The documentary “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” begins with its title subject exploring the ruins of a deserted city. It’s the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, a once densely populated area that was evacuated after human error rendered it uninhabitable. It’s revealed later in the film that in the three decades since Chernobyl was abandoned, the territory has grown into a lush wildlife paradise. The ruins have now become a respite for foxes, elk, wild horses, and other majestic wild creatures. Towering trees fill the streets and vines engulf buildings. In the coming years, evidence that humans once inhabited the area will be masked by nature.
David Attenborough calls the film (streaming on Netflix) his “witness statement” for the environment. "The natural world is failing," he says gravely. "The evidence is all around. It's happening in my lifetime. I've seen it with my own eyes." In his 94 years on the planet and his nearly 70-year career as a natural historian and broadcaster, Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, documenting the living world in all its variety and splendid wonder. Black-and-white archival footage shows a young and undaunted Attenborough journeying to the once untouched rainforests of Borneo, the seemingly-infinite Serengeti plains, and other remarkable spots around the globe that are now suffering the consequences of human destruction, lending a moving note to his plea to restore ecological balance.
“We are replacing the wild with the tame.” - David Attenborough
- Half of the habitable land on Earth is now used for farmland.
- 70% of all birds on Earth are farmed poultry.
- 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock.
Throughout the film, a running tally of the growing human population, our ever-increasing carbon footprint, and the dwindling percentage of remaining wilderness helps keep score of how lopsided the natural balance has become in Attenborough’s lifetime. However, the most devastating sequence in the film finds Attenborough describing the catastrophic disasters we will face in the coming decades, a global crisis that he – a man now in his 90s – will not experience. Yet, he finds hope in some taking a step in the direction of sustainability, and pleas for the rest of the world to follow suit. Here are a few examples:
- The Netherlands might be a small country, but thanks to sustainable farming, it has now become the second-largest exporter of agriculture in the world.
- Fishing restrictions around the Pacific archipelago nation of Palau enabled marine life to rebound.
- In recent years, Costa Rica has become a global leader in sustainability. It produces nearly 93% of its electricity from renewable resources and conserves around 30% of its national territory.
The key takeaway from Attenborough’s urgent documentary is to remember that our planet is a finite place, and that our lives on it are finite, too. Life cycles on, and if we make the right choices, we can begin to heal the destruction we’ve caused and to become a species that is once again in balance with nature.
Thinking About the Future
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