For sure, it was a case of Cute Overload in black-and-white.
Nobody could’ve set up a shot that adorable: two pure white polar bear cubs, romping in the snow with Mama Bear looking on with a watchful eye. They looked yummy, like you could scoop those babies up. The picture almost made you want to go hug something.
What will we do if global warming causes polar bear extinction? Author Zac Unger wondered that, too, and in his new book “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye,” he shares his ice-cold journey to find out.
Cannibalism. It’s horrible to contemplate, so when Zac Unger read a report claiming that hungry polar bears were resorting to cannibalism, he was repulsed and intrigued. Could global warming be at the root of the phenomena? A “tree hugger” from way back, Unger became “obsessed” with finding out.
Not everyone agrees with global warming, of course. Some scoff at the idea of it, while others think that melting polar ice caps is a man-made, imminent disaster. Unger tried to get audience with researchers who fell into the latter camp, believing like they did that the planet was in danger and polar bears were doomed.
But polar bear scientists — the ones he called the “Heavy Hitters” — didn’t return his calls. Instead, Unger found himself in Churchill, Manitoba, at the side of a tenured professor from New York City who’d been studying polar bears for 40 summers. Churchill, you see, is where the bears are.
Every year, just before the Hudson Bay ices over, polar bears congregate near Churchill to wait for the ice. They’ve eaten little-to-nothing over the summer and though it’s known that bears will eat more than just seals, the animals are hungry — which means danger for any human foolish enough to be around when the bears are moving. Knowing that, Unger moved his family to bear country with an eye toward studying bears and a promise to his four-year-old son that they’d see a “polar” up close.
Unger thought he knew what he’d find. He figured he’d have an adventure and go back home to California with answers.
But what he found left him with even more questions.
You try to keep your carbon footprint small. You recycle, reuse, and refuse to waste. And what you learn in this book may surprise you. It did me.
Part travelogue, part history lesson, and part memoir, “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye” bear-ly scratches the surface of ecopolitics, too, although author Zac Unger surely tries to look at the subject from all sides. Unger is serious in the research he presents, but that’s about as far as the solemnity goes: this book will make you laugh, it will entertain you, and it will make your heart pound just a little.
It’s also a good argument-starter, so if you’re looking for discourse on global warming, you’ll find it here. Read “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye” — because even in the snow, nothing is ever black and white. ❖
“Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye”
by Zac Unger
c. 2013, Da Capo Press
$25.00 \/ $28.00 Canada