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Matthew Dyer was one of seven American hikers participating in a backcountry wilderness hike into Canada’s Arctic tundra. But he was the only one who came dangerously close to transitioning from a sleeping bag to a body bag. Mid-trip, in an area that about 2,000 polar bears call home, Dyer woke up with a bear towering over his tent. The bear didn't hold that pose long. Soon, the bear was dragging Dyer away, tent and all. A harrowing account of the trip and the attack is told in “Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World.”
The Amazon Single is a product of InsideClimate News, a self-described "Brooklyn-based nonprofit, non-partisan news organization" that's less than a decade old but already well regarded. Indeed, in 2013, three InsideClimate News reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.
Almost as scary as the story is the science behind the attack. Climate change is adversely affecting the amount of Arctic ice, a.k.a polar bear hunting grounds, forcing the bears, which can be as large as 1,700 pounds, on to the land to look for other food sources.
"An increase of bears on the land is in turn leading to a rise in human and polar bear interactions—back in the 1960s and 1970s there were eight or nine attacks reported per decade, according to wildlife biologist James Wilder. Based on recent trends, that number is expected to reach 35 this decade," writes Sabrina Shankman in “Meltdown.”
But don't start suggesting there's a causal relationship between global warming and bear attacks. "While no individual incident can be attributed to climate change, the rise in interactions is precisely what biologists have expected to see as the bears lose their habitat. The result is a paradoxical situation in which fewer polar bears may mean more attacks on humans," writes Shankman, a reporter/producer at InsideClimate News, who has also worked as a producer for PBS' "Frontline," and reported for ProPublica, the Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press.
In retrospect, one of the mistakes the group made was entering into this area without an armed person whose sole job it is to be on the lookout for bears, known as a bear guard. Instead, they had bear spray, bear spray grenades, a few flare guns, and two electric fences to put up around their two camps: one camp for sleeping and the other for cooking.
These fences failed to inspire confidence for some. After seeing these fences for the first time, the wife of one of the two guides said, "What’s the polar bear supposed to do? Die of laughter?”
And the group may or may not have watched a DVD on bear safety just before kicking off the hike—this is discussed in more detail in the Single.
The bear that attacked Dyer rolled into camp at about 3:30 a.m. and exited minutes later in a full run, with the lawyer in his mouth. Still in his tent, Dyer was screaming "Help me!"
The tale of his rescue and how he almost died in transit is detailed in the compelling and well-told Single.
"Our hope in writing this book was that the story of the harrowing ordeal that the Sierra Club group survived would bring a broad audience into the science of climate change. I hope this project helps people understand that climate change is impacting the Arctic now, and that it matters regardless of where you live. I also hope they enjoy reading it," said Shankman in an interview with GrindTV.
Dyer holds no ill will towards the bear. He even returned to the scene of the attack with Vice Media one final time with Shankman in tow, who says, "There were a lot of surprises on the trip to Labrador. The two Inuit bear guards we had with us had such incredible knowledge about the area, and through them I learned that this story isn’t just about polar bears. We were mobbed with mosquitoes while we were there, but those didn’t used to exist up there. Likewise, the landscape used to be gray and brown, not green, like it is now. There is evidence of climate change everywhere you look up there. It’s also hands-down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been."
The three-part video that depicts this adventure and totals is definitely worth a watch. It is posted above.
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