What’s next? A Life On Our Planet
Celebrated national hero David Attenborough’s ‘Witness statement’ marks a change from previous documentaries in an urgent call for change, which risks being ignored in a present filled with other problems.
Over the past few weeks, the internet has gone wild over the beloved David Attenborough. First, the famous naturalist snatched a Guiness World Record for the fastest time ever to reach 1 million Instagram followers, just under 5 hours after launching his account. Then to top it off, Attenborough released his new film A Life On Our Planet, taking a journey through the 93 years of his life exploring the beauty and destruction of Earth under humanity’s influence. Though Attenborough has been previously criticised for not being assertive enough regarding human-caused climate change, it is in this film that he hammers home a core message that things need to change- and fast. The documentary has received an explosion of positive publicity because of this, but the film’s approach still needs to be questioned in terms of where things will go from here.
Attenborough’s documentary and so-called “Witness Statement” puts emphasis on 4 key changes that we need to make. This includes changing our habits of meat-eating, over-fishing, energy use and birth rates to regain our balance with nature again. However, while Attenborough makes suggestions for things to change, he doesn’t necessarily call upon specific people to make that change, taking a carefully neutral perspective. Although this may not appear to be a big deal, the question of who is responsible for climate change is a widely debated topic. Over the years, we’ve seen finger pointing and denial from every direction. It’s easy to draw upon Donald Trump as a prime example of this, tweeting that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive” in 2012. We’ve also seen conversation arising about our personal carbon-footprints with scrutiny of our individual daily life choices. Even though there’s undeniably benefit in altering destructive personal habits, Kate Yoder highlights that even the carbon-footprint concept largely arose from a BP marketing campaign- a company crowned for being one of the highest carbon-dioxide emitters in the world.
If we’re really going to do something about climate change it’ll take more than a documentary watch to stop it.
Attenborough’s careful tip-toeing attitude can also be queried in his discussion on birth rates. Towards the end of the film he touches on this briefly, suggesting that we all need to put effort into slowing our population growth to reduce the over-consumption of Earth’s resources. The perspective that population is the problem traditionally stems from Malthusian theory and has been largely debated. Ecologist E.O Wilson stated that “North Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Australians, who make up 20% of the world’s population, are consuming more than 80% of the world’s resources”. These distributional differences suggest that perhaps over-consumption is not always directly caused by overpopulation but rather cultural influences and norms. Regardless, what this tip-toeing does is again allow those to escape from accountability who have arguably unbalanced the equation most extremely. Something that needs to be seriously considered when thinking where to go from here.
It’s additionally vital to recognise that Attenborough’s film has been released into a world brimming with distractions. Most notably, we’re facing our continued battle with the Coronavirus pandemic, surpassing 1 million deaths across a global scope. With this at the forefront of our minds, it can be challenging to think about much else, leading to a “one problem at a time” mentality from governments, institutions and individuals everywhere. But there is a silver lining.
If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that we can be successful in pushing for change even in the face of dark challenges. Take a look at the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve seen the introduction of policies, the take-down of racist local infrastructures and an increased sense of accountability for racist behaviours. Whilst this is still an ongoing fight, the Black Lives Matter movement has progressed by leaps and bounds, which is why it is key to use this campaign as inspiration to avoid neutrality and take it upon ourselves to fight against climate change. From this, it is important to distinguish that violent protest is not an approach to be advocated, but instead we should look to educating ourselves, changing our personal habits and raising awareness of behaviours that need to be improved within the institutions that we rely upon.
Arguably, we’re at a crossroads. You could snuggle up on the sofa, have a few sobs at Attenborough’s heart-felt story and then flick through the TV channels for more distractions, or you could stop and think. If we’re really going to do something about climate change it’ll take more than a documentary watch to stop it. Accountability and responsibility needs to be taken from all sides.