Television viewers of a certain age will remember the “Life on Earth” series, which originally aired on the BBC in 1979 and was presented by David Attenborough. It was followed by “The Living Planet” (1984) series and “The Trials of Life” (1990), both also hosted by Attenborough. The trilogy influenced an entire generation of naturalists, both professional and amateur, through its groundbreaking cinematography and the quiet passion of its genteel host.
Now Attenborough, 93, is presenting a new film (streaming on Netflix) called “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet.” It documents the many human-induced environmental changes—none of them good—that have occurred on our planet over the course of Attenborough’s distinguished 60-plus-year career. The shocking results of human influence—from overfished oceans to deforested land to a global climate crisis—imposed over the relatively short course of one man’s lifetime are laid bare by scientific fact and visual evidence (although I’m sure climate-change deniers will continue to decry the film as “fake news”). Clearly saddened by the decline of Earth’s biodiversity and our path to self-destruction, Attenborough and the show’s producers nevertheless offer a formula for salvation—for both humankind and the many other living things on our planet—through sustainable practices and ecological balance. The good news is that such a way forward is still possible.
“A Life on Our Planet” is an important documentary, one that will likely fill you with equal parts despair, outrage—and hope.