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…