Arts & Culture, Film & TV

A Life on our Planet Review

Written by Hannah Shaw

Humankind: there is no denying that we are the most intelligent species on planet Earth. With the ability to eliminate predators, keep most diseases under control (reiterate most) and the mental capacity to create a farming system so intricate that it can create food to order, we thought we were safe.

Little did we know, that our wonderful and complex intelligence is actually the biggest threat to our planet. Our own intelligence is the weapon that is destroying the very place we call home.

As potentially David Attenborough’s finale of televised productions, there was no doubt that it was going to be a rough ride, regardless of the hard-hitting topic. The documentary, A Life on Our Planet is Attenborough’s witness statement, an in-depth history of the admirable work during his lifetime, continuously mirrored against the destruction humankind has, and still is, causing to our natural world.

The constant comparison is highly effective, especially when you compare the statistics from 1937, at the start of the documentary, to the predicted stats of 80 years from now, where a sixth mass extinction wouldn’t come at a surprise.

The documentary isn’t your typical Friday night easy-watch.

With shocking footage of unsustainable fishing, animal poaching and coral bleaching, it’s hard not to want to give up your entire life to become a full-time environmental activist. Perhaps the most distressing element of the film is the focus on Borneo’s mass deforestation.

By the end of the 1950’s, Borneo’s rainforests had decreased by 50% within a decade, contributing to the 3 trillion trees that humans have chopped over time. This harsh reality as a result of our reckless actions is epitomised with the image of a lone orangutan, clinging on to a singular tree which stands in an empty wasteland—once a hub of greenery, wildlife and biodiversity.

It’s sickening to consider our selfish intentions, prioritising the double incentive of timber and land over the lives of hundreds and thousands of equally important species.

Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to see parallels in our everyday consumer lifestyle: current Ofcom complaints concerning the sacrifice of animal welfare for human entertainment in ITV’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! and recent concerns in relation to the irresponsible sourcing of palm oil by far too many food and cosmetic companies, such as L’Oreal and Mars.

In schools across the world, children are taught about the dangers of global warming but there is no greater teacher than Sir David Attenborough himself. In his documentary, he shares the shocking truth of the rate at which we are willingly destroying planet Earth.

He explains, in a natural cycle, our planet needs around one million years of volcanic activity to release enough carbon into the atmosphere to trigger some sort of catastrophe. Through the burning of coal and oil, humans have managed to do so in the space of under 200 years, 5000 times faster than nature’s natural rate. If we don’t do something about it now, this increase in global temperature will create far too many problems that we just can’t afford to happen.

Although the documentary works as a warning, it still manages to be hopeful.

David Attenborough revisits his trip to New Guinea in 1971, where he highlights how modern life is just too demanding, suggesting a return to sustainable living. The tribe he meets are hunter-gatherers, rarely eat meat and only use naturally renewing resources – life lessons that we can definitely all learn something from. We can already see steps towards this way of life, such as the single-use plastic ban, but we still have a very long way to go.

So, what now?

Despite the threat of a worldwide mass extinction, A Life on Our Planet is somehow still one of the most inspiring media statements ever made available to us. The film ends with a simple action plan, a final chance to save our planet and how we can save ourselves, from ourselves, “all we need, is the will to do so.”


Hannah Shaw is a final year English student. She is hoping to pursue a career in writing and journalism. You can find her on twitter @hannah_shaw2.


Feature image by gryffyn m, from Unsplash.