Humankind relies heavily on the biodiversity, on goods and services produced by the natural environment for an adequate, healthy and safe life. When there is a negative impact on biodiversity, the whole ecosystem destabilizes and that is what David Attenborough is trying to show in this documentary, his ‘witness statement’ from a lifetime of travelling and an urgent call to action. Showing us the story of our planet’s biodiversity through his eyes, a naturalist’s, educating us on how abruptly and swiftly the planet has changed during his lifetime alone.
A Life On Our Planet documentary, his ‘vision for the future’, begins with him walking around an abandoned building littered with books, shattered glass, electrical cords and the remnants of the structure. He is walking through the ruins of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant tragedy of 1986 in Ukraine. Though this cataclysm, ‘a result of bad planning and human error’, wrecked nearby towns and had an environmental impact across Europe, it was just a single event. This catastrophe was regarded as the most costly incident in the history of mankind, however, Attenborough states that, ‘the true tragedy of our time is still unfolding across the globe, barely noticeable from day to day’, the loss of our biodiversity.
With the help of stunning and phenomenal imagery from the archived recordings of his work with the wild as evidence, Attenborough shows how in just 93 years human beings have changed the course of the natural world. Scenes of exuberant rainforests with a diversity of wildlife are followed by men with chainsaws chopping the trees and destroying it. Coral habitats which were once blooming and thriving with a kaleidoscopic variety of fishes swimming around it, are now nothing more than bleached white dead reefs with only a few fishes swimming past them. This is just one of the many ecological atrocities that has occured due to the overheating of the ocean which was the result of our overfishing throughout the years.
The documentary measures the changes occurring in the planet’s biodiversity within the span of a single lifetime. Keeping a score with the human population and its carbon footprint, Attenborough shows that, in the time that has passed since his childhood, the natural balance, the stability of the Holocene, has declined rapidly into the chaos that we see before us today. The film takes a crude outlook, hoping that by openly showing the heinous acts taken by the capitalistic world of destroying our ecological system will exhibit the urgency of taking action now, while it is still not too late. Attenborough walks from one disastrous predicament to another, describing in many different ways how humankind has replaced the ‘wild with the tame’, one such crisis is the destruction of rainforests to replace it with oil palms, resulted in damaging or, rather, eradicating the habitat of the Orangutans.
Although nature has the ability to survive and rejuvenate on its own, humans are causing so much damage on a regular basis that nature is unable to revive or restore itself. Attenborough notes that if we stay on the course which we are currently on, then by 2100 the world might be witnessing a sixth mass extinction. It is here that the most pressing and daunting question that arises: How do we save our planet, our home?
As you watch the documentary, you are left with a feeling of uncertainty and a sense of fear for the future. However, Attenborough does not leave us hanging. He shares with us a few solutions on what we can or might be able to do in order to turn things around, at the end of the film. It is a wakeup call for everyone, from individuals to policy makers and governments all across the world. The solutions suggested include shifting to renewable resources, revive or ‘re-wild’ the biodiversity, reducing farming space, abolishing deforestation completely.
Human health relies in many ways on the natural environment. When biodiversity is affected, the impact is also seen on our mental health. The primary relationship between human health and nature is food. However, nature also has a direct impact on our mental health through other pathways. Being in the presence of the natural wild environment and not the tamed one has proven to have a positive impact on human health, not just physically but also psychological, as it helps in reducing anxiety, increases the feeling of stability as well as eliminating fatigue and rejuvenating the individual.
While the aforementioned solutions are effective, the ones that resonated the most with me personally were slowing down the rate of the population by raising people out of poverty with the help of improved healthcare which is accessible to all and enabling girls to stay in school as long as possible, providing them with proper education. Both of these solutions go hand in hand.
The healthcare scenario in India faces many challenges and since the outbreak of COVID-19, the gaps in our healthcare system have been more pronounced. Especially the people living in the rural areas are the ones who are not provided with proper medical assistance. They are neglected as most doctors refuse to serve in rural areas. Providing proper access to decent and affordable healthcare can bring about a drastic change. Confronting the class and caste system and allyship with the marginalized will not only benefit the individual but can also help with the overall economic development of the country.
Another aspect which can bring about massive change in the standard of living is education. Education is an essential part of an individual’s life. However, educating women is the most significant issue in India. Here, educating a girl child is regarded as unnecessary and a burden. According to patriarchal society, the ultimate goal for women is marriage. So why waste the money which can be used for her dowry on education? This kind of patriarchal mentality could not have been more wrong. Educating girls could bring about a massive change in the economic development of a country. And Attenborough proves this by taking Japan’s healthcare and education system as an example. As both the systems improved, opportunities and expectations of people also grew. Which promoted gender equality, improved literacy rate and decreased the birth rate. Where previously each family had three or more children, were now limiting it to two, as a consequence the population has stabilized. Read here to find out more on why it is important to educate girls and what barriers they face.
Taking care of the planet, our home, is our responsibility that we cannot shrink away from. As Attenborough said, ‘Take care of nature and nature will take care of you’. Only by facing the issues directly and taking small yet effective steps, we can restore our planet to its former glory and be able to lead sustainable life.
Written by Insha, our writer.