not finding “a local conservation officer to euthanize the bear, which would have been the right thing to do.”
“Not only did Nicklen and Mittermeier cold-bloodedly exploit a defenseless, suffering animal without a thought to ending its pain, they still think that what they did was noble and self-sacrificing,” Crockford wrote on her blog.
“They apparently think that their advocacy for climate change relieved them of the responsibility of being humane,” she wrote.
Crockford also noted that despite knowing they were filming a sick or injured bear, “Nicklen presented it as an effect of climate change regardless.”
“Mittermeier now says National Geographic simply “went too far” with their video caption, that she and Nicklen ‘lost control of the narrative,'” Crockford wrote. “Actually, what they lost was their humanity.”
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