You watched Planet Earth, didn’t you? It’s the eleven part BBC/Discovery Channel nature documentary series that’s been getting tons of hype recently. Here’s the thing — the hype is deserved. The footage is stunning, and the producers managed to capture animal behavior that has never been documented on film, all in stunning HD. If you have a high def television and you haven’t checked it out, you’re really cheating yourself. Wikipedia has a good episode guide if you want to find out what you’ve been missing.
All too often the image we get of the natural world is that every bit of it has been spoiled by human intrusion, but Planet Earth illustrates that there are lots of truly wild places left to explore, and there are plenty of amazing sights out there that remain undocumented. I consider myself to be a bit of a nature buff, and I still found much of the series surprising.
Planet Earth is a monument to the paradox of human existence in the early twenty-first century. In many ways, it’s the culmination of thousands of years of civilization. As humans in 2007, we can sit in our homes and look at gorgeous pictures of things that few humans in previous generations could ever have seen. Even tribesmen in Papua New Guinea would never have seen the mating rituals of the bird of paradise, and now anyone with cable or satellite television has the opportunity to witness them. Great white sharks feeding on seals off South Africa, water flowing off of Angel Falls in Venezuela, and snow geese nesting above the Arctic Circle — only thanks to the advances in technology we have made as a species are we able to witness these things.
And yet at the same time, this series may serve as the last memorial for some of the animals and habitats that were filmed. Many of the wild places that were captured are threatened by human encroachment. Climate change is expected to alter habitats all over the world. There’s plenty of footage of endangered species that may not be with us much longer. The fact that we are the only species that is capable of both appreciating and destroying the amazing world that we live in is a hard paradox for me to reconcile.