David Attenborough Documentary; Are You an Ostrich or an Eagle?

Guest article by Sarah King, Vegan Fashion Blogger.


I recently watched the latest David Attenborough documentary on Netflix, ‘A Life on Our Planet’ and I wanted to share my experience. I try to catch most of Sir David’s documentaries, but as I don’t watch regular TV, I have to watch stuff on catchup or on streaming services, so I was so excited to see the new one was available on Netflix!

I won’t give away any spoilers for those of you who are planning to watch it, but the journey from what David saw in the world growing up to what he sees now was fascinating, and the part where they showed how Chernobyl has “rewilded” itself truly blew my mind. I felt that half of the documentary was about David’s experience of seeing the natural world changing before his eyes throughout his career, and the second half was about the realities of the climate crisis, and what needs to be done in order to reduce our impact on the environment.

As I watched the documentary, I wrote out all the key ecosystems that David said we need to be protecting and rebuilding, it helps me to remember what I’ve learned if I write them down. This was my list:

  • Rainforests
  • Woodlands/forests
  • Wild herds
  • Mangroves
  • Coral reefs
  • Phyto plankton

After the documentary was over, I made another list of changes that I wanted to start to make my lifestyle more sustainable. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Switch to an ethical bank (I’m planning on switching my current account to Triodos bank!)
  • Check if my work pension is with an ethical company (Can I change it if not?)
  • Switch our energy supplier to a green provider
  • Shop at zero-waste shops once a month to refill dry goods
  • Do our weekly fruit & veg shop at a greengrocer to avoid plastic packaging
  • Try and stick to in-season, locally grown organic fruit & veg (if my budget allows!)
  • Refill shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, bubble bath, etc at zero waste shops

I was so energised and inspired by the documentary and I really couldn’t wait to start making some of these changes and documenting the experience on my social media channels to encourage other people to think about it too. However, when I had convinced my parents to watch the documentary, they seemed to have a very different reaction.

My mum felt so disheartened and overwhelmed by the destruction already done, she couldn’t really get excited about making any changes to her lifestyle as she felt that nothing she could do would be enough. To be fair, she’s not exactly wrong. Individual changes are great but they’re nothing compared to the changes that we need the government and big businesses to make. My thoughts on this have always been that the ripple effect is much more powerful than we give it credit, your actions can always inspire others to make changes.

I talked to my parents about what changes they could make as homeowners that would actually have a bigger environmental impact than most of the small changes I can make. They could switch their pensions, investments, bank accounts and energy providers to ethical companies and know that their money isn’t funding deforestation or fossil fuels. This actually seemed to motivate them after realising that they could make this switch without making any major changes to their lifestyle.

I recently ran a poll on the Women in Sustainability Network LinkedIn Group, asking the members if they’d seen the documentary yet. I was interested to see if they had similar reactions to my parents and what they thought about it, or if they were avoiding watching it for any reason. 40% had seen it, 48% haven’t seen it yet, and 11% said they probably won’t watch it. It was really interesting to see people’s comments, here are some of the comments we received:

“It actually pushed me to switch to vegetarianism and to try and get more involved in sustainability at work. I signed up for a four-week program on social innovation with my workplace, and found it interested to hear that many of the other participants signed up after watching his doc!”

“It made me very sad, but I’ve been following environmental issues for 30 years, so I am constantly reviewing what I do.”

“I likely won’t watch it as I know how dire the current situation is!”

It made me wonder if there is possibly a generational difference in how people are responding to information about climate change, particularly if they don’t work within the sustainability sector. Are you an ostrich, burying your head in the sand to avoid the uncomfortable truth? Or are you an eagle, rising up to meet these challenges with enthusiasm and determination?

Have people developed a sort of immunity to the urgency of climate change as some sort of defence mechanism? Should we be focussing on how to share more positive news and encouraging people to make different kind of changes to their lifestyle (not just ditching plastic straws and using a reusable cup!)?

We’d love to know what you think too! Join in the conversation with us by joining the WINS group on LinkedIn or join one of our upcoming online events with our Hub leaders!