Tag Archives: David Attenborough

Photograph of Sir David Attenborough seated at the Great Barrier Reef, taken for his Great Barrier Reef series. Credit: 2015, Wikimedia Commons.

‘Extinction: The Facts’: Attenborough’s new documentary is surprisingly radical

Photograph of Sir David Attenborough seated at the Great Barrier Reef, taken for his Great Barrier Reef series. Credit: 2015, Wikimedia Commons.

Photograph of Sir David Attenborough seated at the Great Barrier Reef, taken for his Great Barrier Reef series. Credit: 2015, Wikimedia Commons.

We have learned so much about nature from David Attenborough’s documentaries over the past seven decades. In a new BBC film he lays bare just how perilous the state of that nature really is, why this matters for everyone who shares this planet, and what needs to change.

This film is radical. Surprisingly radical. I have written in the past about my growing frustration with Attenborough documentaries continuing, decade after decade, to depict nature as untouched by any mark of humans. I felt this might be contributing to unhelpful complacency about how much “wild” was really left.

Extinction: The Facts” is a significant departure. As one of the programme’s talking heads, I helped reveal the honest truth: in most places, remaining natural habitats are squeezed between intensive agriculture and urban sprawl.

The film starts with a bleak interview with James Mwenda, the keeper of the world’s last two northern white rhinos; a mother and daughter pair. “When Najin passes away”, says Mwenda, “she will leave the daughter alone forever … Their plight awaits 1 million more species”.

This sequence has a real emotional kick. However, the film makes clear that extinction is about so much more than the loss of large familiar mammals.

“Everything is joined up, from a single pond to a whole tropical rainforest” says Kathy Willis professor of biodiversity at the University of Oxford. “We tend to think we are somehow outside of that system. But we are part of it; and totally reliant upon on it”. The film goes on to explain the impacts of biodiversity loss on our soil functioning (with a star turn from below-ground beasties breaking down leaf litter), the role of insects in pollinating our crops, and how losing trees and wetlands can contribute to landslides and floods.

The documentary features Najin and Fatu, the last two northern white rhinos (pictured here with former head caregiver Mohammed Doyo). Dai Kurokawa / EPA

The potential link between the drivers of biodiversity loss and emerging diseases is also explored. The wildlife trade brings 1,000s of stressed animals into close contact, providing the perfect opportunity for viruses to jump) between species. At the same time, removing large predators results in increased abundance of rodents and bats which are more likely to carry dangerous viruses. “We’ve been changing biodiversity in critical ways which made [the pandemic] more likely to happen”, says Peter Daszak of Ecohealth Alliance.

In footage from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, then 12-year-old Severn Suzuki addresses the largest UN meeting to have ever convened. “We are a group of 12 and 13 years olds come to tell you adults that you must change your ways”. The parallels with Greta Thunberg’s recent high-profile speech to the UN serve to highlight how little progress has been made.

So if biodiversity loss is so obviously happening, and so obviously a bad thing for the future of humanity, why have we failed to act and what needs to be done?

Firstly, the film makes it clear that a key ultimate driver is consumption in rich countries. Given that the average Brit consumes more than four times the resources of the average Indian, reducing consumption in places like the UK is vital. This need not be painful. As the eminent Cambridge economist Partha Dasgupta says, “40 years ago people in the UK consumed a good deal less. But there is no evidence that we were unhappier then”. The film starkly highlights what we are losing in exchange for out-of-season food, fast fashion and cheap poultry.

Secondly, having strong environmental standards for things produced in the UK (important though it is), is not enough. We also need to consider where the products we buy and the food we eat comes from – if not, people in countries like the UK are simply offshoring environmental problems for others to deal with.

Finally, the film touched on the need to make us pay the true cost of the environmental damage we do. The idea that businesses should not be able to degrade our environment for free is far from new. However, despite some progress with policies like the UK’s landfill tax or California’s carbon trading scheme, most societies are far from doing this comprehensively.

Together, this is what makes the film so radical. It is explicitly calling for major changes in the way our economies work with a greater focus on both planetary boundaries and global inequality. I was certainly surprised to see this weaved into a Sunday night BBC prime time show.

Towards the end, the film moves back to more conventional conservation territory to insert a much-needed dose of optimism. The final story includes some of the most iconic footage from Sir David’s career: his meeting with Rwanda’s mountain gorillas 40 years ago. At the time, Attenborough felt he might be seeing some of the last of their kind – just 250 individuals were left and their future looked bleak. Today that population is doing much better.

Over his incredible career, David Attenborough has seen more of earth’s natural wonders than almost anyone. To hear him talk, with such clarity, about how bad things are getting is deeply moving. Scientists have recently demonstrated what would be needed to bend the curve on biodiversity loss. As Attenborough says in the final scene, “What happens next, is up to every one of us”.The Conversation

Julia P G Jones, Professor of Conservation Science, Bangor University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“Collapse of civilization is on the horizon”, David Attenborough tells UN climate summit

Addressing world leaders at the UN climate summit, the great naturalist said that climate change is the “greatest threat in thousands of years”, and we are facing a “man-made disaster at a global scale.”

“The world’s people have spoken,” Attenborough summed up. “Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands.”

COP24, the UN’s annual climate summit, kicked off in Katowice, Poland. At a similar summit three years ago, the Paris Agreement was drafted and signed, aiming to limit man-made global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. However, since then, progress has been slow — and in some case, things actually regressed.

Most notably, American president Donald Trump has shown a complete disregard of any sustainable climate goals, announcing his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and implementing policies that favor the fossil fuel industry at the expense of greener tech. Meanwhile, most other countries are failing to live up to their pledges. Simply put, three years after Paris, the world has few reasons for optimism — and this is why COP24 is so crucial. It feels like it could be a make-or-break moment for the movement started in Paris.

Attempting to raise awareness about how bad the situation is, the UN invited renowned David Attenborough to take the stage. In his usual fashion, Attenborough was eloquent and to the point; however, while we’re used to hearing his voice describe the wonders of nature, this time it described a horrific situation — and one that we are responsible for.

“Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” he told the audience.

However, on the very same day, his speech was met with the all too familiar stage of empty and outright misleading political promises. Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, spoke at the opening ceremony, saying the use of “efficient” coal technology can be employed to take action on climate change, something which has been described as raising the “middle finger to the climate”. Unfortunately, there is nothing “clean” about coal, and “clean coal” (as some technologies have been named) just doesn’t workPolish coal company JSW is one of the main sponsors of the talks, which also does not bode well for COP24.

Recent studies have shown that 20 of the past 22 years have been the warmest in recorded history, and climate change action needs to be increased fivefold if we want to have a chance to avoid catastrophic warming, which would cause permanent and irremediable damage to both human and natural environments. If that sounds desperate — well, it is.

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, emphasized the sense of urgency, saying that climate change was already “a matter of life and death” for many countries. Guterres went on to say that the world is “nowhere near where it needs to be” on the transition to a low-carbon economy. However, he did say that COP 24 is an effort to “right the ship” and he would convene a climate summit next year to discuss next steps.

The World Bank has also announced a doubling of its climate fund, promising $200bn in funding over five years to support countries taking action against climate change.

So perhaps there is hope yet for Attenborough’s message to be heard — particularly since all of us can make significant differences in our day to day lives. Attenborough urged everyone to use the UN’s new ActNow chatbot, which will guide you through small changes that can reduce your climate impact (eating less meat, using public transportation, etc.). At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and as Attenborough stressed, time is running out.

David Attenborough makes emotional plea in Planet Earth II finale

After six mind-blowing episodes which took 10 years to film, Planet Earth II reached its finale – with the only on-camera appearance of the 90-year-old legend Sir David Attenborough. It was a brief but emotional ending, which will hopefully leave us all thinking about the fate of the planet.

Fittingly, the last episode focused on the impact cities have on the Earth’s inhabitants.

“Only a small number of animals have managed to find ways of living alongside us,” said Attenborough from the top of the Shard skyscraper in London. “And every 10 years an area the size of Britain disappears under a jungle of concrete. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Could it not be possible to build cities more in harmony with nature?”

“Now over half of us live in an urban environment. My home too is here in the city of London,” he continued. “Looking down on this great metropolis, the ingenuity with which we continue to reshape the surface of our planet is very striking. But it’s also sobering. It reminds me of just how easy it is for us to lose our connection with the natural world.”

“Yet it’s on this connection that the future of both humanity and the natural world depend,” said Attenborough. “It’s surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth.”

It’s a distressing but much-needed intervention for a brilliant series which aimed to show people the world from an animal perspective. The episode shows one instance where newly-hatched hawksbill turtles walked onto a busy road instead of into the sea, because they were thought street lights were the Moon. This is just one of many brutal examples showing how unbeknownst to us, we are harming animals.

[ALSO READ: More young people are watching David Attenborough’s “Planet Earth” than the X Factor]

Attenborough unmistakable voice narrated the entire series, but it took a swarm of talented and hardworking people to create it – and the result is really worth it. Hopefully, after it’s thrilled us with dazzling scenery and delightful stories, Planet Earth II will fulfill its final role: persuade us to protect nature.

More young people are watching David Attenborough’s “Planet Earth” than the X Factor

It’s not often that we get the chance to write about how popular science is but hey – I’ll take every chance! David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II, a truly historic nature documentary, is ripping through the audiences and has reportedly captured the hearts of the young people, with more people watching it than the classic X Factor.

According to the BBC, 1.8 million young viewers (ages 16 to 35) watched Planet Earth II, compared to 1.4 million viewers for The X Factor.

“I’m told that we are attracting a larger than normal number of younger viewers,” Attenborough told The Times. “That pleases me enormously.”

The first Planet Earth was, at its time, the most expensive nature documentary series ever commissioned by the BBC and also the first to be filmed in high definition. It became an instant hit, establishing an already established Attenborough as an iconic figure, and drawing millions of people closer to science. Its sequel is promising to do the same.

While the original series makes use of stunning aerial shots, Planet Earth II takes a different approach, giving viewers the feeling that they are seeing the world from the perspective of the animals.

“It is our environmental legacy that the younger generation of today will inherit; we need them to become the environmental champions of the future,” Attenborough told The Telegraph.

As it seems, a new generation of people is brought closer to science thanks to these documentaries but there is still much work to do. So far, only three episodes have aired and I for one can’t wait for the others. The series may not be available in every country yet, but you might be able to see it online on streaming platforms (legally, please).

Incredible fungi timelapse from BBC’s Planet Earth II

Fewer things are more pleasant than hearing David’s Attenborough soothing voice accompanied by some spectacular nature footage. The sequel to the legendary Planet Earth is upon us, but, unfortunately, if you’re not in the UK, watching it online will prove difficult. Video fragments have been published but full episodes are mostly unavailable unless your provider has an agreement with the BBC.

This footage comes from Jungles episode (UK only) and includes a few specimens shot for the very first time by Steve Axford, which we have also featured in the past.

“Fungi, unlike plants, thrive in the darkness of the forest fall. They’re hidden until they begin to develop the incredible structures with which they reproduce. Each releases millions of microscopic spores that drift invisibly away,” David Attenborough explains.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Planet Earth (or Planet Earth II – the episodes that have emerged), stop whatever you’re doing and go watch it now. Your life will not be the same again.

Credits: BBC via This is Colossal.