A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future
By David Attenborough with Jonnie Hughes. Reviewed by Ellen Sue Jacobson
I can think of no better way to honor and celebrate Earth Day today than to post a review of David Attenborough’s wonderful book on Planet Earth. If there was one key word to walk away with it would be: BIODIVERSITY. I learned about this concept from reading the book, as well as watching the documentary a few months ago.*
In the Introduction entitled “Our Greatest Mistake,” the author describes in both the book and the documentary, the abandoned city of Pripyat in the Ukraine, coming back to it at the end of the documentary to show how Mother Nature has come back with plants and animals, minus humans. Powerful! Especially at the end of the Introduction Attenborough writes: “we are all people of Pripyat now. We live in the shadow of a disaster of our own making…. The natural world is fading….Yet there is still time to switch off the reactor. There is a good alternative.”
Part One in the book takes us through chapters that are dates, starting with 1937 and ending with 2020, each one showing World Population, Carbon in the atmosphere, and Remaining wilderness (biodiversity). I am including the first and last chapter statistics here to show you how Earth’s natural biodiversity has diminished:
World Population Carbon in the Atmosphere Remaining Wilderness
1937: 2.3 billion 280 parts per million 66%
2020: 7.8 billion. 415 parts per million. 35%
These two sets of statistics alone are scary to me, since as Earth has become more populated, we are doing so at the expense of increasing our carbon footprint and losing our biodiversity in the form of wilderness.
Part One is called “My Witness Statement” and Attenborough takes us through the decades to show how this biodiversity has diminished, more and more quickly. It’s an eye opener!
Part Two is called “What Lies Ahead” and discusses The Planetary Boundaries Model (with a circular chart). He takes us through the decades from 2030 to 2100. It is a short, yet powerful section that shows what will happen if we do not change how we live on the planet. The picture is dim with the prediction of the sixth mass extinction, unstoppable if we do not make changes now!
Part Three is the most hopeful part of the book and is entitled, “A Vision for the Future: How to Rewild the World.” As the author states on the first page of this section: “We moved from being part of nature to being apart from nature.” Just adding the first letter of the alphabet to the word part makes a world of difference!
However, the blueprint for rewilding the planet is explained clearly including his ideas (with a scientific background): Switching to Clean Energy, Rewilding the Seas, Taking Up Less Space, Rewilding the Land, Planning for Peak Human, and Achieving More Balanced Lives. In these pages are examples of what others have figured out needs to happen, such as the regenerative farming, countries already making changes, marine protected areas, and The Doughnut Model ( a planetary boundaries model described and pictured in Part Three).
Attenborough, or Sir David as he is also called, has spent his lifetime visiting and describing natural habitats through BBC videos, and witnessing Earth’s diminishing wild life and wild places over the decades. That alone is a powerful statement. But his research and working with co-author and filmmaker, Jonnie Hughes, makes this book (and documentary) “must see” and “must read” items at the top of your To Do list.
The book draws heavily on scientific research/knowledge with 12 pages of Notes, a helpful Glossary, and many lovely line drawings of animals and places. There are also many black and white photos plus beautiful color plates of nature. (Of course, the documentary is spectacular visually!)
Finally, Attenborigh emphasizes that we are at the tipping point; that is, if we don’t act now, it may be too late to save the planet. This is a dire prediction, and after reading the book, I believe his predictions are valid.
I hope you will read the book with the seriousness in which it is written. I would put this at the top of my list of what to do after we celebrate Earth Day/Earth Week. For me, this book has heightened my commitment to celebrate Earth Day, Every Day, especially because the author recommends a plant-based diet as one way to lower our carbon footprint and reduce the high cost of animal husbandry. So my meatless recipes have taken on a new meaning for me, that is, they are not just to promote the Good Taste of Health, but also to promote practicing Earth Day every day with meatless menus as often as possible!
* At the end of January, my friend and co-environmentalist Coll, reviewed the documentary of this book. She lives in the woods and hangs her laundry outside on a clothesline, which I envy. Just type in Coll Hunley in the SEARCH box to go to the review. Then click on the title of the documentary. Her review spurred and inspired me to buy the book and read in depth Sir David Attenborough’s witness statement. Thanx, Coll!