Extinction: The Facts - shocking, depressing but essential viewing

Sir David Attenborough yet again pleads with humanity to change our behaviour


Sep 16, 2020

(3 min read)

I haven't slept much lately. Perhaps this is due to my evening-tea-drinking habit, or my nightly routine of listening to music paired with a social media scroll. More likely, though, it is down to experiencing a global pandemic, which has now taken nearly a million lives, and the ever more urgent climate emergency — two crises that David Attenborough linked together in his latest warning to humanity. 

It was almost like a horror movie — something to watch behind a pillow or between your fingers — but even more so it was a tragedy, with Attenborough himself emphasising that the planet's biodiversity loss "isn't just disturbing, it's deeply tragic". In fact, one million different species are at risk of being lost forever, and 'Extinction: The Facts' zoomed in on just a few of these: the last two northern white rhinos, the last killer whale pod around the UK and the critically endangered pangolins. It's one thing to read statistics that we are heading for the sixth mass extinction, or that an eighth of the world's species are threatened by this; it is another thing entirely to see the remaining mother and daughter northern white rhinos, with the knowledge that once the mother dies, that's it, the daughter will be all alone in the world.

Through the pangolins, Sir David Attenborough highlighted how the coronavirus pandemic is as a direct result of our destructive relationship with nature, and how we can expect similar pandemics in the future if we continue to wreck vital ecosystems. As noted by The Guardian, however, there's something really sad about the fact that "both the scientists and the film-makers sense the problem of extinction has to be shown to hurt us ... before we really care enough to engage."

And the dangers to humanity because of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss spread beyond increasing pandemics. The wildfires across the West Coast of the US, raging for at least three weeks in California and Washington, and now creating "apocalyptic scenes" in Oregon (the Reuters photos are shocking), should be a sign that the time to act is now. As put by presidential candidate Joe Biden, "climate change poses an imminent, existential threat to our way of life". (Emphasis added)

There was, however, a sliver of hope offered by Attenborough towards the end of the programme, as he showed the mountain gorilla population in Rwanda. These gorillas, on the brink of extinction when David Attenborough filmed them for his 'Life on Earth' (1979) series, have now made a recovery — thanks to the work of Rwandan conservationists and a scheme which has used tourists' money to protect them. 

It isn't too late to change, and if anyone is going to be the catalyst for this change it will be Sir David Attenborough.

“I do truly believe that, together, we can make a better future. I might not be here to see it, but if we make the right decisions at this critical moment, we can safeguard our planet’s ecosystem.” - Sir David Attenborough

Charlotte Campbell


Aspiring journalist :)

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