“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it.” – Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough has released his most recent documentary, David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet. It is a documentary like no other. The audience is attracted to the documentary by Attenborough’s personal charm and familiarity – many of us have known this guy since childhood! As the film begins you feel like you’re having an intimate conversation with David, as he spends the film telling you a story, his story – a story of 94 years on planet earth – our story. This conversation is accompanied by stunning cinematography, scientific research, and crisp sounds that take you to the places you see. Attenborough’s facial lines and creases hold his stories and experiences of the planet that he has resided upon for so long.
In his career as a broadcaster and natural historian, Attenborough has created over 100 documentaries on the intricacies of our earth and its inhabitants. A Life on Our Planet illustrates the magnitude of Attenborough’s learning during his career. This film is an attempt to share this learning with his audience, to tell the story of the changes that he has witnessed firsthand to plants and animals – to the ecosystems of our planet. In doing so, he summons us to care for our precious earth.
Attenborough makes it clear that humans have had, and continue to have, a dire effect on the natural world, exploiting it and using its resources as if they are endless. He shows us through science how these effects have occurred, the damage they have done, and where we are heading if we continue our current trajectory. By the middle of the film, people may be feeling deeply distressed about the future, wondering what hope there is. As all good stories do, Attenborough holds us in our grief and takes us through the steps we need to take to secure hope for the earth and its future inhabitants. He shows us the many initiatives that have begun transforming the damage done.
What is also clear in the film is that the earth can thrive without human beings. It will regenerate. A once obliterated Chernobyl, now overrun with plants and animals, is his ultimate example of this. Watching the film in the COVID-19 period provided an even deeper sense of the power of the earth. We have learned that we cannot run around the earth thinking its beauty and abundance are at our disposal. Earth will respond. It is clearly time for reconciliation.
As the film draws to a close, we find ourselves in a position of hope. Not just the sentimental nice hope, but hope that is embedded with an imperative to see and to act: to see that human life is intimately connected to this planet and that we need its resources for our survival; and, to act in order to reverse the devastating effects that over-consumption has had on the earth, including damage to the climate:
“The fact is that no species has ever had such wholesale control over everything on earth, living or dead, as we now have. That lays upon us, whether we like it or not, an awesome responsibility. In our hands now lies not only our own future, but that of all other living creatures with whom we share the earth.” – Attenborough
We need to “rewild the world”. I could not help but be inspired by this quote from Attenborough. Our wild places have been domesticated. I imagine what a wild earth could be like. I imagine what wild neighbourhoods would look like. And, I wonder what it could be like if we were to rewild the Church?
David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, rated PG, is directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonathan Hughes and Keith Scholey, and is currently showing on Netflix.