Our Planet: A Geographical Review

David Attenborough has done it again. The Netflix series Our Planet is another masterpiece; the cinematography is breath-taking, the narrating intriguing and informative and the message that the British icon conveys is crystal clear. As a student studying geography it is understandable that I am no established TV journalist or critic, however even as a geographer some of the facts, figures and the overall lesson that was brought up throughout the series in the narrative shocked me. In some scenes, what was being said over an orchestral piece was even more eye-opening than what was being shown on the screen. And this message is on the daunting topic of climate change.

Our Planet is a nature TV series like no other as it aims to raise awareness on the effects of climate change and other human activities. Some slightly disturbing scenes are designed to shock viewers into the realisation of this problem; an example is the images of hundreds of dead walrus’s littered on a Russian beach as the retreating of their natural resting place, the Arctic ice, has led them to the desperation of climbing up cliffs to find space to rest and then eventually falling to their death. The entire second episode, Frozen Worlds, demonstrated the increasingly deteriorating situation for those at the frontier of climate change. Arguably the most striking scene in the entirety of the series is at the end of the episode when against the back drop of a polar bear’s footprint in the snow, David Attenborough asks ‘for how much longer will their frozen worlds be a part of our planet?’

However the majority of the series is intended to exhibit some of the incredible species and habitats that are and will be endangered by the rising global temperatures. Some of these species include the eccentric-looking saiga antelope which is critically endangered by poaching and loss of habitat, the noble Siberian tiger who’s numbers in the wild have been reduced to only 600 and the increasingly vulnerable orangutans which lose 100 of their species a week due to human activity. One of the most severe effects of climate change is the rising sea temperatures and acidity leading to corals being bleached, one scene illustrates the stark difference in the sea life community before and after the coral is bleached. The pearl-white coral supports practically no sea life which means that many of its former residents perish along with their habitat – worldwide over half of all shallow coral reefs have already died. The implications of climate change will be reverberated around the world in every living ecosystem and will cause a substantial expense to governments in the future.

Nonetheless the series isn’t all doom and gloom, hope of recovery is installed with the aid of many examples. The Atacama desert used to have millions of bird colonies visiting seasonally but due to the local over fishing, all birds disappeared 50 years ago. Strict controls were put in place to prevent further over-fishing and now today 3 million guanay cormorants assemble to raise their young each year. Another example is located in a desolate city created by a human disaster – Chernobyl. Because of the high rates of radioactivity in the area it is uninhabitable by humans but that hasn’t stopped it providing a habitat for a thriving wild community. Within 20 years, roe deer, endangered Przewalski’s horse and even wolves, the top predator of the forest, have reappeared and now roam the empty streets. Not only did Our Planet highlight the issues of climate change but provided evidence that there is hope that it can be turned around and that the Earth is a formidably resilient planet.

But what would a nature TV series be without some extraordinary shots of the real beauty of nature? Whether it is a blue whale and a calf gliding through the deep sea or an extremely rare Arabian leopard drinking from a spring, Netflix certainly didn’t spare any expense on both the quality and variety of visuals provided throughout the series. One of the most bizarre creatures filmed was when cameras travelled hundreds of metres into the deep ocean to find a ten metre long oarfish moving using rhythmic waves along their dorsal fins. It was quite simply a jaw-dropping piece of cinematography.

Other geographical ideas such as effects of prevailing winds on migration, the albedo effect and factors affecting wildlife diversity are explored in the series as well. In my opinion, Our Planet not only offers entertainment and intrigue but also education, especially from a geographical and biological perspective. More importantly, the manner in which the series is presented by raising awareness for climate change is unlike no other and is the factor which I believe differentiates it from any other nature series made before.

(Featured Image: © Jasper Sodha)