What We Will Save When We Save the Polar Bear November 19 2015, 0 Comments

If polar bears go extinct, so what?  The first time I saw this question, it was trolled in the comments section underneath an article about whether polar bears can survive climate change, and so I recognized it for what it was: a stick poked into an anthill by a little boy eager to see the frenzied outpour.  A petty kind of violence, I thought--nothing to do, really, with the worth of polar bears--and still the question gave me a jolt.

Then I heard it repeated, by someone bearing no resemblance to a troll--a practical man, not unkind, who asked reasonably, “What real difference would it make if polar bears went extinct?"  He asked what good it would do to save them.  I want to answer this question.    

One thing we will save, when we save the polar bear, is gigantic and singular beauty.  The ice bear looks like no other.   Compared to his ancestor brown bear, the polar bear--with his longer muzzle, his narrower head and smaller ears, his longer neck--looks streamlined, tapered as a sloop.  He might have been sculpted by the arctic wind.  He seems to change colors.  He appears most often to be white, but in fact his outer coat is made of hollow, colorless shafts that capture ambient light.  The polar bear at dawn might gleam pink, at dusk pale blue, at sunset gold.  He is clad in light.  It suits the truth that while a group of lions is called a pride, and a group of crows is called a murder, a group of polar bears is called an aurora.  Moving on the ice they give a shape to power and grace.  Under water they are lithe as fish. 

The gaze of a polar bear--met safely from a distance, through a camera--is arresting, full of strange intelligence.   These giant beings, fierce and mighty predators, are possessed of beauty so intense and mesmerizing that it can overwhelm you and make you fall in love again with the world.  Far beyond being "worth saving," this heart-opening, restorative beauty is priceless.  It ought to be sacred--and it is only one of the things we will save, when we save the polar bear.