The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World

A Photographic Journey By Steven Kazlowski (Braided River)

Polar Bears need ice, and ice is melting. The top predator at the Top of the World has become the poster child for those who would like to shake the world awake to the realities of a planet that is clearly, definitively, and frighteningly getting warmer, at least partly because of humans’ prodigious ability to infuse our atmosphere with heat-trapping gases. In The Last Polar Bear, photographer Steven Kazlowski assembled a team of writers to accompany his stunning photographs of polar bears, walrus, musk oxen, seals, and other Arctic residents who are practically shouting to the rest of us: Pay attention and do something — anything — to change the darkening trend lines.


As photographer Steven Kazlowski approached a female polar bear until he was close enough to see her teeth, I followed a dozen steps behind, practically changing words I had learned in Wyoming’s grizzly country: you don’t have to run faster than the bear. You have to run faster than the person next to you.

Photo by Steven Kazlowski

Steven, clad in ancient, ragged arctic gear on this wind-torn October day, didn’t look as though he’d be hard to outrun. Husky, draped with cameras, and carrying a tripod that could withstand the fierce Beaufort Sea winds, the bearded photographer stood no chance in a race to the pickup. Just to make sure, I maintained a substantial head start.

The bear’s apparent nonchalance in the face of our presence made these paranoid preparations unnecessary. For more than an hour, Steven and I stared incredulously as the sow tossed what appeared to be a plastic toy around the frozen Alaskan lagoon. We debated what the “toy” could be, and close inspection through Steven’s telephoto lens provided the answer: the polar plaything was a disembodied walrus flipper.

Photo by Daniel Glick