Real Leaders

David Attenborough: Our Planet, Our Business

Sir David Attenborough pictured in Chernobyl, Ukraine, while filming David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet. The film will be in cinemas on 16 April, before being released globally on Netflix in spring 2020. Credit: Joe Fereday / Silverback Films

How does this  95-year-old environmentalist stay cool while the planet is heating up, and why is his strategy of “explain, inspire and rationalize” (rather than tell) showing the business world where the real opportunities lie?

Over more than 90 years, and countless trips around the globe, David Attenborough has witnessed a severe decline in the living world over his lifetime. He has seen the rainforests retreating and the grasslands emptying and has searched ever harder for species hanging on in hidden corners of the world. He’s observed a downward trend that is set to cause a disaster far more profound and with more lasting impacts than the desolation of Chernobyl – a decline that will have a more limited impact on his life but will come to define the lives of all those who follow him.

At age 92, he hit the road again for a few grueling months to document the state of the natural world. Colin Butfield was the executive producer of David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, and worked closely with Attenborough at filming locations worldwide. The film was created by award-winning natural history filmmakers Silverback Films and global environmental organization WWF. Netflix came onboard as a distribution partner. With Attenborough’s classic British accent for the narration, WWF provided the scientific verification and evidence-based facts.

The film opens and closes with Attenborough visiting Chernobyl, a part of the world once made desolate from human error, but without us has now begun to rewild again. “Humanity has got this far by being the smartest species that has ever lived. But, to endure, we need more than intelligence; we need wisdom,” says Attenborough.

When the film was still under discussion three years ago, Attenborough turned to Butfield impatiently and said, “Don’t you think we ought to get on with this? I’m already 92, you know.” Butfield laughs recalling Attenborough’s immense energy when the shooting finally began. “I’m half his age, and it was sometimes tough keeping up with him.” 

Over nine decades Attenborough has visited every continent on the globe, and his honest, revealing, and urgent message is a powerful, firsthand account of humanity’s impact on nature and a message of hope for future generations. His decades of observing animals and nature have given him a profound insight into the challenges we face today.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused, and will continue to cause, immense suffering,” he says. “If there is hope that can come out of it, then that may arise from the whole world having experienced a shared threat and found a sense that we are all in it together. The same unique brains and communication skills that fueled the development of our civilizations now have access to technologies and institutions that allow all nations of the world to collaborate and cooperate should we choose to do so.”

To Attenborough, there should be no more excuses and hiding behind national identities or regional politics to avoid confronting what he views as an existential risk to humanity.

“The time for pure national interests has passed,” he explains. “If we are to tackle climate change, enable sustainable development, and restore biodiversity, then internationalism has to be our approach. In doing so, we must bring about greater equality between what nations take from the world and what they give back. The wealthier nations have taken a lot, and the time has now come to give.” …

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