It has been wonderful watching Planet Earth II. What a glorious, spectacular and fascinating series. Hats off to the production team, the camera crews, the film editors and the splendid music – and to David Attenborough himself for the marvellous commentary and script. We have surely never been so close to the action and never have the pictures looked so luxurious.
I have the greatest admiration for the teams who made Planet Earth II – whose final episode was broadcast last night on the BBC – but I fear this series, and others like it, have become a disaster for the world’s wildlife. These programmes are pure entertainment, brilliantly executed but ultimately a significant contributor to the planet-wide extinction of wildlife we’re presiding over.
The justification, say the programme makers, is that if people (the audience) become interested in the natural world they will start to care about the natural world, and will be more likely to want to get involved in trying to conserve it. Unfortunately the scientific evidence shows this is nonsense.
For instance, the World Wide Fund for Nature and Zoological Society of London’s authoritative 2016 Living Planet Report has concluded that between 1970 and 2012 there was a 58% decline of vertebrate population abundance worldwide. This encompasses the period in which Attenborough’s outstanding natural history series have been broadcast (starting with Life on Earth in 1979). The prime factor in this destruction is humankind’s insatiable need for space – destroying and degrading habitat at an appalling rate – coupled with species over-exploitation, pollution, invasive species, climate change and rampant poaching.
Yet these programmes are still made as if this worldwide mass extinction is simply not happening. The producers continue to go to the rapidly shrinking parks and reserves to make their films – creating a beautiful, beguiling fantasy world, a utopia where tigers still roam free and untroubled, where the natural world exists as if man had never been.
By fostering this lie they are lulling the huge worldwide audience into a false sense of security. “If David Attenborough is still making these sorts of wonderful shows then it can’t be that bad, can it?” Yes it can, and it’s going to get much, much worse. Even as Planet Earth II was being broadcast, it was reported that elephant and lion numbers were tumbling, and last month it became clear that the giraffe could be heading towards extinction, with numbers plummeting by 40% in the past 15 years. But no hint of the continuing disaster is allowed to shatter the illusion.
I’m not for one moment suggesting such shows should not be made. They are wonderful records of the beauty rapidly disappearing from our planet. I believe that in 100 years people will be amazed, and profoundly sad, that it was still possible to make such programmes. What I am suggesting is that the fantasy should be balanced by reality.
I would like to propose a “conservation tax” among natural history commissioners across all channels. This tax would insist that a fifth of natural history commissions are significantly conservation-oriented. As a matter of urgency, a development team should be set up to think how the reality of what’s happening to wildlife worldwide can be portrayed in innovative ways, integrated in dramas, in children’s shows – in collaborations with producers like Aardman Animations, perhaps, or video diaries of inspirational people working with animals, and cartoon characters.
Some shows could be overtly conservation-oriented, others more subtle – perhaps a detective drama where the villains are smuggling rhino horn or ivory. But why would any TV development team put effort into imaginative conservation programming when escapist productions are so successful – unless it were taxed?
The BBC is in a unique position to work with a conservation tax. It could do this as part of its public service remit, without having quite the financial pressure and need for profit that independents and commercial producers do. It would also be a very positive initiative for the BBC to be seen to be doing.
We cannot simply carry on producing escapist wildlife fantasy almost totally ignoring the manmade mass extinction raging around us.
Source: The Guardian