A Life on Our Planet: David Attenborough’s documentary on Netflix compelling 

The latest documentary by David Attenborough must be watched to make sense of what we have done to the planet, what to expect and also what can be done. Depressing but compelling viewing

A Life on Our Planet: David Attenborough’s documentary on Netflix compelling 

Ranjona Banerji

Are we permitted in these dire and difficult times to be filled with admiration? To be inspired and uplifted, even when there is overwhelming sadness and anger? To feel that there is hope amidst the despair, that we are not alone in our helplessness but strong together?

You can blame David Attenborough’s latest documentary, A Life on Our Planet, for this odd burst of semi-optimism.

How does one describe Attenborough? As a naturalist is not nearly enough. He is an explorer, a champion of the wild, a reminder to our consciences, an eternal child in his wonder and awe that takes us back to our times of innocence. And in this film, at the age of 93, he makes a strong and poignant point that we have become too much of a burden for our little, finite planet.

I know people’s eyes glaze over when they hear the words “environment”, “conservation” and so on. But that is either a reaction of stupidity or of fear, that the problem is too big and we’re all going to die anyway. Attenborough calls this film his “witness statement” as he tracks how the Earth has changed in his own lifetime, how humans have run rampage, how biodiversity and wildlife have suffered. And how, if we don’t change things, we will be the biggest casualties.

Attenborough also provides solutions for humans to step back from the brink. Some are difficult, some are relatively easier. To stop further destruction of the environment or to change our diets, these are just to place reasonable limits on our greed. The argument for planetary use of solar energy and other renewables to end the use of fossil fuels is so well-established that it is not an argument any more except for the congenitally intransigent.

The idea of profligate development as the only way forward has not worked and we know that. It’s only the desperate desire of the global marketplace for more profit that drives unsustainable growth. Our current lifestyle, our methods of agriculture, our dependence on fossil fuels are unsustainable. The planet will kick back and reset itself. But for us and everything alive, the result will be intolerable worldwide suffering. And, in the beginning of that end, it will be bottom of the pyramid that will pay the price first.

If there was not evidence enough already, The Global Hunger Index has just released its figures for 2020. Large sections of the world still suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition. Not least us in India.

We rank at 94 of the 107 nations that are part of this survey. We stand well below our immediate neighbours of Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (73), Bangladesh (75), Myanmar (78) and Pakistan (88) which is shocking enough for our incessant uber-nationalism and self-praise. And although since 2000, there have been some welcome improvements – we’ve gone up from 102 last year. But since 2012, “wasting of children under the age of 5” has actually increased.

We still stand just above sub-Saharan Africa in the global hunger picture with 14 per cent of our population severely malnourished. Uttar Pradesh appears to be the worst affected. Between the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent economic losses, especially at the lowest levels, we know that any semblance of recovery is miles away and today’s figures will undoubtedly be worse. Regardless of whether the Government of India pretends it has no data about anything.

The answers for our slow progress are not far to seek, even if we have made improvements over the years. Because, overall, we still do not operate as a society which cares about those less fortunate.

This may sound like a sweeping statement but be honest here. The reactions of the privileged, from corporate honchos openly saying “o, the poor always suffer don’t bore me by bringing them up” while praising Modi’s ill-advised and eventually disastrous demonetisation of the economy, or the open attempts to save men accused of raping Dalit women because they are upper caste, are obnoxious and despicable. Like denying eggs for schoolchildren in their mid-day meals because a religious community disapproves, although no children from that rich community is likely to need a government-sponsored meal.

The Indian default setting is selfish and feudal. And whoever dissents is a traitor who must be immediately imprisoned.

But let’s go with Attenborough.

Let’s end on hope.

Let more of us push to save the planet and us and ditch those who hold us back.

You know who they are. Go for it!

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