KAMLOOPS — Last week, the conservation group Sea Legacy (co-founded by Canadian-born photographer and marine biologist Paul Nicklen and his partner Cristina Mittermeier, also a conservationist, photographer, and writer,) released a video of a starving polar bear, aiming to draw attention to an issue that is not new but is getting increasingly worrisome: the impact of climate change on wildlife and the environment, human life included, since we are, truly, but a piece of the big puzzle we call life.
The video was shared on social media, and the heartbreaking reality the Sea Legacy team was confronted with was discussed in the news. In a nutshell, shorter winters and the melting of the sea ice causes more polar bears to go hungry, as they are forced to spend more time on land instead of replenishing their reserves by going after seals, an activity for which they need sea ice.
Other scientists concur. Nick Lunn, a researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada, recently warned that climate change may be wiping out the subpopulation of polar bears near Churchill, Manitoba, in 20 to 40 years. Occurrences such as a bear swimming underwater for more than three minutes (almost three times longer than normal) while stalking his prey, only points to the same issue: increased starvation, which also causes many hungry bears to walk into cities in search of food. Aside from climate change, polar bears and other Arctic creatures are affected by persistent pollutants which affect their nervous, digestive, and reproductive systems.
The reactions to the photos and video of the severely emaciated bear were diverse, and some, to be honest, rather shocking. Some called it tragic, and vowed to change their ways to reduce their carbon footprint, others said these conservationists are opportunists trying to push their own agenda (I have a hard time with the ridiculousness of such statements) spreading fake news about the climate, while this is a perfectly normal reality, i.e. wild animals starving to death or being diseased. Yes, you can shake your head.
The bleeding hearts accused the team of being cruel and filming the bear instead of feeding it (as if that would save it, or the rest of the bears threatened by the same fate.) Others went as far as to say that this kind of news ruins their weekend.
The reason I picked this topic to write about is because of the incoming reports on wildlife disappearing at a rate we are not prepared to accept. According to the WWF conservation group, we have lost approximately 60 percent of wildlife since 1970 (which is not that long ago) and by 2020 (which is too darn close) we will see two thirds of them gone. Due mostly to human activity, the WWF report said. Alarmists, some may conclude, yet other studies and direct evidence brought by scientists and conservation photographers point to the same.
Recent reports by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) draws attention to a few species that are either endangered or threatened due to human activity interfering with their natural cycles, or altering their habitat, which drastically decreases their numbers and in some cases, such as the great northern Caribou herds, pushes them closer to the tipping point (a nice way to say extinction.) Add some species of salmon to the list too, some of trout, migratory birds, and Monarch butterflies. The list is long and getting longer, and the main culprits are interrelated: climate change and human activity.
While I wholeheartedly agree that this cavalcade of troubling environmental news is upsetting (including the ever-increasing plastic and garbage issue,) more so as we approach Christmas, it is important that we not only talk about it all, but that we keep talking about it once the new news is old news.
In many retail stores the lineups are a sight to behold already and seasonal merchandise is choking the shelves. Some of it, mostly plastic, will add to the landfills, soon after the season’s over. We can hope (and help as much as we can) that those who truly are in need, such as the 18.3 percent of children who find themselves below the poverty level in British Columbia (17 percent Canada-wide), will have their needs taken care of. Past the Christmas season too, until no child is found to live in poverty – now that’s a good wish to wish and help come true.
Aside from that, if we can take the stories of our ailing world to heart and give the gifts that matter the most to our loved ones, which are time and presence, while reducing our consumption and material gift footprint to a minimum necessary (donating instead to those in need for example,) I can see that as enabling a much-needed Christmas-and-beyond miracle: our own survival in a world that needs us to pay attention to more than immediate comfort and the next thing to buy.
We can shrug or ignore reports of wildlife suffering or disappearing because of human activity and climate change, or we can start a long-awaited conversation that may see the tide turning in favour of life. Choosing the latter has no dire consequences; on the contrary. It means choosing a better future. Choosing to continue to ignore the signs we see everywhere – animals disappearing, extreme weather phenomena, severe wildfires, that is akin to playing Russian roulette at a time when playing games is not something we can afford.