Day 6

David Attenborough's new series celebrates the natural world — and the need to defend it

For a decade, wildlife series like Planet Earth have made viewers fall in love with the beauty of our natural world. Netflix wants the new documentary series Our Planet to do the same — and encourage viewers to take action on climate change.

'This is a planet that is changing quickly and that change is accelerating,' says Our Planet director

Gentoo penguins rest from fishing on an iceberg passing by in the Gerlache Straight, Antarctic Peninsula. (Sophie Lanfear/Silverback/Netflix)
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Over footage of 75 million tonnes of glacier ice falling into the Antarctic Ocean, David Attenborough delivers a grim message in Netflix's new series Our Planet: The Earth is in peril.

The flagship nature series, which premiered Friday on Netflix, rivals its contemporary Planet Earth with stunning visuals and Attenborough's inimitable narration.

But, beneath the colourful images of leafcutter ants scampering across fallen trees, and flamingo chicks hatching on Africa's salt planes, lies an uncomfortable truth.

"For the first time in human history, the stability of nature can no longer be taken for granted," Attenborough declares in the series premiere.

Human-led climate change is disrupting habitats, changing oceans and destabilizing the connections between Earth and animal, he adds.

"I'd hope that [viewers] see it as a warning that this is a planet that is changing quickly and that change is accelerating," series director and producer Adam Chapman told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"It is so important to realize this involves all of us — it is not just a problem for wildlife."

Indeed, viewers are reminded throughout the first episode as the camera soars from one continent to another and they come face-to-face with the creatures affected by changing climates.

The Boreal Forest in winter, Haines, Alaska, is pictured from a drone. Boreal forests across North America and Eurasia are threatened by climate change. (Gene Cornelius/Silverback/Netflix)

Yet despite the urgent tone, Our Planet strikes a hopeful chord.

"The exciting thing is that if we want to sort the situation, I am completely convinced it is sortable," said producer Keith Scholey. "But we have to have the will, and that will has to come quickly, because time is not our friend."

Caribou herds shrinking

While much of the series premiere drops the audience into tropical rainforests and African deserts, a more familiar landscape comes into focus later in the show.

As a camera flies over Canada's boreal forest, hundreds of caribou fill the screen, covering a frozen lake in search of food.

Caribou in Canada's North are pictured migrating across a frozen lake. (Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix)

Wolves appear and, in true wildlife documentary fashion, drama unfolds. As Attenborough narrates the wolves' hunt, viewers are told of the existential threats to this country's caribou.

"Whether it's climate change causing more snow, or sudden rains in the spring which then freeze [and stop] the caribou getting to their main food, which is lichen, there's all sorts of ways that those animals can be negatively impacted by change," said Chapman.

Over the past two decades, Canada's caribou herds have shrunk by 70 per cent, partially due to changing landscapes, according to the series.

Caribou travel between the boreal forest and grasslands — harsh environments for both plants and animals — for food and protection. Both areas, according to Scholey, are facing threats.

"They're so perfectly adapted for that habitat and that lifestyle and yet it's a knife edge for them," Chapman said.

'Wake-up call'

Our Planet offers a clear stance when it comes to conservation, and both Chapman and Scholey believe the public's view on climate change — and our relationship to nature — has shifted.

"If you spin back 15, 20 years, people thought: Nature? We want to conserve it because it was nice to have," Scholey said.

"Suddenly there's this huge kind of wake-up call because nature actually keeps the whole of our global systems working and we need those global systems to work."

A curious King penguin examines the filming crew's camera control deck. (Sophie Lanfear/Silverback/Netflix)

But there's a fine line when it comes to advocacy and entertainment. Allowing viewers to fall in love with nature's wonders creates a connection — but without an understanding of how "fragile" it is, they won't take action, Scholey says.

As the UN warned last fall, the next 10 to 20 years are crucial to reducing carbon emissions. According to Scholey, we have the tools to do that, but inaction prevents it.

"We would never treat our financial markets like that," he said.

"We have to start looking at nature and managing it in a way that we manage other things in our lives and across the planet."


To hear the full interview with Adam Chapman and Keith Scholey, download our podcast or click 'Listen' at the top of this page.

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