As you watch a lone endangered elephant strolling across an African salt pan in glorious high definition tonight, Our Planet will simultaneously be addressing the elephant in every room across the developed world.
From boardrooms to your very own living room, the message is clear: Collectively, we must do all we can to protect our home planet because we are complicit in the impending sixth mass extinction event which could lead to its demise as we know it.
Don’t be put off, though. From the makers of Planet Earth and narrated by Emmy and BAFTA winner Sir David Attenborough, Our Planet is nothing if not beautiful.
Here’s the full-length official trailer to whet your appetite:
But, unlike its award-winning televisual predecessors, its beauty lies partly in the consistent reminders the spectacle you are welcomed to witness from the comfort of your homes is uncomfortably temporal.
I guarantee you an awe-inspiring viewing experience, even in the first episode.
But as you watch leafcutter ants take flowers home to their mates, sea otters tumbling in tall kelp fronds, wolves roaming the reclaimed radioactive spaces of Chernobyl now unfit for humans, and the 400 remaining pairs of Philippine eagles barely survive in their last refuge as 90 per cent of their habit is gone; heed this warning. You will be probably wracked with at least a little bit guilt.
Never before has a natural history series so consistently and unwaveringly placed humanity front and centre of the narrative of our declining Mother Nature.
In his opening statement, Attenborough chooses his words wisely:
Just 50 years ago, we finally ventured to the moon. For the very first time, we looked back at our own planet. Since then, the human population has more than doubled.
This series will celebrate the natural wonders that remain and reveal what we must preserve to ensure that people and nature thrive.
The subtext is clear: Since we arrived, we have contributed to the loss of natural wonders aplenty. Now, Our Planet gives you the chance to experience those ‘that remain’, while you can.
Attenborough’s documentaries of old have taught us lessons of science, natural history, and shown audiences things they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.
From the fish who changes gender in Planet Earth II to Dave the Chimp in Dynasties, we’ve been largely distracted by beauty and awe from the subtle nods to the ways in which we have impoverish our planet.
We come away feeling full of knowledge and entertained by the anthropomorphised views of the Animal Kingdom, in all its glory, without much thought for its longevity.
In fairness to us, the viewing public, the BBC’s programming on the natural world – while a gift for the senses – has often relegated the issues which face the Earth to the final fleeting comments or a flippant moralising conclusion.
Professor of Animal Welfare & Ethics at University of Winchester, Andrew Knight, called this human-driven mass extinction event ‘the greatest tragedy of our time’, when he spoke of the issue in a UNILAD documentary.
You can watch the full documentary, Meat The End, below:
And yet, masterpieces of television the likes of which were created by the BBC have been accused of whitewashing this reality.
‘We can now destroy or we can cherish,’ Attenborough said during Planet Earth, euphemistically adding, ‘the choice is ours.’
Actually, we don’t really have a choice and Our Planet tells viewers this uncomfortable truth about this ‘biological annihilation’.
In fact, one study suggested species extinction was happening 1,000 times faster due to humans, thanks to our hunting habits, invasive species we have introduced and the ever-changing climate.
Sailesh Rao, Executive Director of Climate Healers, told UNILAD:
No other major extinction event in the past was caused by one species. We’re the only species currently destroying the planet. We’re losing another three per cent [of species] per year.
At that rate, by 2026, it will be 100 per cent. Once they die off, we’re next on the line.
So now, it is left to Attenborough once more, aged 92, to teach us a thing or two about the ethics and importance of environmentalism.
With Netflix, it seems he has found a platform on which his usually soothing soliloquies are free to take on a justifiably admonishing tone.
He is, after all, the only man alive who we would allow to rebuke a global citizenship from within the confines of our own homes, his words beamed over the streaming service in an almost last ditch attempt to get you to turn off the lights or recycle more or volunteer at a local wildlife sanctuary.
The Our Planet website goes one step further. In this space, they present all the ways in which we can make a tangible difference.
It really is an admirable move to put the viewing public’s enjoyment of a show which took 3,375 days of filming and five years to make on the line to stay true to the most pertinent message.
For me, the honesty heightens the experience.
Meanwhile, some have criticised the narrative of episode one of Our Planet – as well as the admittedly over-baked soundtrack – saying it’s all a little jarring.
In fact, in my humble opinion, Our Planet runs seamlessly from the tropics to the poles by way of the seas, with the eminent narrator making the point time and time again that we are all connected, even to the most far-flung animals and environs because every action we take has a reaction somewhere else in the world.
Whether that be climate change and the flamingos struggling to find water due to less rainfall each year, or plastic pollution and the sea creatures ingesting things which weren’t in the sea before we came along, there is a human connection to every aspect of this documentary simply because we share the planet with everything in it.
As Sir David says, the species which came before us offered a stable environment in which humanity could flourish. Now, the very same stability which led to our own survival is causing chaos for theirs, and in the long run, ours too.
We have no choice but to take environmental issues seriously for the sake of every species, from the slugs to the Homo sapiens, and to stop the destruction of the home we all share.
Don’t believe me? Believe Attenborough.
On the opening night last night, he was asked to share a message with young people watching in one of the 190 countries Netflix can reach.
He said, ‘I’m just an old guy. It’s their world’. And this is the story of our time, kids, according to Producer Alistair Fothergill. This isn’t edutainment for the TV licence-paying British public.
It’s a call to arms for young people globally. And it’s fucking beautiful.
Our Planet is available to watch from tonight (April 5) on Netflix.
If you have a story you want to tell, share it with UNILAD via [email protected]