- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2018

National Geographic contributing photographer and speaker Cristina Mittermeier acknowledged Thursday that her now-viral photographs of a starving polar bear went “too far” in linking the bear’s condition to the effects of climate change.

In an article for National Geographic, Ms. Mittermeier wrote that she and photographer Paul Nicklen, who recorded video of the bear, were “on a mission to capture images that communicate the urgency of climate change”

“Documenting its effects on wildlife hasn’t been easy,” she wrote. “With this image, we thought we had found a way to help people imagine what the future of climate change might look like. We were, perhaps, naive. The picture went viral — and people took it literally.

“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,” she continued. “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.”

Ms. Mittermeier said the misleading footage spread like wildfire, reaching an audience estimated in the billions.

“The mission was a success, but there was a problem: We had lost control of the narrative,” she wrote. “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,” she continued. “A fast-warming Arctic means that sea ice is disappearing for increasingly longer periods of time each year. 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.”

The article included an updated version of the harrowing footage that specified it was “impossible” to determine for sure what ailed the animal.


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