Attenborough returns with stern warning

Sage: The 93-year-old naturalist standing on a black sand beach in Iceland. © BBC

But is he shying away from blaming humanity? The veteran naturalist returns to our screens on Sunday with a new series, delivering his most radical environmental message yet.

For more than 60 years, David Attenborough has brought the wonder and majesty of the natural world into our living rooms.

Now, he is returning to BBC One with a series that is guaranteed to be one of the television events of the year. Premiering on Sunday, Seven Worlds, One Planet will be the nineteenth major series Attenborough has written and presented.

Its seven episodes will span the planet’s seven continents, soaring with the albatross and delving into the earth with Austrian hamsters.

Born 17 days before the Queen in 1926, the veteran broadcaster is a symbol of stability in troubled times and, according to YouGov, the most popular man in Britain.

But that doesn’t mean that the 93-year-old is immune from attacks. For years, Attenborough and the BBC Natural History unit were criticised for tacking on brief segments about pollution, while avoiding a frank conversation about humanity’s impact on the planet.

In spring this year, Our Planet saw a radical shift in tone — marking Attenborough out as a sage-like guardian of the environment.

“He’s seen more of the natural world than any human being that has ever lived on the planet, and he’s also seen more change than anyone else. And he feels a responsibility,” says his long-time collaborator, Alastair Fothergill.

Attenborough maintains that it is not he who has changed, but the public.

“I don’t think I’ve made a series in the last 40 years where I haven’t made at the end an appeal about caring for the natural world,” says Attenborough. His message has always focused on “not wasting things, not polluting things”, but “suddenly […] you hit the right note”.

Seven Worlds, One Planet comes at a time when the media is growing more conscious of its responsibility to present the brutal reality of the climate crisis.

Earlier this week, The Guardian pledged to use fewer polar bears and more humans in its coverage of the climate crisis. While cuddly animals can stir emotions in readers, these images can make the crisis feel “remote and abstract”, as opposed to an urgent human problem.

As Attenborough knows, the right coverage can have a huge impact. In 2017, Blue Planet II showed the plastic filling our oceans, and the world woke up. It was arguably the catalyst for a raft of anti-pollution laws that have come in since. But it’s not an easy formula to perfect.

“Quite what it is that makes the messages ring the bell is very difficult to say. I daresay if we knew how to do it, we would do it more frequently,” he says.

Dying planet?

Do Attenborough and the BBC avoid blaming humanity for Earth’s destruction? Of course not, say Attenborough and his supporters. These programmes have done more to promote the precious value of the natural world than anything else in our lifetime. As society has woken up to environmental breakdown, Attenborough has bravely put himself at the forefront of the fight.

But Lucy Jones disagrees. Our Planet was their first series to show “the realities of ecocide, environmental collapse and climate breakdown”, but “it doesn’t explain why, or in whose name, or with what power fossil fuels continue to be burnt”. By declining to take on the giants of fossil fuels, agriculture and plastic manufacturing, Attenborough and the BBC are shying away from the forces driving the crisis.

You Decide

  1. Why is David Attenborough so popular?
  2. Who exactly is to blame for the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Research and learn five facts about one animal that will feature in the new series.
  2. Give a one-minute speech about the state of the environment, in the style of Attenborough’s voice-overs.

Some People Say...

“We are a plague on the Earth.”

David Attenborough

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Seven Worlds, One Planet will be broadcast on BBC One at 6.15pm on Sunday evening. It will become available on BBC iPlayer after each episode has aired. Highlights include a new species of spider “with dance moves that need to be seen to be believed”, according to David Attenborough, and a giant gathering of great whales in Antarctica.
What do we not know?
If the series will be able to replicate the colossal impact of 2017’s Blue Planet II, which triggered a huge public debate and a drive to dramatically reduce plastic waste. (A ban on plastic straws and several other products comes into force in the UK from April 2020.)

Word Watch

Returning
He temporarily moved to Netflix for his last series Our Planet earlier this year. It was described as a “one-off” defection.
Albatross
A large, white seabird that lives in Antarctica. It is most famed for its appearance in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
YouGov
A British company that conducts public surveys.
Tacking on
Adding something on without much thought.
Our Planet
It was watched by 33 million people in its first month and became the most popular documentary in Netflix history.
Sage-like
A sage is someone who is “profoundly wise”.
Abstract
Not having a physical, concrete existence.
Catalyst
A trigger for something happening.
Raft
In this case, a large number of things.
Ecocide
The destruction of the natural environment. “-Cide” comes from the Latin “-cīda”, meaning “killer”.

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