A Butterfly Effect

Wildlife conservationist Dr. George Schaller once said, “Pen and Camera are weapons against oblivion; they can raise awareness for that which may soon be lost forever.” National Geographic photographer and biologist Paul Nicklen shares this same opinion. Nicklen’s passion lies in the Canadian Arctic, where he grew up with its wildlife and the Inuit. In his “Sprit of the Wild” lecture at NYU’s Skirball Center this past Wednesday[i] Nicklen expressed hope that his photographs will help to, “bridge the gap between science and people.” Like many other conservation photographers he works within the cross-section of art, science and conservation to “shed light on the Earth’s rapidly changing…habitats.” Through his efforts Paul Nicklen aspires to transform the way people see and understand the world around them and to motivate them to take action and make a difference

His book “Polar Obsession“ contains series of powerful images, which document the life of various polar species and “delivers a critical new insights to animal behavior.” One of those images is an image of a young polar bear navigating disintegrating ice pack in the Arctic. Those packs of ice are “expected to melt within 7 to 20 years” and will lead to the loss of food and shelter to many polar species, which eventually will become extinct (126).

Picture by Paul Nicklen
Picture by Paul Nicklen

However, we do not have to wait 7 to 20 years to see the impacts of the melting glaciers at the Arctic, we can see them today. In another striking image, Nicklen captured “a female polar bear and her two cubs…stand[ing] along basalt shores” which once were covered by a glacier (140).

Picture by Paul Nicklen
Picture by Paul Nicklen

The young polar bear cub “are not yet expert swimmers and cannot remain in the cold water for long periods of time,” thus when trying to catch “an unsuspecting seal” they swim from one piece of drifting glacier ice to another (140). Nevertheless, as the “glaciers are rapidly receding” such drifting glacier ice islands become scarce (140). Without these ice islands a mother and her cubs cannot hunt efficiently and will unlikely to survive.

Global warming is the cause behind the receding of the ice glaciers at the Arctic. Therefore, Nickeln’s photographs not only provide us with a unique insight on animal behavior, but also on climate change and the way by which it “threatens the ice and its inhabitants.” Global warming is evoked by the accumulation of greenhouse gases, such as Carbon Dioxide and Methane, in the atmosphere, which “act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm” (EPA). Human activities are a major source for greenhouse gases release into the atmosphere, as “the majority of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels to produce energy” (EPA).

Thus, as we look at Nickeln’s beautiful photographs from the Arctic we need to consider their meaning from a systems perspective, as our local actions, our local air pollution might have a global impact. In his lecture, Nickeln’s claimed that “the biggest threat of climate change is [people] assuming that somewhere else, someone is doing something,” so lets not assume and do something ourselves!

Information on how to mind your carbon footprint and reduce energy consumption can be found here.

 Click here to learn more about Paul Nicklen works.


[i] Wednesday February 4, 2015, NYU Skirball Center Paul Nicklen.