Material Monday: “David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet”

Material Monday: “David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet”

Posted 5 October 2020 by Katie Kubrak

Sir David Attenborough is a man who needs no introductions as for decades he has captured our attention with wonderous stories and pictures of the natural world. Some of his most notable broadcasting contributions include The Blue Planet (2001), Planet Earth (2006), Frozen Planet (2011), Planet Earth II (2016) and other fabulous titles.

By introducing us to the most remote locations and rare animal species, he paved his way into our hearts and taught us admiration and sympathy towards fellow species and habitats of this planet. Such attribution makes him an ideal painter of the damage humans had already done to the environment. One can hope that his credible narration, and solution-oriented outlook, hopefully, has the power to ignite a meaningful ripple effect across behaviour of the entire global audience.

The aforementioned retrospective gives an impression of a trial, in which Attenborough gives his final witness statement against humanity in support of biodiversity.

The movie discusses numerous modern issues we might have heard of before, such as: deforestation, soil degradation, overfishing, poaching, melting of the ice caps, temperature changes, global warming, overpopulation and more. This documentation of our demise is illustrated through chapters analogous to Sir David Attenborough’s milestone achievements concerning the natural world. Each harmoniously evidences percentage of wilderness, carbon in atmosphere and population across the decades, charting the sobering decline of the first in favour of the rise of the last two columns.

When Attenborough is seen concluding that we have destroyed the world you can see his passion, interest and curiosity about the natural world turn into a devastated sorrow and mournful sadness. Especially so, as he sees that what he has loved most is gone or in the last stage of extinction.

Harmful impacts exposed in the movie include:

  1. TERRESTRIAL
  • three trillion trees cut down across the world, with 15 billion trees being cut down each year, without sustainable replantation of what was harvested
  • replacing the wild with the tame
  • having half of the fertile land on earth being farmland now
  • 70% of the mass of birds on this planet being domestic birds with the vast majority, chickens
  • 60% of mammals are the animals we raise to eat with wild mammals only accounting 4%
  • reduction of the rainforest in Borneo by half between 1950s and 2000s.
  • monoculture agriculture of oil palm trees as replacement to rainforest

2. MARINE

  • removal of 90% of the large fish in the sea through overfishing by 30% of annual fish stocks
  • death of coral reefs as a prominent sign of death of aquatic life as oceans are unable to absorb any more of the excess heat, which could continue to mask our impact
  • reduction of summer sea ice in the Arctic by 40% in 40 years
  • damming, polluting and over extracting rivers and lakes, due to which we have reduced the size of freshwater populations by over 80%.

3. ATMOSPHERE

  • the average global temperature today being one degree Celsius warmer than it was when Attenborough was born
  • burning millions of years’ worth of living organisms all at once as coal and oil and triggering an environmental catastrophe in less than 200 years
  • having our banks and pensions scheme continually investing in fossil fuels despite them endangering our chance at a healthy future.

The famed narrator goes onto constructing a doomsday future, that according to science today shall materialise if we do not amend our behaviour as species. It breaks down into the following foresight:

2030s

  • The Amazon rainforest is cut down until it cannot produce any more moisture degrades into a dry savannah.
  • Altered global water cycle.
  • Catastrophic species loss.
  • Arctic becomes ice free in the summer.
  • No longer having a protective layer of ice, which reflects back the sunlight, global temperatures rise.

2040s

  • Throughout the north, frozen soil thaw, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide.
  • Climate change accelerates dramatically.

2050s

  • The oceans continue to heat and become more acidic.
  • Coral reefs around the world die.
  • Fish populations crash.

2080s

  • Global food production enters a crisis as soils become exhausted by overuse.
  • Pollinating insects disappear.
  • Weather is increasingly unpredictable.

2100s

  • Earth becomes four degrees Celsius warmer.
  • Large parts of Earth are uninhabitable.
  • Millions of people rendered homeless.
  • A sixth mass extinction event is well underway with a series of one-way doors bringing irreversible change.

The most important conclusion to be drawn from this part is the warning that within the span of the next lifetime (a lifetime of our children), the security and stability of the Holocene, our Garden of Eden will surely be lost. It will be lost if we do not make changes in how we produce, make, design and consume goods as well as the world around us.

The list of action points suggested by Sir David Attenborough that can help us reverse the imminent collapse of our civilisation and the extinction of much of the natural world definitely corresponds with UN Sustainable Development goals and comprises of the following:

  1. POPULATION

A. Stabilisation of population through birth rate control with no more than 2 children per family as per case study of Japan.

B. Achieving the following:

                                          i.    Raising people out of poverty,

                                         ii.    Giving all access to healthcare,

                                        iii.    Enabling (girls in particular) to stay in school as long as possible.

2. ENERGY

A. Phasing out fossil fuels entirely

B. Running the world entirely on solar, wind, water and geothermal renewable energies, which will never run out.

C. Case Study: Morocco At the turn of the century, Morocco relied on imported oil and gas from almost all if its energy. Today, it generates 40% of its needs at home from a network of renewable power plants, including the world’s largest solar farm. 

3. CARBON REDUCTION

A. Health of the oceans

B. Health of the land

C. Health of the forests

4. OCEANS

A. Case Study: Palau, Pacific Island Nation and introduction of “no fish” zones

B. Case Study: International waters, the UN is attempting to create the biggest “no fish” zone of all

5. LAND USE

A. We must radically reduce the area we use to farm, so that we can make space for returning wilderness. 

B. Quickest and most effective way to do that is for us to change our diet.

C. Case Study: Netherlands, which despite its small size became one of the biggest food exporters in the world.

D. Apply both low-tech and hi-tech solutions to produce much more food from much less land.

6. FORESTS

A. Forests are the best technology nature has for locking away carbon.

B. We must immediately halt deforestation everywhere.

C. Case Study: Costa Rica where thanks to the government incentive a large proportion of deforestation was reversed.

D. The return of the trees would absorb as much as two thirds of the carbon emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by our activities to date.

To conclude, we now have the opportunity to create the perfect home for ourselves, and restore the rich, healthy, and wonderful world that we inherited. However, to continue, we require more than intelligence. We require wisdom and through it and nature – our source of greatest inspiration – we need to rediscover how to be sustainable. In doing so, most importantly we must REWILD THE WILD.

Just imagine that if we can change the way we live on Earth, we are capable of writing an alternative future, and alternative sustainable story. A story that makes all species thrive and avoids a tragic extinction of our species.

From our perspective at Nirvana CPH and Materials & Insights, we are here to rediscover how to bring sustainable production alive, ensure it’s founded on transparent sustainable stories and share all of that with you.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article. Please do not hesitate to leave us comments below with your thoughts and questions or get in touch via info@nirvanacph.com. We would love to hear from you.

Note: Netflix documentary “David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet” (from which we obtained featured photos) can be watched here.