“We tend to think we are the be all and end all—but we’re not. The sooner we can realize that the natural world goes its way, not our way, the better.”
David Attenborough’s Green Planet is his latest series in a career that began in the 1950s and is as notable for its variety of firsts—pioneering 16-mm film in TV; first to film a Komodo dragon; first to use drone cameras—as it is for his long-standing commitment to bringing wildlife and environmental issues into the homes of viewers around the world. PHOTOGRAPH: NADAV KANDER
WE MAKE LOTS of programs about natural history, but the basis of all life is plants.” Sir David Attenborough is at Kew Gardens on a cloudy, overcast August day waiting to deliver his final piece to camera for his latest natural history epic, The Green Planet. Planes roar overhead, constantly interrupting filming, and he keeps putting his jacket on during pauses. “We ignore them because they don’t seem to do much, but they can be very vicious things,” he says. “Plants throttle one another, you know—they can move very fast, have all sorts of strange techniques to make sure that they can disperse themselves over a whole continent, have many ways of meeting so they can fertilize one another and we never actually see it happening.” He smiles. “But now we can.” Continue reading →
Filmmaker Sir David Attenborough has been documenting the natural world since the 1950s. In his latest book and film, “A Life on Our Planet,” he offers a grave and alarming assessment about the climate crisis Earth is facing. The 94-year-old Attenborough spoke with William Brangham recently as part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas. Continue reading →
Sir David Attenborough on location for the new series. Photograph: Nick Lyons/BBC NHU
There are few people featured as frequently in our pages since 2011. His documentation of the wonders of nature surely qualifies as a major contribution to humanity. He has a new series and as always we link out to it here. But with it, some questions arise based on an interview he recently gave to Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s Global Environment Editor, to promote the series:
Veteran broadcaster says Dynasties, his new BBC wildlife series, will be gripping, truthful and entertaining but not overtly campaigning
I am susceptible to those questions, especially after reading Guardian columnist (another frequent subject in our pages) George Monbiot’s editorial below. Just because David Attenborough is a hero does not mean he is always right. These two items are both worth a read and further consideration about the responsibility that comes with trust, well-earned, but whose value perhaps should be employed for campaigning considering what is at stake. I find myself surprised to reflexively lean in to this editorial argument, because the mission of our platform here is to emphasize creative, entrepreneurial approaches to conservation. While we chose at the outset to not focus exclusively on feel-good stories, we also do not serve up excessive doom and gloom because there is plenty of reporting on that for anyone paying attention. Maybe my surprise is more that a hero of nature-lovers reveals himself to explicitly avoid campaigning when he knows better than most from decades of close observation what the planet has been losing during his lifetime.
By downplaying our environmental crisis, the presenter’s BBC films have generated complacency, confusion and ignorance
David Attenborough filming the BBC series Africa in the Suguta Valley, northern Kenya. Photograph: David Chancellor/BBC
Knowingly creating a false impression of the world: this is a serious matter. It is more serious still when the BBC does it, and yet worse when the presenter is “the most trusted man in Britain”. But, as his latest interview with the Observer reveals, David Attenborough sticks to his line that fully representing environmental issues is a “turn-off”.
His new series, Dynasties, will mention the pressures affecting wildlife, but Attenborough makes it clear that it will play them down. To do otherwise, he suggests, would be “proselytising” and “alarmist”. His series will be “a great relief from the political landscape which otherwise dominates our thoughts”. In light of the astonishing rate of collapse of the animal populations he features, alongside most of the rest of the world’s living systems – and when broadcasting as a whole has disgracefully failed to represent such truths – I don’t think such escapism is appropriate or justifiable. Continue reading →
The nature documentary “Blue Planet II” is oceanic in topic, tone, scope, and majesty. A production of the BBC Natural History Unit, the seven-episode series flexes its broadcaster’s mastery of a genre that it created. Over excellent footage shot on a circumglobal photo safari, the venerable narrator David Attenborough orates zoological narratives as if delivering a state-of-nature address. “Blue Planet II” follows the network’s “The Blue Planet,” which dropped in 2001, but it is less a sequel than a subsequent quest, like the second voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, or Apollo 14. Continue reading →
A few years ago I wrote about a curious and very specific relationship between some beetles and their wood-eating fungus symbiotic partner, and we’ve also shared other work on crazy parasitic creatures that can alter their hosts’ behavior, sometimes pretty radically (warning, creepy video). Believe it or not, the photo above isn’t some weirdly-antlered African ant–well, actually it is, but the antlers aren’t part of the ant’s body, they’re the spore-spreading apparatus of a parasitic fungus. Read on for more about the real-life World War Z that has been going on between ants (as well as other insects) and a family of zombifying fungi for millennia.
Earlier this week I went to a lecture hosted by Cornell’s Department of Neurobiology and Behavior titled “Zombie Ants: the precise manipulation of animal behavior by a fungal parasite.” The lecturer was David Hughes, Professor of Entomology at Penn State University, whose faculty webpage provides PDF links to most of the articles that he has contributed to if you’re interested in checking out the actual journal pieces on this topic. Continue reading →