There’s nothing like a good wildlife documentary to soothe the soul, inspire us to get outside and also–importantly–to capture nature’s fragility. There is perhaps no narrator better known than living legend, Sir David Attenborough, who has brought us the world through our television screens for decades. His legacy will be a magical blend of beautiful cinematography highlighting our planet’s myriad dynamic ecosystems and–hopefully–the drive to do better to protect them.
Attenborough has inspired an appreciation of nature in millions. The original Blue Planet series was on loop in my house growing up and a key driving force behind my decision to study marine biology as an undergraduate. Fast forward 16 years and this classic was remade, utilizing technology that was lightyears ahead and broadcasting an agenda that was much more heavily focused on anthropogenic impacts on this sensitive azure wonderland. The result was a huge movement amongst the general public towards reducing plastic consumption after seeing the lachrymose shots of beautiful seabirds and whales facing extinction as a direct result of our actions.
The BBC has always had a challenge producing cinematic gold that is enticing to its huge audience, dutifully conveys an important environmental message, but doesn’t stretch so far as to be a turn-off. While many of us avidly support those documentaries that leave no room for second guessing, making it clear as day just how dire a state the planet is in, this isn’t always the best tactic to convert the masses to a more sustainable mindset.
The legendary voice behind Blue Planet, Planet Earth and other epic nature documentaries, Sir David Attenborough recently discussed that overdoing the alarmism can be a huge turn-off to viewers who simply want to marvel in nature’s various wonderlands. “We do have a problem. Every time the bell rings, every time that image [of a threatened animal] comes up, do you say ‘remember, they are in danger’? How often do you say this without becoming a real turn-off? It would be irresponsible to ignore it, but equally I believe we have a responsibility to make programmes that look at all the rest of the aspects and not just this one,” Attenborough says. (For the record, he has given up meat since a few years ago saying that it was for “a bit of both” health and ethical reasons, and that he found factory farming “depressing.”)
Not everyone can cope with all the images of death and destruction. For the activists amongst us who feel the urgency to do something (anything) to improve the state of affairs, it can be hard to ignore the urgency that boils ferociously beneath the surface, driving our actions and the topics we keep circling back to in our discussions with peers. But, it’s important to remember that not everyone thinks this way. In fact, those of us that do are actually in the minority. Many people prefer a gentler approach.
Unlike one of numerous other minority groups supporting an array of different ideologies, environmental activism really involves the black and white issue of life versus death. It poses the question of whether we want to fight for our future or not. That’s why it’s a bit of a weird niche that warrants a place in the law, with governments pushing the agenda even when disinterested citizens object. It really is for the greatest good and truthfully, objections only ever come from lack of education, not because there’s another side to the coin.
However, the murky gray area of getting others to see eye-to-eye is a fierce realm to navigate. It can actually be counterproductive to force-feed others your agenda (would you believe it?), even if you know there’s truth to those facts that you spew and your heart is in the right place. There’s a time and a place for bold acts of passion (protests, well-articulated speeches etc.) but for the most part, one of the best ways of convincing others to get onboard the train to eco-town is to lead quietly by example.
I was discussing with some pals the other day the hardships associated with eco trauma. Yes, it’s a thing! The more you learn about what’s going on in the environment, shifting your lifestyle to align with your values, the more likely you are to want to shout about it and get others to do the same. But it is a permanent uphill struggle, seeing the masses continue to make poor decisions, the damage continue to be inflicted in the world and the consequential feeling that you are invisible as a result. A natural oscillation comes about as you fluctuate between waves of encouragement and despair. One good story, one person telling you that they were inspired by you to buy a reusable coffee cup or start cycling to work feels like it’s outweighed by 100 others consuming fast fashion, plastic straws and meat. Can what you’re doing actually be making an impact? Should you even bother?
Of course the answer is inexorably YES! What you don’t realize is that much of our decision-making comes from our subconscious, and so while you might not have everyone getting on the bandwagon immediately, those things that you do have great influence. Master the art of making those changes look effortless, no, glamorous and you’re onto a winner.
As Attenborough’s new series Dynasties gets ready to launch this week, Sir David reminds us that his aim is never to create an alarming, proselytising programme, but rather one that is purely wildlife cinematography.”You want people to understand the wonder of nature…If they appreciate the wonder, then they care about it, and then they care about it, and that’s when it brings you to your other mission–which is to make people interested, then more likely to care and conserve, and become active in saving the planet.”
The more insight we can gain into the lives of creatures that we know nothing about, living in exotic locations around the globe, the more we can ignite a passion in others to continue to learn because they care. People who care are people who conserve.
We, as a species, vary immensely in the way that we approach our lives. Take a simple look at weight-loss tactics. Some of us need a dramatic, overnight kind of change: quitting all processed stuff at once and eating nothing but healthy foods. But for most of us, a gradual change is less of a shock to the system. Next time that you recognize the fire in your belly telling you that it’s your duty to save the planet, remember that not everyone is quite so hardcore. And it might benefit the planet if you work smarter, not harder.
If we focus entirely on the doom and gloom, we miss out on some of the beauty and that’s a great tragedy. If, as Attenborough says, one of the most fruitful tactics for driving forward meaningful conservation is to stimulate a place of inspiration and wonder in our hearts, let us not forget to draw upon this and use it to our advantage.
What most inspires you to protect our environment?