Perhaps too often I have dwelt on those who have parted this earth, but not without reason, as many have contributed so much. I have written about Sir Winston Churchill, George Mallory, Sir Nicholas Winton, Albert Finney, Nancy Wake, among others, and rightly so. Then there are Harry and Meghan, Elmyr de Hory and the Ecclestones, who may or not be with us, but who serve to create a bit of a balance to those more worthy. After all, what do Harry and Meghan really have to offer, other than tabloid fodder?
Then I arrive at David Attenborough. I just now watched the Netflix documentary, “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet” and was truly struck by its content, and not the least by its narrator. Sir David paints a grim picture, detailing, albeit with glorious photography, the damage humankind has done to planet earth, just in his lifetime. No part of the planet is immune – the plains, the forests (especially the rainforests), the oceans, the ice shelves of the Arctic and Antarctica.
In its review of the documentary, the New York Times said this in part: “The most devastating sequence finds Attenborough charting the disasters we face in future decades — global crises that he, as a man now in his 90s, will not experience. Yet he finds hope by extrapolating small successes. Sustainable farming in the Netherlands has made the country one of the worldwide leaders in food exports. Fishing restrictions around the Pacific archipelago nation of Palau enabled marine life to rebound. The film’s grand achievement is that it positions its subject as a mediator between humans and the natural world. Life cycles on, and if we make the right choices, ruin can become regrowth.”
The population of the world in 1937 was 2.3 billion. Today it is 7.8 billion, and according to Sir David, by the end of this century there will be 11 billion people on the planet, which would strain the supply of food resources and further add to the stress on natural resources and indirectly accelerate global warming. Two thirds of this documentary provided alarming commentary. Throughout the remaining one third Sir David offers some hope. I cannot do this film its due here, except to write that it is well worth viewing, especially by our children and grandchildren.
But I can give Sir David his due, if for no other reason that a soon-to-be 95 year old cares about his planet, and his passion has been there for all of us to see for eight decades. Sir David starting working with BBC TV in the 1950s, despite not owning a television himself. I took stock of his productivity in producing, writing and presenting documentaries and stopped at 127. It seems that he is even busier now than ever before. Some Attenborough facts:
- Sir David was knighted in 1985.
- He does not drive a car, having not passed the driver’s exam.
- He has had more than a dozen animal species and plants named for him, but he does not like rats.
- For one documentary, “The Life of Birds,” he traveled more than 250,000 miles – a distance equal to circumnavigating the globe 10 times (think of the Frequent Flyer miles!).
- During the Second World War, his parents adopted two refugee Jewish girls from Europe.
Sir David is the younger brother of Richard Attenborough (Baron Attenborough, no less); a two time Oscar winner (best picture and directing Oscars for “Gandhi”), four time BAFTA winner, and forever remembered for “The Great Escape” and “Jurassic Park.” In the following: David and Richard enjoying a light moment. The two of them seemed to have a lot of these moments before Richard passed on in 2014.