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Extinction: The Facts, BBC One review - David Attenborough tells a devastating story | reviews, news & interviews

Extinction: The Facts, BBC One review - David Attenborough tells a devastating story

Extinction: The Facts, BBC One review - David Attenborough tells a devastating story

This horrifying prognosis on the future of our planet was essential viewing

David Attenborough tells the most horrifying and disturbing story of our timesBBC/Sam Barker

Fires are raging: by human agency – unthinking greed – in the Amazonian rainforest, by climate change, arson and accident in California and the American Northwest, and barely under control in Australia, another country whose leading politicians and media deny climate change.

But these were only the awesome symbols, the underlying context, in which Extinction: The Facts reached BBC One, under the aegis of the broadcaster’s "Our Planet Matters" banner.

Under attack in Extinction was the biodiversity, the ecosystems of our planet that allow life in all its guises to – well – carry on. There are natural extinctions, of course, as acknowledged here. But the rate at which extinction is now rising is exponential, accelerating under the destructive and horrifying habits of the animal at the top of the food chain, that most effective predator and exploiter, that unthinking cause of environmental havoc: us.

To the soothing tones of the nation’s benign and benevolent uncle, David Attenborough, the most horrifying and disturbing story of our times unfolded through a picturesque tour around the world’s flora and fauna. With Attenborough, so identified with bringing the world’s biodiversity to the world’s television screens, we were brought up close to the many ways in which we are destroying the earth.

The message was simple and terrifying. Ultimately, if we don’t change our behaviour, our unthinking and accelerating consumption based on greed rather than necessity, as well as the unthinking pursuit of profit by business, we ourselves will become extinct. The rate of extinction has been rapidly increasing from 1970 and is now a hundred times greater than the extinctions that happen naturally. Neatly implied, too, was that doing the right thing would be simply enlightened self-interest.Northern White Rhino Attenborough was backed by short and pithy interviews with scientists and academics from around the world, though few were more poignant than the idealistic and sorrowful keeper of the last northern white rhinos, a mother and a daughter, that are all that are now left, down from seven a few years ago (pictured above BBC/Charlotte Lathane). When the mother dies, the daughter will be totally alone, and when she dies there will never be another.

There have been endless resolutions and meetings but hardly any action; we were reminded that it had taken several decades of very hard work and politics (including in and around Congo and Rwanda) to increase the mountain gorilla population from 250 to around 1,000. This had been – who knows what is happening now, with the obliteration of tourism by the pandemic? – a resounding success, marked by extraordinary hard work, dedication and funding, and a model too for local community involvement, but alas it was hardly world-saving.

Throughout the very sad motif was that we have the knowledge and the skill, but neither the popular nor the political will, to stop the destruction and change things for the better.

There was, of course, a bit of hope, and not just for the gorillas; human beings have the tools to face the crisis and transcend the consequences. There are, all the experts on view concurred, all sorts of ways to mitigate the ongoing disaster But it means new views of society and how it works, of minimising greed, and short-sightedness, and averting disaster through politicians and populations working together. In this respect our species does not have a good record.

Education too is key; if ever a programme begged to be shown not only internationally but in schools, this was it. And incidentally it might well turn us all into vegetarians.

Neatly implied, too, was that doing the right thing would be simply enlightened self-interest


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