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David Attenborough’s Swan Song?

attenborough-1-012313The indefatigable David Attenborough is back on PBS’s Nature Tonight with the three-part series “Attenborough’s Life Stories“, which looks back over his 60 years of film making.

So you might think this is his swan song. And maybe it is. Except that on the same day, across the pond in the U.K., he’s launching yet another new series, “Natural Curiosities“, which he describes as “interesting stories about interesting animals.” One might add: “by an interesting person.”

Attenborough has never been one to hit us over the head with the devastation we’re wreaking on the natural world. His way has always been to spend an hour showing us something beautiful and then just take a minute at the end to note that the great beauty we’ve been seeing is beginning to disappear forever. In the new PBS series, however, he spends much of the last hour warning us about what’s happening.

Before we get to that one, Attenborough takes us through his 60 years of film-making, from the old simple stand-ups in black and white, holding an animal up to the camera, to today’s literal bird’s-eye views from tiny cameras in high definition:

Watch Attenborough’s Life Stories: Part 1 Preview on PBS. See more from Nature.

In part two, “Understanding the Natural World”, we get an Attenborough’s-eye view of all the new scientific knowledge we’ve acquired over these last 60 years:

Watch Attenborough’s Life Stories: Part 2 Preview on PBS. See more from Nature.

And finally he talks about the devastation we’ve wrought on the world during his lifetime:

Watch Attenborough’s Life Stories: Part 3 Preview on PBS. See more from Nature.

As he describes it in an interview with his old home-town newspaper:

“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change. It’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde.

“Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us – and the natural world is doing it for us right now. [Like] famine in Ethiopia – that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves. It’s not an inhuman thing to say, it’s the case.

“Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a co-ordinated view about the planet, it’s going to get worse and worse.”

And in a Q and A with New Scientist, he talks with typically British self-deprecating humor about his age (now 87) …

What is your secret? It’s amazing that your passion is still there after 60 years in TV.
It’s amazing, frankly, that I’m vertical.

Well, you could be forgiven for saying, I’ve done my bit, and now I want a quiet life.
Yes. I want to go and sit and dribble in a corner.

… before again taking up the topic of what we’re doing to the planet:

We’re suffocating ourselves by cutting things down. And the awful thing is that the knowledge is there. Fifty years ago when we exterminated things, we did it without realizing. Now there’s plenty of evidence of what it is we’re doing, and yet we keep on doing it.

Of course, there is no such thing as “we”. That’s what is unfortunate. How can you speak about Africa or China or India? They all have different agendas and understandings. The richest nation in the world still doesn’t believe in climate change!

So, is that going to be David Attenborough’s last word to his fellow humans? Perhaps. But it’s hard to imagine him stepping away from his endless fascination with nature. And even when he finally does, there are still a great many series he’s done on British TV that have never yet aired over here. I can’t imagine why not.