‘An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfillment.’ – David Attenborough
A few days ago, our feeds were dominated by the headline ‘David Attenborough: too much alarmism on environment a turn-off‘. Since then, I’ve seen countless posts, tweets and articles written in response, ranging from the supportive, the critical and to the downright rude – but the majority follow the common theme of feeling let down by our much loved natural world enthusiast. One even went as far as to claim he’d betrayed the living world, stating that by downplaying our environmental crisis, he’d generated complacency, confusion and ignorance.
What did he actually say?
The original article, published by The Guardian, was a precursor to the upcoming series ‘Dynasties‘, which follows the lives of five of some of the world’s most charismatic animals. Sir David Attenborough, who it could be said is one of the world’s most favourite enthusiasts of the natural world, will be narrating the programs. The full article can be found here, but in a very brief, paraphrased summary, he emphasised that these programs are to be taken as a showcase of innovative wildlife film making and insights into the world and plight of these animals – not as environmental campaigns. Within the article, it is posed that the comments it reported could end up ‘reigniting the debate’ about Sir David’s priority – education, or entertainment?
That debate is one that has since been populating my news feed, with both sides showing strong dedication to their reasonings and opinions.
Although the series aims to be an intimate and intense insight into the lives of these species, showcasing the pressures they face within their habitats and from the human race, the article suggests that the approach could be seen as too light handed. This is a sentiment echoed in reaction articles, some even bringing up that although the recent series Blue Planet II is credited with causing outrage against plastic straws and a mass shift in the nation’s attitudes towards single use plastics, it still isn’t good enough and needs to strive to better inform the public as to just why and how we need to take action.
However, on the other side of the coin, I’ve seen defences that largely congregate around a similar idea: hope. Growing up, I watched The Really Wild Show (and very recently had the opportunity to meet Michaela Strachan, but more about that later, I’m still not quite over it) and the whimsical aspirations of roaming the world saving animals settled themselves deep in my brain. To this day, I still credit the inspiration for my chosen career path with the documentaries I used to watch on Animal Planet, the spectacles of nature showcased on the various Planet Earth episodes, and even the frolicking celebrity specials that would be frowned upon now (Tamzin Outhwaite Goes Wild With Dolphins, I’m looking at you). Would I still have developed a love for the natural world had I not been exposed to it through programs such as these?
I’d hope that I would have, however, I’m still grateful for the insights into the world that these programs provided.
This forms the main basis of the defences I’ve seen – Sir David Attenborough has provided a lifetime of inspiration and stories from the world around us, inspiring countless careers and opening eyes and minds to the vast range of lives on our planet.
That being said, an earlier article reports an important point: he is not a scientist, instead, he describes himself as ‘somebody who takes their discoveries and tried to make them comprehensible to others.’ This brings us back to the earlier question posed; does he have a responsibility to educate rather than just entertain? Are the two really mutually exclusive? Does his prowess within the field of presenting the natural world give him a responsibility to ensure viewers have a real grasp on the magnitude of the issues faced around the world? Is inspiration enough? Are we placing the responsibility of saving the world on the shoulders of one man?
What do you think?