Attenborough’s new climate activism venture: what does it mean for our future?

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By Caitlin Stimpson |

“A Life On Our Planet is streaming now on Netflix.” | Jackie Ley/BookTrust

As our planet’s sea levels continue to rise, and each year we surpass the ‘hottest temperature peak on record’ statistics, it is clear to see that we collectively combat the dire social and economic circumstances that lead us ever closer to annihilation. At the grand age of 93, veteran historian and renowned environmental activist, Sir David Attenborough, has released his latest entry in the debate over tackling the climate crisis. His harrowing obituary takes shape in a docuseries and details the vision he has for the future of planet Earth as his “witness statement”.

The docuseries, “A Life on Our Planet”, premiered on Netflix across the globe on 28th September. Attenborough’s family-friendly documentaries usually educate and entertain with their thorough detailing of fascinating ecological lifestyles from around the world; the swift camera angles and calming narration that have since become Attenborough’s trademark are perhaps a safety net in this docuseries — an otherwise alarmingly different take on the planet from what we, his audience, are used to seeing. It goes without saying that it is an essential watch for everyone, and *not* just for the younger generations as Attenborough remarks, despite it being us who will live to witness the very real future and potential breakdown of our planet as we know it. The older generations too must acknowledge the crisis we are in, and allow us to start making a change in light of their previous decisions that have, by and large, allowed us to reach this point.

“It’s crazy that our banks and our pensions are investing in fossil fuel, when these are the very things that are jeopardizing the future which we are saving for”

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH. (A LIFE ON OUR PLANET, 2020)

Sir David opens his docuseries in Chernobyl, Ukraine. He introduces himself to the new and returning audience, emphasising his journey far and wide over the years, seeing so many natural wonders in life that many of us will not experience first hand.

Discussing how nobody has lived in Chernobyl since the radioactive disaster in the 1980’s, Attenborough makes a point to illustrate the potential for world-wide inhabitability, and how, day by day, irreversible climate damage is already taking hold. Given the human exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources, to the point of burnout, Chernobyl projects how it will be tens of thousands of years before the environment is restored and can support human life again. Chernobyl has been taken over by wildlife: overcrowding buildings with plants, and stripping it of its once industrialised “look”. It is a disturbing first glimpse at the wider issues to follow.

There is a seemingly endless list of environmental catalysts detailed including:

  • The melting of the icecaps to the point of total arctic and antarctic destruction
  • Over-hunting
  • Over-fishing
  • The continued excessive consumption of meat and unsustainable farming
  • Deforestation and forests being replaced by unsustainable palm and soy plantations
  • The incorrect and unsustainable disposal of human materials, waste, and the physical pollution of the environment
  • Ever-increasing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions to the Earth’s atmosphere

Sir David does however explain what we can (and need to) do — in terms of our governments putting treaties, conservation rights, and sustainable engineering into practice, as well as ourselves as Generation Z through activism and consideration — to make these changes possible:

Controlling the population

Firstly, we can make the choice to have fewer children.

“On current projections, there will be 11 billion people on Earth by 2100” 

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH. (A LIFE ON OUR PLANET, 2020)

Attenborough explained that Japan’s standard of living increased drastically in the latter half of the 20th century. As healthcare and education improved, people’s expectations and opportunities grew. The birth rate consequentially fell, as more people were in good careers and taking the time to plan their families. In the 1950’s, a Japanese family was likely to have three or more children, by 1975, the average was two. 

This conscious result has meant that Japan’s population has now stabilised, in harmony with surrounding nature. If we could implement the same efforts as Japan on a global scale, there is the potential to save the planet from continued mass destruction.

A recent Statista Study proved Japan’s achievements further, showing how the population of all age ranges are similar; current predictions suggest that by 2050, it should also not change too much.

The Distribution of the Japanese Population in the 1950’s, 2018 and 2050 by Year Group:

Statista.com Survey Source/http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook/pdf/2019all.pdf#page=1

Sir David explained that raising humans out of poverty, in having wide access to healthcare and enabling girls in particular to stay in school for as long as possible, we can make the global population peak much sooner at a much lower level.

Reducing our impact

“The trick, is to raise the living standard around the world, without raising our impact around the world”

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH. (A LIFE ON OUR PLANET, 2020)

We can do this by phasing out fossil fuels, and running our world on the eternal energies of nature:

  • Solar power
  • Wind
  • Water
  • Geothermal energies

Morocco is a prime example of a country that was once a primary over-user of coal and other fossil fuels. Now, 40% of Morroco’s entire energy capability is contributed by solar power, from a network of renewable power plants, and including the world’s largest solar farm. It is predicted that by 2050, Morocco will be one of the biggest exporters of solar energies on the planet, using up to 52% of solar-powered energy entirely.

Renewable Energy Capacity Targets in the Middle East and Africa Regions from 2020 to 2050:

Restore biodiversity

We also need to restore biodiversity across global habitats. In particular, the living world cannot operate without healthy and diverse ocean environments that make up 70% of the wider planet.

“The ocean is a critical ally in our battle to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. The more diverse it is, the better it does its job. If we fish right, it can continue. The healthier the marine habitat, the more fish there will be to thrive and reproduce, as well as to eaT”

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH. (A LIFE ON OUR PLANET, 2020)

Palau, in the Pacific Ocean, relied on its thriving coral reefs as well as its fish and tourism to thrive. Increased toxicity of the ocean bleached the coral reefs, and Palau responded by restricting fishing practices and banning fishing entirely from many areas in order to keep the reef protected. As a result, the local catches for fishermen have steadily increased over the last few years, whilst allowing the reefs to recover and begin to reproduce. Attenborough says that if we “commit a similar approach across world, estimates suggest that no fish zones over a third of our coastal seas would still be sufficient to provide us with all we will ever need”.

Bleaching removes the essential algae from the corals that in turn lose their colours, leaving them completely white. | GreenandGrowing.org

In terms of land, Attenborough explains that we need to radically reduce the area we use to farm. We can do this by changing our diet. Eating less meat, growing our own vegetables. If we all lead a plant-based diet, we would only need half of the land that we currently use. Using less water, fewer pesticides, less fertilizer, and emitting less carbon into the atmosphere and protecting forests, as they are a fundamental part of the earth’s recovery. The very forests and oceans we currently destroy are the best technology nature has for locking away carbon compounds in the atmosphere, and are key centres of biodiversity. 

Take charge ourselves!

Sir David also recently spoke about climate change in parliament in partnership with The Guardian, explaining that “we can’t be radical enough” when it comes to activism; in the next 20-30 years, the true extent of our impact will hit us. He says “I’ll be fine for the next five, ten years and so will all of you in this room, but the younger generation will struggle, and we need to be thinking about the world we are leaving behind for them.”

Since the release of his newest docuseries, Attenborough has also joined social media platforms such as Instagram to further promote his campaign, specifically targeting the younger generation as his audience. Other celebrities including the likes of Billie Eilish, Asa Butterfield, David Beckham, and Dame Judy Dench have also showed their commitment to the cause in collaborating with Netflix to ask questions the wider public may still have after watching the documentary.

Sir David gained more than one million followers in less than four hours of making his Instagram account and posting his first video. This broke Friends actress Jennifer Aniston’s previous record of five million in twelve hours from last October with a photograph of her ex-co-star’s from the famous 90’s show. It would seem the people of our generation are more interested and committed to Attenborough and his life’s cause than ever.

But, it will take more than an Instagram record, and rather putting these theories and scientific evaluations he has shared with us into practice before we can really make a change. Greta Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” is but one huge example of an impactful movement made by another, younger individual; her strikes, campaigns, and the money raised for climate research and awareness already are steps in the right direction toward a future for us all, but we must ensure she is not alone in her fight.

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