The polar bear has big paws and shoulders. When it moves, slack fur glides along its broad frame. It can barely search for food, let alone lifts its head.
The bear, captured in a harrowing video by the National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen, is starving to death in the Baffin Islands of Canada.
Nicklen said that the bear would probably be dead within hours or days of the video, according to National Geographic.
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Some people asked Nicklen why he didn't intervene to help the bear. That, according to Nicklen, reflects the flawed approach to enormous issues like climate change that’s often taken around the world.
"It's not like I walk around with a tranquilizer gun or 400 pounds of seal meat,” he told National Geographic.
More to the point, individuals aren’t able to help polar bears deal with the enormous environmental changes that have taken place over the past few decades.
As he wrote in the Instagram post:
"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."
Each year, polar bears travel onto sea ice to where seals cluster and hunt while the ice remains stable, according to National Geographic. When the ice melts, polar bears retreat and fast on the shore. Over the past two decades, ice has melted catastrophically in the places where polar bears live, which has prolonged fasting seasons and imperilled the very possibility of hunting.
Polar bears have long been the face of climate change, Nat Geo notes, because they’re on the frontlines of the shifting global environment.
Usually, images of baby polar bears huddled with their mothers or adult bears drifting on chunks of ice are publicized, sad but cute and decontextualized scenes.
A starving, skeletal bear, however, shows far more starkly the effects of climate change.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for strong environmental action to protect life on land and in water. You can take action on this issue here.