If there may be any individual who draws near-ubiquitous admiration in the UK, it’s David Attenborough. The naturalist has had a grasp on our eyes and ears with a outstanding circulation of nature documentaries because the Fifties. Even into his later years, Attenborough—who’s now 96—has relentlessly persevered to unlock new documentaries and sequels to his universally praised displays about existence in the world.
His newest is Frozen Planet II—a follow-up within the collection exploring the chilled reaches of our planet. If that doesn’t take your fancy, then additionally launched this yr are a smorgasbord of Attenborough-fronted documentaries about birdsong and vegetation, two choices about dinosaurs, and a sequel to 2018’s Dynasties, one of those documentary-cum-soap-opera that follows named animals as they try to carry directly to energy of their respective dynasty. Despite the fact that he’s maximum intently related to the BBC, whose Herbal Historical past Unit continues to supply nearly all of his documentaries, contemporary Attenborough displays have additionally been commissioned via Apple TV+ and Netflix. If Earth had to supply up a planetary spokesperson for the flora and fauna, Attenborough is the odds-on favourite, and for excellent explanation why: His softly intoned reverence for the flora and fauna has impressed a way of marvel for generations. He has executed greater than virtually any individual to carry far flung landscapes into our houses in an unforgettable way, and to remind us that we’re destroying those gorgeous, fragile ecosystems.
However gazing the primary episode of Frozen Planet II, there’s something—forgive me—that leaves me a bit of chilly. The entire hallmark Attenborough-isms are there: ominous strings as killer whales stalk a seal atop some pack ice. Drone photographs of glaciers smashing into the ocean underneath the Greenland ice sheet. The staccato comedy of a Pallas’s cat—in point of fact nature’s chonkiest fuzzball—because it plods after a rodent. It’s all gorgeous. It’s Attenborough, in any case. However on the identical time, this documentary feels unusually out-of-step with a planet on fireplace.
In maximum Attenborough documentaries, nature is unspoiled, gorgeous. It’s elegiac strings overlaid on unbroken blankets of ice. It’s one thing that exists out of doors of odd human enjoy—a elsewhere that hovers thus far at the fringe of my very own existence that it will as smartly be plucked from the pages of a delusion novel. People are there within the Attenborough documentary however seldom onscreen. They’re a looming damaging presence that exists simply out of doors of the herbal machine, however bearing down on it. If an individual does seem in an Attenborough documentary, it’s typically the comforting presence of the naturalist himself.
That is a method to have a look at the flora and fauna, but it surely’s now not the one means. In her ebook Underneath a White Sky, the environmental creator Elizabeth Kolbert describes the chaotic means that people are imprinted on almost about each ecosystem in the world. It’s messy, and people are wreaking havoc in every single place we step, however Kolbert dispenses with the parable that nature exists out of doors of humanity and that most effective via stepping away are we able to proper the wrongs now we have wrought. To make sure, Attenborough doesn’t totally subscribe to this view both. Within the 2020 documentary A Lifestyles on Our Planet, he issues out that reversing local weather exchange would require people to undertake renewable generation, devour much less meat, and check out different answers. However he’s additionally a patron of Inhabitants Issues—a charity that advocates for lowering world populations in order to ease drive in the world. Protecting nature intact may imply that we will have to have fewer people round to revel in it.
I’m in my view now not satisfied via this line of considering, however I do assume that wishing away people with a view to focal point on nature has two different negative effects that we will see in Attenborough’s documentaries. One is that our destruction of the flora and fauna is on occasion sidelined. Conservationist Julia Jones made this level when it comes to Our Planet, the filming of which she seen for 3 weeks in 2015. After the documentary was once launched she criticized the documentary for referencing forests burning in Madagascar however shying clear of appearing pictures of the destroyed ecosystems. Later, Jones praised Attenborough and his groups for depicting the affect of people within the 2020 documentary Extinction: The Reality—a movie she praised as “strangely radical.”