Did National Geographic Go Too Far With The Climate Change Polar Bear Photo?

By Kehl Bayern / August 9, 2018

You might recall the now iconic picture of the starving polar bear that National Geographic released some time back. Pinning the polar bear’s condition on the destructive forces of climate change, the magazine probably never imagined just how iconic – and divisive – the photo would become. After all, in these heady political times, the outrage machine swings left and right with impunity and National Geographic found themselves caught in the crosshairs.

Image via Pixabay from Pexels.com.

Now the publication is walking back its claims about the polar bear starving due to climate change saying they “went too far.” This is because the original footage captured by Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier was captioned “This is what starvation looks like.” National Geographic unilaterally decided to change the caption and, in effect, make it what some consider a piece of propaganda pushing a political agenda.

The descriptive text accompanying the video doesn’t let up on the tear-jerking language, describing in some detail how the polar bear limply drags its body along, a literal walking corpse that made the original videographers cry they were so overwhelmed by the scene. The video has gone on to become the most viewed video on the National Geographic website since its debut.

The latest August 2018 issue of National Geographic sheds some light on the situation with videographer Mittermeier bemoaning the photographers' loss of control over the narrative and expressing regrets that National Geographic took it in the direction they did.

In its apology, National Geographic attempted to explain itself, writing: “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.”

Do you think they went too far? Tell us in the comments


About the author

Kehl Bayern

Kehl Bayern is our staff news writer and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing. In terms of photography, he is interested in architecture and modern design. Kehl Bayern is also the author of science fiction thriller Animus Proxy. He is based in Boston, Massachusetts and studied politics at the University of Virginia and, later, Harvard University for graduate school. He spends much of his time traveling up and down the east coast of the United States. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


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