A heartbreaking video of a starving polar bear taken by photographer Paul Nicklen of the conservation group Sea Legacy went viral this weekend. Originally posted on Nicklen’s Instagram, the video shows an emaciated bear clinging for life on iceless land, foaming at the mouth, fighting to keep his eyes open, and digging through garbage cans in search of scraps from fishermen before collapsing to the ground.
Nicklen and his team were devastated. “We stood there crying—filming with tears rolling down our cheeks," he told National Geographic.
As polar bears are one of the largest bear species in the world, the photos and video of an almost skeletal figure with sagging skin are even more haunting.
Watch the footage Nicklen calls “soul-crushing.”
Nicklen posted this video caption:
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.
Nicklen told National Geographic: "When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death. This is what a starving bear looks like."
Polar bears, who have been labeled threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 2008, depend on sea ice to hunt seals in their usual feast-to-famine diets. As ice cover continues to decrease, the starvation periods of polar bears lengthen, placing the entire population at risk of death.
Even worse, in a 2015 assessment, scientists projected a 30 percent species reduction by 2050.
But there is something we can do to help.
Simply cutting all animal products from our diets decreases our carbon footprints by half. "That carbon footprint of meat production is more than just a big number,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity. “For polar bears, it's a factor in whether or not they'll live to see the end of this century."
The National Resources Defense Council has stated that the top five climate-damaging foods are all of animal origin: beef, lamb, butter, shellfish, and cheese.
Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined, and one pound of beef requires 13 percent more fossil fuel and 15 times more water to produce than the same amount of soy. Animal agriculture is also culpable for nearly 91 percent of Amazon destruction and uses more than one-third of the earth’s landmass, forcing wild animals out of their natural habitats.
To anyone who is serious about the environment and recognizes the threat of human activity to our planet: It’s time to take action. There is simply no way to eat animal products without contributing to climate change. “Sustainable” meat is a myth. Simply put: You cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist. Period.
While there’s nothing we could have done for the starving bear in Nicklen’s video—who should not die in vain—we can make an immediate change to help others of his species. Click here to learn more about a plant-based diet and get vegan recipes on our Pinterest page.
Photo credit: Sealegacy/Caters News