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A Life on Our Planet Nails the Planetary Problems But Misses the Political Ones

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David Attenborough is 93. Over the course of his lifetime, the beloved natural historian and broadcaster has seen the planet go through unimaginable changes. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have soared, as has the human population, while biodiversity has declined precipitously. He details these shifts in a new documentary released on Netflix on Sunday, which he calls his “witness statement” for the natural world.



David Attenborough wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: David Attenborough in the new film David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.


© Screenshot: Netflix (Getty Images)
David Attenborough in the new film David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.

The new film, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, beautifully and persuasively argues in favor of a fundamental reshaping of humanity’s relationship with nature. But in doing so, it misses something more subtle: the fact that not all of humanity are equally responsible for exploiting Earth.

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That’s not to say it’s not well worth a watch. The new movie is both deeply moving and visually stunning. In it, we’re treated to footage of Attenborough’s decades of adventures chronicling incredible ecosystems around the globe, from the Amazon rainforest to the Arctic.

As is typical for an Attenborough film, the footage is paired with equally lush narration, in which the historian explains the ways he saw the world shift from his up-close-and-personal vantage point. Species that were once common became scarce and hard to find. More coral, under stress from unprecedentedly high ocean temperatures, begun to expel its colorful algae and turn a deathly white. More trees were cleared for agriculture. And thanks to power plants and vehicles spewing out far more dangerous planet-warming pollutants and the devastation of the world’s carbon sinks, the planet has warmed by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) in his lifetime. 

“We are facing nothing less than the collapse of the living world,” he says in the movie.

If we