It was a heart-rending piece of viral footage: a polar bear, ravaged by the impact of climate change, starving and staggering across an ice-free landscape.
The video was watched 2.5 billion times on National Geographic’s website – where the link to climate change was explicitly made.
But the film-maker who shot it says it didn’t necessarily show a polar bear dying from the effects of climate change at all.
In fact, Cristina Mittermeier admits, the animal could simply be old, ill or injured – and there was ‘no way to say this bear was starving because of climate change.’
National Geographic has since edited the title of the video.
Mittermeier says the problem began when National Geographic captioned the video ‘This is what climate change looks like’.
Mittermeier says, ‘In retrospect, National Geographic went too far with the caption.’
She said, ‘Photographer Paul Nicklen and I are on a mission to capture images that communicate the urgency of climate change. Documenting its effects on wildlife hasn’t been easy.
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‘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.
‘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.’