Attenborough points out: “Of course, it’s not just the big, charismatic species that we’re exterminating. Life on Earth is a complex web and we ignore the millions of tiny creatures in it at our peril. One kind of animal is right now in the grip of the greatest extinction event since the disappearance of the dinosaurs. Animals like this—amphibians. Globally, the numbers of amphibians are declining at an alarming rate. One third of all species are now critically endangered.”
As Attenborough takes us around the world and across time to share the efforts of individuals on a mission, grassroots groups, partnerships between communities and conservationists and multi-national efforts, it appears we are slowly turning the tide. But will we make enough change in time, or will it be too little, too late for our future generations?
Early conservation efforts were more internally-focused. Americans cared about their buffalo; Brits cared about their sea birds, and very little light was shed on exotic animals. In 1961, with the establishment of the World Wildlife Fund, that began to change.
But the major shift in attitude, on an international level, came about with the launch of Apollo 8 in 1968, sending back live photos of Earth from 175,000 miles away.
As Attenborough says: “Those images were instrumental in changing the way that many of us viewed the planet. We began to think ‘globally’. Looking at the Earth from outer space made us realise just how small our world is, and how finite its resources, It also helped us to understand that we have to cherish not just individual species, nor even individual patterns of wilderness, but the whole planet as a single integrated ecosystem.”
To that end, it’s quite heartening what we’ve managed to achieve in the space of 44 years of global thinking—but seeing the effects of global warming upon the polar ice caps from September of 1980 to September of 2010 is equally disheartening.
In "The Fragile Planet", we travel over land and sea to appreciate the range of our impacts—positive and negative—on the natural world, including how an increase of one degree in temperature affects the life of the coral reefs. Attenborough shares clips of many of his documentaries, including Zoo Quest for West Africa (1954), Zoo Quest for a Dragon (1956), Attenborough and Animals (1963), Eastward with Attenborough (1973), Life on Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984), Life in the Freezer (1993), The Life of Mammals (2003), and Life in Cold Blood (2008).
This episode, like the others in the series, is beautifully edited, with the music, images and narration dovetailing into a message that is both haunting and hopeful, and I think this show should be required curriculum for freshmen in high school; give them something real to wrap their wits around the issue of global warming.