A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is a 2020 British documentary film narrated by David Attenborough. Attenborough describes this film as his “witness statement” on the current state of the planet due to humanity’s impact on nature and his hopes for the future. He shares his concern from Pripyat, a town deserted after the nuclear Chernobyl disaster on 26 April 1986, and intersperses his statement with footage of his career—such as his Life and Planet Earth series—and of a worldwide variety of ecosystems, from the African Serengeti, the rainforests of Borneo and the Amazon, to the Arctic and the Antarctic polar regions. Attenborough shows the devastating effects of the growth rate of the world population, the carbon increases in the atmosphere, and the loss of remaining wilderness and biodiversity from 1937 until 2020. He ends the first half of this documentary as follows: “That is my witness statement. A story of global decline during a single lifetime”.

“But it doesn’t end there”, he continues. To prevent the sixth mass extinction from developing further—making large parts of the earth uninhabitable and destroying life as we know it—we must come up with a mixture of preventive actions. To restore biodiversity, rewild ecosystems, stop population growth and deforestation, and to replace fossil fuels by renewables and meat by plant-based food. We have to move “from being apart from nature to becoming a part of nature once again”, concludes David Attenborough.

Although the reviews of the documentary have generally been positive (Cath Clarke calls it a “stark climate emergency warning”), I agree with critics claiming that A Life On Our Planet continues with “downplaying our environmental crisis” (George Monbiot): “But he and his latest film get many things willfully, ignorantly, and dangerously wrong by choosing to rely on the beautiful aesthetics of images and falling into the trap of making reductive, apolitical claims that undercut his very message” (Jerrine Tan).

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