• Ketaki Singh

'David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet' : Better Late Than Never (?) - A Review

Called his ‘witness statement’, ‘David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet’ is a documentary that takes us through his elaborate and experienced career, where he attempted to find answers to questions often asked about nature, wildlife and the earth through exhaustive exploration; a starting point for years of extension to the same.

Taking us through an area surrounding the site of the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, the beginning of this account sets the tone for the rest; an urgent message and plea armed with powerful yet pleasing graphics. We are told of the steep, steady decline that nature has so painfully endured through the narrator’s eyes, looking at the evolution, the current state of the environment and what the future may hold.

A running, continuing emphasis is put on the fact that in today’s world, we are essentially separate from nature. This is seen in stark comparison to a time many decades ago, wherein we existed with nature in synchrony and harmony; both making life better for the other. We have gone from living in a world with unimaginable, uninhibited diversity, to rainforests and plantations that now look controlled, regimented and designed like soldiers in the forces collected for a morning drill. We have taken all that nature had to offer and stripped it of its resources and identity, making it into something existing solely for our own profit and whims, retaining none of what it was.

Attenborough convincingly shows us how our advancement and progress is ours alone, as we benefit from what a swiftly growing economy has to offer to us. Very little of what we, as a species have achieved, has been dedicated to protecting what is around us and to which we owe our very lives. This progress, thus, in its own way, is isolating in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

Like any other relationship we hold, one that is terribly one-way and only runs on actions of one side taking from the other is something that is not sustainable and long lasting; it is bound to break eventually. This is what our relationship with nature has come down to – an important and vital one that we did not pay much heed to, that is now starting to drift away from us, showing signs of withdrawal with increasing frequency. ‘If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us’ is a thought that materializes in this documentary, showing us its true, literal meaning.

Carlo Rovelli in his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, said,

“The brutal climate and environmental changes which we have triggered are unlikely to spare us. For the Earth they may turn out to be a small irrelevant blip, but I do not think we will outlast them unscathed-especially since public and political opinion prefers to ignore the changes we are running, hiding our heads in the sand. We are perhaps the only species on Earth to be conscious of the inevitability of our own mortality. I fear that soon we shall also have to become the only species that will knowingly watch the coming of its own collective demise, or at least the demise of its civilization.”

It is this very point that is highlighted by Attenborough; nature will recover and continue, it is us who will bear the brunt of our actions.

This documentary uses an extensive, 60 year-long career and the wisdom that comes along with it, to deliver a message that is often talked about but very easily ignored and swept under the carpet. Substantiating evidence and powerful narration makes the argument all the more compelling, making the viewer a part of this global struggle aimed at saving our home, ourselves and those to come.

-Written by: Ketaki Singh