The Future of Planet Earth

I have finally reached the last disk of “Planet Earth” which contains a three-part documentary entitled “The Future.”  This was produced in 2006, so yes this is probably old news to most, but bear with me.  I’m always behind on TV related things, mostly because I don’t subscribe to cable, and I rarely had reign of the TV when I had roommates.

My fear was that this documentary would be full of the same sort of environmental calls to actions that seem to be preaching to the choir, but not converting any of those more apathetic.  Too many environmentally-friendly sounding buzzwords and phrases are bandied about, political battles are being fought, trends are being blindly followed, and many well-meaning folks aren’t sure what they are supposed to be doing.  I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case for this series.

Some wilderness is still out there… Gila Wilderness, New Mexico.

The series presented a number of issues about wildlife conservation, environmental management, sustainable development, economic policies, and so on.  The purpose of the narration was mainly to define these various terms and pose thoughtful questions.  The answers to these questions were provided by a host of commentators from science, conservation, film-making, education, economics, and religion.  Very few of these answers were definite, and often, opposing viewpoints were jutted up against one another.  Instead of preaching a single viewpoint, many angles were explored.

My favorite example is from the discussion on sustainable development.  “Sustainability” is one of those overused buzzwords, in my opinion, that has little real meaning to many who use it.  However, the debate about sustainable development clearly rages on, and it’s an important discussion to have.  Basically, this is the idea that human societies can develop in a way that do not seriously and permanently harm the environment.  Some commentators said that this is an absolutely crucial step for developing nations, so that people can be lifted out of poverty, without making the same ecological mistakes that have been made in the west. Others said that no development was sustainable, that we need to decrease our development. Even further, the argument of sustainability is feared to be a cover for allowing no development at all.  I was particularly struck by Professor Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya and promoter of sustainable development.  She advocated for empowering the local people to raise their standard of living while becoming better stewards of the wilderness surrounding them.

The entire program is well worth watching and can be found on the fifth disk of the BBC’s Planet Earth series.  The take-away message to me was that humans are ultimately having a unique impact on the environment, that the issues are complex and will require multi-faceted solutions, and that the quality of life of humans is an important goal of today’s environmental movements.  It’s not just as simple as “Save the whales!” anymore. That argument, although emotionally compelling for some, cannot convince everyone, and it is certainly not enough to solve the actual problems facing our civilization and environment.

I had one major peeve, however, that led me to repeatedly shake my fist at the screen.  In the brief discussion of global warming, the problem of “global warming skeptics” came up.  I do not think it is a problem at all to be skeptical of global warming, just as one should be skeptical about every claim.  After doing a little bit of research, however, a skeptic can see that the climate is changing for the warmer, that this has certain adverse effects on ecosystems and human populations, and that humanity has some of the blame to share in this warming trend.  Global warming deniers, on the other hand, are the problem that the show’s commentators were referring to, since there are those that ignore the evidence because they fear its economic or political consequences. Although there is a fine line between skeptic and denier, and the uncertain ground in a changing science is easy to get lost in, I wish that the distinction would be clearer. The information is out there, being pieced together by many scientists in the field and in the lab, and we should pay close attention to the evidence.

Saving the rain forest, a fascination of mine in childhood, is just part of a larger picture. Photo by beedieu

Check it out.  It’s an important discussion that we need to be having, and I for one, have my consciousness raised a bit more about the problems facing us as a species.

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