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Is “Influencer” A Dirty Word?

(A photo I took of Paul Nicklen with a Leopard Seal in Antarctica)

To roam the farthest corners of the Earth, where wild creatures live, is a privilege reserved for an adventurous handful—and I am lucky to be one them.

Wandering in those wild and remote places may sound glamorous, but it’s quite the opposite. We photographers who do this type of work live on the edge of danger and discomfort, away from family and security, all in the hope that our photographic pursuits may gift others with a larger, more compassionate view of our planet. 

Cristina Mittermeier relaxing with Inuit hunters in a Temporary camp by the edge of the sea ice, Greenland.

Although many of you may never feel the chill of Arctic air through the frozen flap of an icy tent, it’s through my images that I’m able to share the urgency to protect our only home from the destructive forces threatening our very existence.

When recently confronted with the title of “influencer” by a magazine reporter, my first reaction was to cringe.

“Influencer” has become a dirty word, often associated with consumerism and shallowness. I had to think for a minute to realize that influence can also be a very positive force. 

Being able to share my values and aspirations with a broad audience every day is a privilege and an honor and also an immense opportunity. For me, influencing others is about reminding us all that every living thing that has ever existed on this planet also lives within us. It is about sharing the ethical imperative—the urgent reminder that we are inextricably linked to all other species on this planet and that we have a duty to act as the keepers of our fellow life forms.

As my influence grows, I often question myself. Who am I to think I can influence anyone? I have to remember that I do have 30 years of experience in field conservation and that through my work with many conservation organizations and National Geographic, I have visited over 130 countries. I also hold a degree in marine biology from one of Mexico’s best universities, and, as a diver, I have spent time underwater in every ocean on Earth. More importantly, I have been part of the passionate community of global heroes who, for decades now, have been looking for solutions to our planet’s many plights.Since I do know what I’m talking about, I want my influence to serve the purpose of saving everything that is still wild. 

Kermode or Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada. Images by Paul Nicklen. (Check out my vintage SeaLegacy hat!) 

These untouched, sacred places are the biological capital that we require to sustain life on Earth. It is the very engine that supports the processes that cleanse our air and water, that pollinate our crops, decompose our waste, control noxious pests and diseases, and regulate extreme natural events. Our drinkable water, the food we eat, the fibers that clothe us, the fuels that keep us warm, and the medicines that restore our health are all produced by the intricate web of life. The inspiration for our arts, cultures, and religions (our recreation and esthetics, too) have come from nature, and they are all priceless.

And yet humanity, in its folly, is squandering much of nature’s kindness. Our system of values needs to change, especially the way we regard nature, wilderness, and its inhabitants. An ethical compass for nature should permeate our decision-making process at all levels. I believe photography can play a key role in encouraging such a value system. It is time for a cultural shift in our relationship with nature in our everyday lives: in the media, education, and throughout all aspects of society.

I am not afraid to use whatever little influence I have to promote the development of human consciousness and to help shift our values toward a more respectful approach to our environment; ultimately, everything relies on cultural perception and value.

One could debate that a dead whale on the wrong side of a whaling harpoon certainly has some value. Most would argue, however, that a living whale has an intrinsic value that is hundreds if not thousands of times higher, and whose disappearance is an ecological tragedy. Many issues in modern society are rooted in economics, but we need a shift in perspective that calls for sacred values that protect all the pieces of the puzzle that allow life on Earth to exist. It is impossible to put a dollar price on a system that supports us all. So why then are we undervaluing the very fabric of a healthy ecosystem?

In a very modest way, I use my social media presence to articulate the vision of the world that we all must aspire to: a value system that takes into account our ecological and environmental impact.

If I can have any influence at all, I would help my fellow earthlings recognize that as a species, we rely on biodiversity, on balanced ecosystems, and on the Earth’s limited resources for our survival. Global conversations are now happening every day. A budding movement is beginning to take to the streets, and we must all fuel it with passion and compassion.

While we can commiserate over the fact that our current consumer habits have the power to destroy forests we will never see or melt glaciers at the ends of the world, we can also find reason for hope. 

Globalization is our very own quandary. While it has the power to destroy, it also has the ability to save. It creates new paradigms, allowing us to think of the world as one ecosystem of which we are an integral part. It can take us one step farther than those iconic photographs of the Earth from space and allow us to take part in these stories for the next generation. Through the internet and social media, it will enable us to meet other actors involved in the same unfolding drama on the other side of the world, and that can only fill us with hope.

So I must ask myself, does becoming a bigger brand, a more influential “influencer,” serve to create a blueprint for a global future that includes wild nature? I think so.

I will continue to inspire us to embrace better values of respect and compassion for all wild creatures. Global culture must shift from a mindset in which the destruction of nature is acceptable to one in which every being is not only respected but also revered. A culture in which people continue to grow their capacity to care about our prospects and objectives. This small shift can have enormous consequences for a more sustainable planet.

Thanks so much for your interest and support. I couldn’t do what I do without you.