My review of David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet

If you’re wondering what to do over the weekend, here’s a suggestion: put on some Netflix, play David Attenborough’s new documentary, become enchanted by the wonder that is planet Earth, and then weep when you realise what we’ve done to it.

Or you could just set the alarm for Sunday morning and sleep for a good 12 hours straight.

Then again, turning off the alarm on our planet is what first got us into this mess. So maybe now is not the time to snooze and wake up.

As the world struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, our future as it stands now, is too uncertain. Climate change is at a tipping point, the global economy is on the verge of total collapse, the threat to democracy worldwide looms large, gender equality may be set back by decades, and we are currently facing a mental health epidemic. 

While our government attempts to handle the crisis, there is one crucial question that is not being asked, why is this happening to us? 

So now is a perfect time to watch A Life On Our Planet and understand that the pandemic that we are looking at today has been coming for decades. This was not just preventable; it was known.

So why were we not prepared? And what do we do now?

I’m going to give you five reasons why you need to watch David Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet and hopefully, unlike the generations before; you will listen:

Sir David Attenborough

A broadcaster and natural historian, Sir Attenborough has worked extensively with the BBC Natural History Unit. Now 93, he is perhaps best known for his Life Documentary Series, the latest of which is A Life On Our Planet. He is considered a national treasure by the UK and has done tremendous work to raise awareness about the climate crisis, wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Since he was a little boy, he was fond of collecting fossils, travelling to the remotest parts of the world and fascinated by the process of evolution.

He is probably one of the few people who can make nature enjoyable. Imagine your grandfather telling you a story about all of humanity and instead of ending it with a morality lesson, choosing to end it with a hopeful message of growth, change and taking responsibility.

What Climate Science Says

In 1937, the world population was 2.3 billion, the carbon in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million, and the remaining wilderness was 66%. As of 1997, the global population was at 5.9 billion, the carbon in the atmosphere was at 360 parts per million, and the remaining wilderness was at 46%.

In 2020, we have overfished 30% more than our current fish stocks; we cut down 15 billion trees every year, we’ve reduced our freshwater populations by 80%. Half of the fertile land on earth is farmland. 70% of the birds on our planet are domestic birds, the majority of which are chickens.

We account for one-third of the weight of mammals on this planet. 60% of the mammals are those we raise to eat and the rest, which is nearly wild animals is only 4%. The earth is now for us, not us for the planet.

What Happens Next

Science predicts that a child born in 2020 will witness the following:

  • In the 2030s the Amazon forest will be cut down to a dry savannah leading to enormous species loss which will alter the global water cycle.
  • The Arctic will become free of ice and it will no longer be able to reflect sunlight leading to a faster rate of global warming;
  • In the 2040s, frozen soils will thaw and release methane which is far more potent than carbon dioxide and will only make the climate crisis more catastrophic;
  • In the 2050s, coral reefs will die which will result in a crash in fish populations;
  • In the 2080s global food production will enter a crisis as the soils become infertile while the weather will become even more unpredictable;
  • In the 2100s our planet will become 4 degrees Celsius warmer making large parts of the earth uninhabitable and culminating in a mass population extinction event.

There Is Hope

This is why you need to watch this. Every other species on the planet reaches a maximum population point, a stage where it peaks, where it can consume the finite resources available without overwhelming the world.

Humans, however, have been able to manipulate this natural algorithm and become quite profuse as a species, growing and growing and growing, like the dinner guests at a party who carry on and on and on until they become a threat to the very survival of their host. This is our relationship with our planet. We are the virus, not COVID-19.

The potential lies in three necessary administrative zones: public healthcare, education and population. An excellent example of that would be Japan, where, with better access to healthcare and education, the public has made its own independent decision to plan their families, have fewer children and the population has quite naturally levelled out.

The focus has to be not on the iniquity of the community but on providing better opportunities for everyone and raising the overall standard of living. As Yuval Noah Harari said in his best-selling book Sapiens:

Propagation of mankind does not mean the propagation of happiness. It actually means more suffering.

What We Can Do

I am not a nihilist. I am just like you, completely lost about what’s going on. But just like you, I am watching, I am listening, and I am learning. When my friends asked me what I wanted to do for my 28th birthday, I told them I was going to adopt trees with the World Wildlife Fund. My friends were quite deflated, or maybe they felt that I was overinflated, but the truth is, pleasure does not bring happiness.

Greed does not bring happiness. Excess does not bring happiness. I am a Buddhist, and I am always searching for joy, and I am also a human rights activist, so I concern myself not only with my pleasure but the pleasure of as many living beings as I can reach. Our collective joy lies in helping the natural world and rewilding the planet.

This is not like the ecology lecture that you attended in college; this is the cold, hard, stark reality. I ask you to watch this documentary, not to appeal to your humanity but to your sanity. It makes good sense to know what is going on, and it makes even better sense to do whatever we can for a sustainable lifestyle.

You can choose to go childless as many couples are doing today or follow a one-child policy. You can ban plastic. You can eat less meat or more of locally-grown, fresh, organic produce. You can cut down on overconsumption and increase reuse. You can travel on foot or by bicycle or by public transport. You can go paper-free and completely digital. You can get a compost bin. You can donate to environmental organisations. You can lobby your local government to invest in renewable energies and phase out non-renewable fuels entirely. There are so many things that you and I can do, but we will not do any of it until we get the big picture.

In the end, I am recommending this documentary for you and your kids and their kids. And I’m hoping that you and I turn out to be, maybe not as good as Jane Fonda, the prominent actress and fiery activist, but at least better than Donald Trump, President of the United States, who when asked about global warming by a climate scientist, said that we are just going to have to turn up the air-conditioning. 

I know we can’t all be Greta Thunberg but let’s not be that guy.

Watch the Netflix trailer for A Life On Our Planet, here.

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