I have to confess at the outset that I rarely watch conservation shows because I usually feel bad by the time the credits roll that I’m not doing nearly enough to “save the environment." I then make radical promises to myself, which I have to break because they aren’t practical. More often than not, I have to just shut myself off to the horrors of melting polar ice caps because I don’t feel I can actually do anything with my current resources and life to make a big enough difference.
The final installment of the PBS Nature series Attenborough’s Life Stories, “The Fragile Planet,” changed my perception on that note. Although the episode is at times overwhelming, experiencing the conservation efforts through the eyes of someone who has seen so much happen within their lifetime made it “real.” Showing me that my infant cousins might not ever know species I now take for granted, this show left me with a sense of empowerment and a new appreciation for the natural world. I’m not doing anything drastic, but I don’t feel that I have to. If we all make the changes within our power, we can make a sea change together.
Sir David Attenborough, the internationally renowned natural history filmmaker who has dedicated the majority of his adult life to this subject, says, "For me, as for countless others, the natural world is the greatest of all treasures. And yet, in my lifetime, we have damaged it more severely than in the whole of the rest of human history. Indeed, significant parts of it now are in danger of total destruction. When I first came to Borneo in 1956, the rainforest stretched, unbroken, on either side of the river for hundreds of miles. Today, it's very different."
In his 60 years of natural history filmmaking, Attenborough has seen much change in the destruction-versus-preservation tug-of-war, and the struggle for the many species to rise out of endangerment, or, in our case, the struggle to ensure we don’t end up on that list ourselves. Attenborough says: “We became witness to a slow-motion tragedy,” but over the last half-century, conservation efforts blossomed as “soon, we realized that true conservation means protecting the entire habitat.”
Born in 1926, "the end of the age of the great naturalist collectors" as Attenborough describes, he saw the shift from zoo keepers going out to capture whatever animal they needed (and he even dug up turtle eggs to have some protein on one of his expeditions) to watching a species of frog go extinct in front of his eyes, to setting a bunch of conservationist-bred hatchling turtles free to wiggle their way to the ocean for the first time.