Climate change is old news at this point. Greenhouse gases are thickening the atmosphere, causing a myriad of environmental problems and an impending apocalypse, we’re doomed if we don’t act now, blah blah blah. What else is there to say, right? But David Attenborough, who is a remarkable 94 years old, brings a unique perspective to the issue in A Life On Our Planet. Not only is Attenborough of an advanced age, but he’s also spent much of his life exploring the world and seeing its natural beauty. Meaning, he has witnessed both the wonderful diversity of life on Earth and that diversity’s erosion. A Life On Our Planet explains the impact of climate change in straightforward, objective terms, and offers up a message of hope for the future if we make changes now.
The first part of the movie is reminiscent of the nature documentaries Attenborough is known for; breathtaking images of the natural world with his calming narration layered on top. However, the pleasing snapshots of wildebeests grazing and sunlight filtering through trees are quickly replaced with horrific displays of whales bleeding out and trees being mercilessly sawed down. Appalling statistics about our impact on the climate thus far and grim statements describing what the future will look like if we continue on our current track are also thrown in, emphasizing the dismaying state of our world.
As an animal lover and individual who will most likely have to live through many of the effects of climate change, I found parts of this movie difficult to watch. By around the one hour mark, I was tempted to curl up under a fuzzy blanket and bawl my eyes out for the remainder of the film. Thankfully, Attenborough then changes his focus and poses the question, “What do we do?” He then proceeds to answer his own question by presenting several implementable, sustainable solutions to the catastrophe we find ourselves in, such as stopping overfishing and reducing farmland. He explains how these solutions would not only prevent a sixth mass extinction event on Earth, but also improve our present lives.
Attenborough concludes with the reminder that “This is not about saving our planet; it’s about saving ourselves.” I was pleased to see that A Life On Our Planet stressed this point. The climate movement is often falsely framed as “saving Earth” when in reality the planet will recover no matter what we do to it. It is actually our species we should be worried about — particularly certain marginalized groups, who will be most affected by the effects of climate change, and experience these effects sooner than everyone else.
One of the best aspects of the film is that you don’t have to be a scientist to understand what Attenborough is talking about. Everything is explained in easily understandable terms without being simplistic, which makes the movie accessible to people of many different backgrounds. And even though I consider myself relatively well-educated about climate change, I learned new things from this movie.
Furthermore, all the information in A Life On Our Planet is conveyed in a very non-judgmental way. For example, when talking about the impact that eating meat has on the environment, Attenborough never says “If you don’t become vegan immediately after watching this, you are part of the problem!” Rather, he calmly explains how eating meat contributes to climate change, and leaves people to make their own decisions about their diets. This avoidance of antagonization has the potential to open more viewers up to changing their lifestyles, rather than cause people to become defensive and turn off the movie.
While probably not the most important factor to consider for a documentary about climate change, it’s worth noting that the cinematography in A Life On Our Planet is absolutely stunning. From images of the destroyed city of Chernobyl to shots of the earth viewed from space, this movie is packed full of breathtaking imagery. The abundance of natural beauty showcased in this film hammers home the importance of protecting the environment while we still can. It also serves to juxtapose the images of environmental destruction shown throughout the film, making those scenes of chaos and death that much more jarring and upsetting.
In conclusion, A Life On Our Planet is a must-watch, regardless of whether you know next to nothing about climate change or are a dedicated activist. Because the film presents both problems and solutions, it both educates viewers about our situation and grants hope that we still have the ability to fix it for the future.