A Few Attenborough Minutes

When he first appeared in these pages, and each of the dozens of times since then that David Attenborough has returned, it is worth at least a few minutes of attention. Click above to go to the video or below to go to the transcript:

Amid planet’s crisis, filmmaker Sir David Attenborough’s ‘vision for the future’

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

Trust & Responsibility

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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:

David Attenborough: too much alarmism on environment a turn-off

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.

David Attenborough has betrayed the living world he loves

By downplaying our environmental crisis, the presenter’s BBC films have generated complacency, confusion and ignorance

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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

Blue Planet II’s Attenborough Masterpiece

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The broadclub cuttlefish is one of the psychedelic creatures featured in “Blue Planet II.” Photograph courtesy BBC

blue_planetWe have not linked to many television reviews, and the reason is simply that we instead mostly promote going and seeing instead of sitting and watching.

But this one seems a perfect exception to the norm because the series narrator is such a frequent guest in these pages, for good reason after many good reasons. This show may be his own sense of a masterpiece, if you consider what he says in a recent interview to a confirmed urbanist, which is worth half an hour of listening to in addition to the review below:

“Blue Planet II” Reviewed: The Ocean Continues to Impress

The seven-episode follow-up to the 2001 series flexes the BBC’s mastery of a genre that it created.

By Troy Patterson

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

Zombie Ants

African ant (Pachycondyla sp) attacked by an insect eating Fungus (Cordyceps sp) Guinea, West Africa. Photo © PIOTR NASKRECKI/ MINDEN PICTURES/National Geographic Creative

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