At first glance, the title of Sir David Attenborough’s new series ‘A Perfect Planet’ seems like a falsehood. The balance of the planet’s natural state has, for decades, been assaulted by human industry. Its habitats have been torn apart and its biodiversity plundered. The dwindling natural world is under siege and one might wonder if the title recognises the reality.
Programmes documenting or reporting the natural world should recognise the fragile nature of the Earth due to the consequences of human industry and ‘A Perfect Planet’ is no exception. The new series focuses on the way in which organisms have extraordinary capabilities to deal with new and brutal hardships. Against destructive storms and the blistering sun, the daily cycles of the natural world withstand great adversity. Attenborough guides us through these natural hardships to the unnatural and overwhelming effects of human domination which threaten catastrophe. For years, he has warned his audiences, comfortable on their sofas, of the dire state of the Earth. ‘A Perfect Planet’ is a more tempered companion piece to his Netflix programme ‘A Life on our Planet’ which was a more damning account of human actions. Also, in his book of the same name, Attenborough shows he is not afraid of assessing the grim realities of a consumer life powered by fossil fuels. Attenborough is an educator, and he uses concise and characterful narration to accompany incredible images. He knows that demonstrating the beauty of nature triggers the important emotional reaction of the viewer due to the threat of the man-made rise in global temperature.
What is missing from the series is a full-blooded discussion of the human dimension of the climate disaster often described as climate justice. What this means is that the effects of climate change are discriminate. For example, poorer communities are far less at fault for the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and yet they suffer the most from it. As the situation worsens, the way of life of the poorest people most at risk must be protected. A new, sustainable world should protect indigenous peoples, minorities and lower income groups as well as biodiversity.
Reports on the damage of climate change tend to focus on the effects on the natural world. Without taking attention away from the this, there must be a greater discussion of a risk to people. If the effects of climate change are not understood in their entirety, in the coming years climate refugees, flooded cities and burning fields will become a regular occurrence.
Attenborough’s ‘A Perfect Planet’ does not tread near the issues of climate justice that people such as David Lammy MP do but then again, his documentaries never have. Attenborough’s preoccupation is the protection and eventual restoration of the diminishing natural world. These striking and endearing programmes have always been built on recording the strife and beauty of nature. His greatest tool is to guide his viewers beyond the day-to-day modern life into a world unlike their own. Beyond this however, the tangible relationship between a future of sustainability and current inequalities should be brought to centre stage. The next step is for documentaries and news to bring climate justice to light and extend the argument. Still, this is more a criticism of the media’s voice at large than ‘A Perfect Planet’ which holds conservation at its heart. Attenborough’s message is that we must act quickly to save the natural world. The new world he envisages can be extended to climate justice as well. The desired perfection is a balance between mankind and mother nature, accommodating the needs and complexities of both.
The title ‘A Perfect Planet’ might well seem simplistic as the reality is far from ideal. It is not however pandering to easy viewing. In an elegant and concise way, Attenborough deals in both beauty and grim reality. If you switch on the first episode, the first thing on screen is not the title itself but an image of the Earth alone in the cosmos. Perfection is relative as our blue speck stands in a sea of black. The sentiment is less of a world in harmony but a world that is precious and unique. Above all, it is under threat. Stewardship is the core message. The title might be misleading but the spectacular and cautionary narrative of the new series is certainly not.
Image credit: Kunal Shinde via UnSplash