A hope infused narrative to course correct our planet from imminent ruin

The data driven argument David Attenborough makes about our planet’s future, using his own lifetime as the scale of measure, in the recently released film on Netflix “A life on our planet”, is hard to ignore, despite the fatigue that may have desensitized us to this topic by the relentless barrage of largely “doom and gloom” predictions of our planet all around us. For one, the film is not a doom and gloom story. It is one of hope with plausible course correcting actions, ambitious as they may be, to avert the imminent ruin of our planet, which doomsayers foretell, we are inexorably heading towards.

To narrowly focus only on the aggregate data shown in the figure above, which in the film, is scattered across the entire movie as brief time point markers, hardly does justice to the argument he makes, given his argument draws its strength not just from those numbers, sobering/shocking as they may be, but from the backdrop of the breathtaking visual narrative those numbers are embedded in.

The crux of his argument is quite simple and logically sound, grounded on irrefutable evidence. Our planet has witnessed five mass extinctions in its approximately 4 billion years of existence, with the most recent one that occurred 65 million years ago, decimating nearly 75% of all species. Evidence of those extinctions are buried deep in the layers of earth almost like a well organized filing cabinet, where a mass extinction event is distinctly captured in a particular layer, by the presence of a gradually broadening array of fossil types leading up to that layer from layers below it, but abruptly thinning out (steep decline in the count of fossils as well as their diversity) in the layers immediately above it.

With all those mass extinctions behind us in the distant past, we are now enjoying perhaps one of the quietest and most peaceful periods in our planet’s history. However, within about 80 years of David Attenborough’s lifetime, “wilderness” (a catchall term he uses to collectively describe forests, grasslands, and coastal seas), has reduced to almost half its original size from when he was 11 years old. Such a significant reduction of wilderness has a direct impact on the average temperature, given the key role forests and plankton play in the balance to regulate temperature — by locking away carbon.

If the three curves shown above — population, carbon in atmosphere, and wilderness continue along the same trajectories they are currently proceeding, he argues, we may be the ones who catalyze the onset of the next mass extinction. The key sobering (or even alarming depending on one’s perspective) fact, is that evidence suggests this downward spiral could begin to unfold within the lifetime of a single human — which David Attenborough captures in his statement (paraphrased)if I was born today, I would not be as fortunate as I was when I was born 93 years ago. I would witness a large proportion of the world degrade into nearly inhospitable zones — a sixth mass extinction would be well underway within my lifetime”.

David Attenborough being an optimist, believes we can still course correct and avoid the imminent collapse of “life — as we know it today” (life has always survived mass extinctions and perhaps will survive another — except the lead actors may change in the aftermath landscape), citing examples of biodiversity restoration on a small local scale with concerted human effort. He also offers suggestions to reverse the damage done to date, some of which however, may be too ambitious to execute in full measure at scale. Regardless, the fact that the collapse of “life — as we know it today” is not in the distant future, but within the lifespan of a child born today, perhaps offers sufficient impetus at least in the upcoming generation of prospective parents to expeditiously course correct, and minimally preserve the status quo, facilitating their progeny to enjoy our planet, like we do today.

Adding link to a succinct, compelling and data driven argument for us to act to reduce the carbon we have added to the carbon cycle which has contributed to the increase in temperature- a 12 minute talk by Elon at the 2105 Paris climate change talks

Machine learning practitioner

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