On November 4, Sir David Attenborough was interviewed by Jonathan Watts in The Observer, a British Sunday paper, regarding his new five-part wildlife documentary, Dynasties. In the interview, the naturalist and critically acclaimed narrator responded to criticism suggesting he has not been vocal enough on the issue of climate change. Attenborough admitted that climate change has been damaging but claimed that ringing the bell too aggressively could be “a real turn off.”
Attenborough expressed concern that over-the-top climate alarmism could undermine the goal of improving the natural world.
While Attenborough has no qualms about making environmental issues a recurring theme in his programs, he expressed concern that over-the-top climate alarmism could undermine the goal of improving the natural world. According to Attenborough:
“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 it 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.”
Instead of sounding alarms, Attenborough said, it’s his duty to tell a story that is “truthful” and “talks about something important—and to tell it in its round fullness.” The purpose of high-quality educational programming is not to promote dogmas, he suggested. “They are not proselytizing programmes, they are not alarmist programmes. What they are is a new form of wildlife filmmaking.”
A Naturalist Who Cares
Perhaps you haven’t heard his name, but you’ve definitely heard his voice. Attenborough is the narrator behind some of the best nature documentaries ever created, like Planet Earth, Blue Planet, and Life. These series depict a breathtaking variety of wildlife, habitats, and climates.
It would be difficult to make a case that Attenborough doesn’t care about the planet or climate change. In the finale of Planet Earth II, he made a tear-jerking plea to protect the natural world while lamenting the number of animal species driven to near extinction.
“Only a small number of animals have managed to find ways of living alongside us,” said Attenborough. “And every 10 years an area the size of Britain disappears under a jungle of concrete. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Could it not be possible to build cities more in harmony with nature?”
For some alarmists, the Planet Earth II series “breeds complacency about our destruction of the planet.”
It’s safe to say the man appears pretty concerned about the fate of the natural world, right? But for some climate change alarmists, the Planet Earth II series “did not help the natural world” and even “breeds complacency about our destruction of the planet.”
The author of those words, natural history program producer Martin Hughes-Games, also proposed a “conservation tax” for natural history commissioners across all networks.
“This tax would insist that a fifth of natural history commissions are significantly conservation-oriented. As a matter of urgency, a development team should be set up to think [about] how the reality of what’s happening to wildlife worldwide can be portrayed in innovative ways,” said Hughes-Games. “We cannot simply carry on producing escapist wildlife fantasy almost totally ignoring the man-made mass extinction raging around us.”
Criticisized for Giving the World a Gift
And all of that was just a precursor to the criticism Attenborough is facing again regarding his Dynasties series.
It’s almost tragic. A 92-year-old naturalist wants to make truthful documentaries depicting wildlife and climates in a way that isn’t preachy. Where is the harm in that? How can you criticize someone for trying to make compelling documentaries?
Perhaps we can all agree that the earth is getting warmer. Maybe we can even agree that evidence suggests humans have contributed to this and that CO2 levels have increased due to the industrialization of society. But the degree to which this is a problem and how it is most effectively addressed is a matter of debate. Amidst the doomsday climate frenzy, it’s refreshing to hear a take like this from the face of environmental programming.
Considering Attenborough has made the environment his life’s work, how could one possibly suggest he isn’t doing enough for the world? How does one decide that the best way to educate the populace on climate change is through centrally planned environmental programming?
We are building our universities and intellectual communities around the ethos of in-group loyalty and fervent activism instead of truth-seeking.
One possibility might be the fact that we are building our universities and intellectual communities around the ethos of tribalism, in-group loyalty, and fervent activism instead of the once predominant ethos of truth-seeking. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and FIRE President Greg Lukianoff discuss this issue in their new book, The Coddling of The American Mind.
As they posit, this type of situation might exemplify a trend “long studied by sociologists in which a community becomes obsessed with religious or ideological purity and believes it needs to find and punish enemies within its own ranks in order to hold itself together.”
It's Time to Take a Break from Politics
Whatever the case, it goes to show how intense our political climate has become. If one is not screaming from the mountaintops about issues and causes, they are viewed as an apostate and deemed guilty of betraying their political team.
Amongst this intensity, Attenborough hopes his work will be “a great relief from the political landscape which otherwise dominates our thoughts.”
So go home after work today, kick back in your favorite chair, and watch some of the most beautiful footage of the natural environment that has ever been produced… and just forget about the politics.