In December 2017, a video captured by a photographer for the ocean conservation group Sea Legacy featuring an ailing polar bear, went viral with the help of National Geographic.
According to them, it was definitive proof that climate change was causing an extinction of polar bears. The caption on the video said: This is what climate change looks like.
Except it wasn’t. It was evidence of the life cycle of an apex predator at the top of the food chain with no natural predators to claim them before disease and old age take them.
It took nearly eight months, and unending criticism from people who know something about polar bears and the North, but now National Geographic is admitting they were wrong about the bear.
Even the photographer who captured the images on Somerset Island, Cristina Mittermeier, says National Geographic went too far with their caption.
And National Geographic agrees, leaving this editorial note on a story in their August 2018 edition:
“National Geographic went too far in drawing a definitive connection between climate change and a particular starving polar bear in the opening caption of our video about the animal. We said, ‘This is what climate change looks like.’ While science has established that there is a strong connection between melting sea ice and polar bears dying off, there is no way to know for certain why this bear was on the verge of death.”
Except despite all the constant fear-mongering about melting sea ice, bear populations are increasing.
National Geographic has published another version of the video, with a new tagline: “This is what a starving polar bear looks like.”
But according to the photographer, 2.5B people were reached by that footage so the damage was already done.
This one example of fake news has touched about one third of the world's population.
And, despite sounding sincere about getting it wrong, they’re not.
But, they aren’t alone in their dishonesty. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change tweeted that the bear was evidence of climate change, and her tweet remains.