We hear so much about climate change and the biodiversity crisis. We’ve seen the mass protests and listened to the scientists.
But it can take a specific incident involving an iconic sentient being to bring home the urgency of tackling man’s recklessness and inhumanity.
Recently, filmmakers arrived on Somerset Island in the Canadian Arctic to shoot part of a wildlife documentary.
Biologist/photographer Paul Nicklen and his colleagues spotted a polar bear that appeared to be in an agitated state.
It was darting about searching for something. It quickly became evident that the animal was foraging for food.
It tried a trashcan abandoned by fishermen and moved on when this proved to be empty.
Zooming in with his camera Nicklen was shocked to see that the bear was emaciated, the skin drooping from its body as it shuffled about painfully, dragging one of its back legs in the ice.
It was frantically seeking food. But the team had no food or tranquilliser darts.
Unable to find food, the bear collapsed.
Though they couldn’t intervene to help the starving bear, the team opted to keep filming and photographing, the idea is to highlight the challenges facing polar bears impacted by melting of the ice that is their home.
Hopefully, the footage of the bear’s plight will help change the way many people still feel about the effects of climate change and the now proven threats to global biodiversity.
These can no longer be treated as abstract or obscure concepts to be debated by academics and written about in low circulation scientific journals.
They are world-shattering threats to all life on this planet.
Humans are largely, if indirectly, responsible for the warming that is robbing the polar bear of its habitat.
Other creatures are more directly affected by human behaviour: Asian and African elephants are endangered because humans like to shoot them, whether for their ivory or sport.
Not a day passes without hunters posting selfies on Facebook, posing beside the bleeding carcasses of these mighty animals.
The world’s ever-diminishing tiger and rhino populations receive similar attention from human predators.
Ireland has its own biodiversity crisis.
An estimated one third of all species here, including plants, birds, butterflies, freshwater fish, dragonflies and sharks are facing possible extinction.
What happened to that polar bear in the Arctic Circle should concern all of us.
Its pitiable fate could symbolise what we are doing as a species to our beautiful but increasingly over-exploited, polluted and dying planet.
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on 6 June 2019.