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David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet Review

Cover of David Attenborough's book, A Life on Our Planet

“It is the story of how we came to make this, our greatest mistake – and how, if we act now, we can yet put it right.”

Sir David Attenborough has had a long and prolific career as a wildlife broadcaster and natural historian. This has allowed him the opportunity to see the world many times over and see the damage that we as a species have caused to the natural world.

A Life on Our Planet‘  is a documentary based on the book of the same name. It’s his urgent message to us about the path of destruction humanity is on as he urges us to change our ways to create a sustainable future for humankind.

Throughout the 83-minute documentary, viewers are captured by the familiar narrations of a man who has guided many of us through cinematic explorations of the natural world before. David Attenborough shows his experience well, using his age and the depth of his career as a rhetoric device, to aid the effectiveness of his message.

A Life on Our Planet gives the viewer a sense of cause and effect. A high population causes an increased demand for meat and animal products, meaning higher demands for the agriculture industry, and therefore, higher demand for the farming industry which ultimately requires more land and water.

As someone who started watching A Life on Our Planet fully invested in my slice of meat-lovers pizza and then finished the documentary as a sworn pescetarian, I would say it is a powerful film.

I had always believed I was environmentally friendly and ‘green’ simply because I knew how to recycle, but this documentary points out that isn’t enough, and that we as a species need to do more.

In the last decade already, there has been a rise of environmentally conscious individuals, choosing greener options in their daily life, like sustainable fashion, using electric cars, reducing plastic waste, and eating plant-based.

This is certainly the direction the document is steering the viewer towards, recommending that in order to save the planet, we drastically need to change our lifestyles. Having seen the documentary multiple times now, the overarching message is to limit meat consumption.

“We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters.”

After watching the film, I felt compelled to share it amongst my friends and family, not to force them into a lifestyle I had now chosen for myself, but for the beauty in the documentary and more importantly, the information.

I truly valued the knowledge and depth of experience that David Attenborough was able to convey within this single documentary, and regardless of your position on the plant-based vs meat-eater debate, the facts are striking.

While Attenborough pushes the public to take a harder stance against the meat industry, I think his own lifestyle indicates that he doesn’t mean the consumption of meat needs to stop entirely, thus making the documentary a little misleading.

David Attenborough himself isn’t vegetarian, or vegan, or pescatarian. He has chosen to instead limit his meat intake to an undisclosed amount. So, while this does bring into question possible hypocrisy, I think overall, the documentary is urging viewers to make a change.

Clips of the natural world are broken up by damning graphics showing statistics of the environmental destruction and deforestation caused by our own innovation, which leaves a sick feeling in your gut regardless of what your lifestyle or diet may be.

As the world’s population increases, the percentage of remaining wildlife quickly drops, and the carbon in our atmosphere soars. Images of a thriving natural world are juxtaposed with footage of farmland, dead zones, melting ice-caps, and deforestation, while Attenborough essentially lists where we went wrong.

“Even more startling is the fact that 96 per cent of the mass of all the mammals on Earth is made up of our bodies and those of the animals that we raise to eat.”

The documentary is stunning and cinematically beautiful, but the imagery can be brutal at times, and the soundtrack resonates deeply with the viewer during those heartbreaking clips, highlighting the devastating impact we have had.

Despite the fact that this documentary did change my life by encouraging me to change my diet, I don’t think it will change everyone’s, as not everyone is open to that sort of lifestyle change.

There have been numerous documentaries previously that are attempting to do the exact same thing as this one, and for some, the benefits of sticking to the lifestyle they have grown accustomed to outweighs any negative effects on the environment.

Regardless, I do think anything that forces us to look beyond the now, and beyond our own bubble of existence, is worth a watch. A Life on Our Planet forces you to think about choices, actions, and change. It is up to you as a viewer to decide what you do with those thoughts.

A Life on Our Planet is available now on Netflix, and for a more in-depth experience to correspond with the documentary, David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future is available for purchase both online and in stores.

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