David Attenborough: Life on Our Planet

Updated: Mar 16

Besides bringing wildlife to the masses and showcasing places many of us will never experience first-hand, David Attenborough has also been a huge voice in the fight against climate change. Blue Planet II altered the way many of us view single-use plastics and he has defined his most recent show, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, as his ‘witness statement and vision for the future’. The documentary is extremely moving as Attenborough begins the show in Chernobyl to demonstrate the devastation that can be caused by human error, and that if we continue to destroy our planets’ biodiversity, we will render the world as uninhabitable as Chernobyl.

In the show Attenborough discusses the 5 mass extinctions that have occurred in Earth’s four-billion-year history and stresses that the age we live in now, the Holocene, has been one of the most stable the earth has seen, with the average global temperature not wavering up or down by more than 1 degree Celsius in the last 10,000 years. Attenborough explains this stability as a result of the earth’s biodiversity which works together and relies on the earth’s predictable seasons to survive. This makes the transparent point that by declining our earth’s biodiversity through cutting down diverse rainforests and replacing them with regimented rows of African oil palm trees, or overfishing 30% of fish stock to critical levels, humans have pushed the earth to breaking point by destroying its biodiversity and beginning a downward spiral towards mass extinction.

The documentary predicts what will happen in the next 80 years if we don’t make sufficient change quickly. In 2030s the Amazon rainforest would be cut down until it can no longer produce necessary moisture and degrades into a dry savanna, producing huge species loss and altering the global water cycle. At the same time, the Arctic becomes ice-free in the summer, meaning less of the sun’s energy is reflected by white ice and the speed of global warming increases. In 2040s frozen soils throughout the North would thaw, releasing methane (many times more potent than CO2) and accelerating the rate of climate change dramatically. In 2050s the ocean would continue to heat up, becoming more acidic, killing coral reefs and seriously declining fish populations. In 2080s global food production would enter crisis as soils become exhausted by overuse and pollinating insects disappear as the weather becomes more and more unpredictable. Finally, by 2100s the planet is 4 degrees Celsius warmer, with large parts of the earth uninhabitable and millions rendered homeless.

The programme is definitely worth a watch to experience the beauty we have already lost and the rest we can potentially lose in the near future if we don’t change our way of life. Attenborough concludes the documentary by offering us a solution, one which is not too late to action, he says we must return stability to the earth through increasing biodiversity and ‘re-wild’ our planet. He breaks this down into some clear steps:

  • Soon the human population will do what it never has before and reach a peak. The sooner this happens and the lower the peak, the easier everything else. Thus, in an attempt to lower the peak we need to raise people out of poverty, provide healthcare to all and enable girls to stay in school for as long as possible.

  • Phase out fossil fuels and rely on the earth's natural energy through solar, wind, water and geothermal power. Attenborough exemplifies Morocco who previously relied heavily on imported oil and gas but now generate 40% of their energy through renewable sources. They could be an exporter of solar energy by 2050.

  • The ocean is a massive ally in the battle against climate change and the more diverse it is, the better it is at acting as a heat and carbon sink. In order to protect biodiversity, we must allocate 'no fishing spots'. The Pacific Island of Palau restricted fishing and even banned it in some areas. As a result, the huge amounts of fish that thrived in the no fishing spots spilt over into other areas, increasing the catch of local fishermen and creating a sustainable way to fish. By allocating no fish zones over a third of our costal seas, we would be provided with all the fish we will ever need.

  • On land, we must radically reduce areas cut down for farming and regrow the biodiverse wilderness. To do this, we must change our diets and seriously cut down our meat intake, whilst finding innovative ways to grow vegetables in smaller spaces. The Netherlands are already using innovation to raise crop yields whilst using less water, less fertiliser and omitting less carbon. Deforestation must stop instantly, and only use land which was deforested many years ago for growing oil palm and soya crops. Attenborough exemplifies Costa Rica, where a century ago three-quarters of its land was forests. By 1980, controlled logging had reduced this to one-quarter so the government offered grants to land owners to replant native trees. In 25 years, forest has returned to cover half of Costa Rica again. On a global scale this would absorb as much as two-thirds of Co2 pumped into atmosphere by our activities to date.

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