It’s hard not love the amazing and sublime depiction of the planet and all its species in David Attenborough‘s work. But the beauty and wonder he depicted rarely had a hint that there was anything going seriously wrong with the planet, that the beauty and wonder was under threat. Too much of a bummer for a TV audience, perhaps.
But now Attenborough plans to rectify this omission:
David Attenborough vividly remembers, nearly 80 years on, his first encounter with one of the worst scourges of the planet. He was a schoolboy. “I remember my headmaster, who was also my science master, saying: ‘Boys, we’ve entered a new era! We’ve entered, we’ll be proud to say, the plastic era. And what is so wonderful about this is we’ve used all our scientific ingenuity to make sure that it’s virtually indestructible. It doesn’t decay, you know, it’s wonderful.’”
Attenborough lets the last word hang in the air, eyebrows and hands raised. Then the hands fall. “Now we dump thousands of tonnes of it, every year, into the sea, and it has catastrophic effects.”
Pieces of plastic in the ocean will soon outnumber fish. They have, in the past few years, been recognised as one of the most pressing problems we face. Fish eat the plastic debris, mistaking it for food, and can choke or starve to death. The long-term effects are not yet understood, but we do know that plastic microparticles are now found in drinking water across the world, as well as throughout our oceans.
Plastics are the latest in a long line of concerns for the 91-year-old naturalist. They are a key theme of his latest work for television, the new series of The Blue Planet, which he will return to writing after our interview. Premiering at the BFI Imax in London this Wednesday – with Prince William as a special guest – the series will focus not only on the marvels of ocean life, but the threats to it, of which plastic is one of the worst. It will also deal with what people can do to help.
It’s often argued that negative news just depresses an audience into helplessness. That has always seemed like a cop out, a plea to be given permission to live as we live, buying every new iPhone, flying frequently to holiday destinations, and chowing down on burgers. Maybe the reality that this lifestyle is killing the planet is depressing. But it is also necessary if there is any hope of mobilizing the human nation into seeking a dramatically different, more planet-friendly, lifestyle. So it is good news that one of the planet’s premier naturalists and film-makers will focus his work on raising these issues and solutions. Finally.