David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

Emma Costigan

David Attenborough’s 94 year-long life has enabled him to travel between each of the world’s seven continents. Whilst being a truly magnificent experience, it provided him with a substantial platform to discuss and demonstrate the importance of climate change prevention.

The amazing footage accumulated on his voyages across the globe serves as critical documentation of the changing landscapes and ecosystems around us.

Attenborough’s latest venture “A Life on Our Planet” functions as a sort of cautionary tale, but rather than it being old folklore – it’s happening right in front of our eyes, which is a far scarier narrative. He says, “the story of how we came to make this our greatest mistake. And how, if we act now, we can yet put it right.”

He describes his film as his “witness statement and my vision for the future.” Exuding as much elderly wisdom as ever, he recounts the human race’s rapid evolution in the span of his life alone.

From the beginning of his career in 1954, each era of Attenborough’s life documented in the film is accompanied by a counter which shows the world’s population, the carbon in the atmosphere, and the remaining wilderness. Even to an average viewer, with little interest in climate change, the steep increase in these figures is alarming.

In 1954, the population stood at 2.7 billion, the carbon in the atmosphere was 310 parts per million, and the remaining wilderness was 64%. In just six decades, these figures distressingly rose to 7.8 billion, 415 parts per million, and 35% respectively. The film itself is extremely well-established.

It has the perfect balance between the explanation of what is happening to our environment and how we can fix it. It contains striking images that invoke fear and a slight pressure in the viewer to adjust their lifestyle habits.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the film is Attenborough’s prediction of the state of the planet across the next 9 decades. It contains the most startling footage of the mass destruction of the environment and a potential sixth mass extinction event.

Within these 3 and a half minutes, the audience is witness to such a potentially devastating existence, it could force anyone’s mentality to switch to the importance of the prevention of further damage to our climate.

The latter half of the film is then centred around what the population can change to prevent such catastrophic events from happening. It is how he speaks and holds himself so professionally even when discussing the particularly emotive topic that is the death of our planet, that viewers engage with.

Attenborough, with his utmost mannerly ways, and extensive knowledge will guide us to save our planet, to teach us to live harmoniously with the natural world, “we are ultimately bound by, and reliant upon the finite natural world about us.” However, whilst he is making every effort to support us in our planet’s salvation, it is ultimately down to us as the general population to fix things.

“David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” is an extremely thought-provoking watch. It is truly astounding that some 66 years ago when he began documenting his environmental excursions, the danger of our actions to the environment was little known. However, in 2020 he now has an impressive archive of footage documenting its rapid deterioration.

Emma Costigan

Image Credit: Sam O’Neill