Netflix has released a new documentary featuring Sir David Attenborough, a well-known BBC broadcaster and historian, who has extensively studied and documented the history of animal and plant life on earth. He is responsible for the series, Life on Earth, beginning in 1979, which created a body of work that became a benchmark of quality in wildlife film-making and influenced a generation of documentary film-makers.
His new film is titled A Life On Our Planet. It’s about 1 hour 20 minutes long. These links for the film’s 3-minute trailer, and a 13-minute interview from the CBS show, 60 Minutes, provide a preview of the film.
The film begins as Attenborough visits Chernobyl, Ukraine – the site of the worst nuclear accident in human history. That accident rendered the city of Chernobyl uninhabitable since 1986. Attenborough advises us that a Chernobyl-like world is on our horizon unless we change the way we are adversely affecting our world. Sir David is 93 years old and he describes this documentary as “his witness to the destruction of the planet”.
As background for his conclusion, he explains there have been 5 major extinctions of life during the earth’s 4 billion-year history. The most recent one, approximately 65 million years ago, which was triggered by a meteor, caused the dinosaurs to become extinct and the evolution of life started over again.
For the past 10,000 or so years, the world has existed in a geological age commonly known as the Holocene – the time we are in now. One of the unique, and fortunate characteristics of the Holocene era, is that the earth’s temperature has remained relatively constant (within 1 degree Celsius). This stability enabled the annual seasons we enjoy (spring, summer, autumn, winter) to emerge. During this period, humans became the dominate force of nature, and their understanding of the predictable seasons, allowed them to change from “hunter-gatherers” to farmers, cultivating predictable crops. The ability to farm ultimately provided the basis for the development of civilizations.
This documentary reviews how nature and life are interconnected and explains balance is required for the sustainability of life. He documents how the earth’s population, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and the proportion of wilderness, has changed during his lifetime. These changes, creating global warming, provide the basis of how our environment is deteriorating at an accelerating rate.
Many factors are contributing to this deterioration. We’ve mis-managed our lands and forests, mis-managed our oceans, and burned tremendous amounts of fossil fuels. We’ve generated huge amounts of greenhouse gasses and allowed our “wild places” to decline, significantly reducing the planet’s bio-diversity. Attenborough argues the loss of bio-diversity, providing the balance among all living things, promotes sustainability and as we lose this, we endanger us!
Attenborough describes that unless we humans change, then, like Chernobyl, the planet will survive, but the human species, as we know it today, will not. In other words, the children born now, will experience the beginning of that extinction – or near extinction – of the human species perhaps within their lifetime.
If these conclusions do not give you pause to reflect, then I’m not sure what will.
The documentary identifies the steps we can take now to reverse the devastation. Basically, it involves living with, and embracing nature, in contrast to living at the expense of nature. The solutions are well document and widely known – namely, phasing out the use of fossil fuels, changing our diet to more plant-based foods, restricting fishing and allowing our oceans to heal, eliminating mass deforestation for more grazing, embracing economic development and education in undeveloped countries – especially for females — and using the next decades to allow the planet, and its wilderness time to heal. He predicts that, absent these changes, our species will be on an irreversible path to the 6th mass extinction as we enter the 2100s.
While providing a sobering message, this film is beautifully constructed to illustrate the majesty of nature, and I encourage you to watch it. It provides a synopsis of the gravity of devastation we are facing unless we, as a species, have the will to make the changes necessary to re-establish balance between humans and nature. It’s no small step, but the impacts are perhaps the most significant that the human race has ever faced!
If you don’t have access to Netflix, find a friend that does; what you learn will be worth the effort. And share what you learn with another friend. The more of us that understand what is at stake will make all the difference in our world – especially the world our children will inherit.