Tag Archives: impact

A Review of Netflix’s Our Planet as a Conservation Tool

The new Attenborough-narrated Netflix series Our Planet aimed to put threats to the environment at its forefront. So how well did it do? (Image Credit: Mikedixson, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped)

Nature documentaries and saving nature: Reflections on the new Netflix series Our Planet (2019) Jones, Thomas-Walters, Rust & VerissimoPeople and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10052

The Crux

Nature documentaries have long been the starting point for many an ecologist. They’re the reason that David Attenborough has long been so idolised among lovers of nature. But whether or not they actually work as a conservation tool has always been a little more difficult to say. Additionally, while they’ve long showed the wonder of animals, plants, insects and everything in between, many have shied away from the damage that humans have inflicted on the planet. This week’s authors wanted to examine Netflix’s latest move into nature documentaries, Our Planet, and see if it delivered on their promise to showcase the anthropogenic dangers that ecosystems face today.

What They Did

The methods here were pretty simple. The scripts for Our Planet, as well as three other recent David Attenborough led documentaries (Blue Planet, Blue Planet II and Dynasties) were analysed. The percentage of the word count which dealt with threats to the natural world was calculated, as well that which dealt with success stories regarding species and ecosystem conservation.

What They Found

Our Planet did spend more time talking about the dangers to the planet than the other three documentaries, with only Blue Planet II having a similar word count. Blue Planet II  actually spent more time on conservation success stories than Our Planet (although most of this was packed into one final episode). One of the issues present though was that the visuals remain largely unchanged, with human impact on nature largely confined to Attenborough’s narration. This may have lessened the show’s impact on viewers and given the impression of nature as constantly stunning and untouched.

The constant portrayal of nature as untouched by humans can give a false impression of how brutal the effects of fragmentation and habitat disturbance are

The constant portrayal of nature as untouched by humans can give a false impression of how brutal the effects of fragmentation and habitat disturbance are (Image Credit: Sam Perrin, NTNU, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Problems?

There aren’t problems with the study itself so much as with the questions it posts. Sure, Our Planet spends more time talking about issues like climate change and deforestation, but does that translate to a tangible effect? It’s extremely difficult to study the effect of nature documentaries on conservation efforts. One tangible example that the paper brings up is the UK policy change on marine plastics, which is somewhat credited to the final episode of Blue Planet II. Even then, how much the documentary actually played into the policy decision is debatable.

So What?

It’s a problem faced by nature filmmakers everywhere – you want to show the truth, but are worried that anything too depressing or severe will reduce viewership. And as stated above, even if documentaries do start to bring the impact of humans on nature more front and center, it’s difficult to know whether this aids conservation efforts. For starters, people who watch nature documentaries are likely to already have some sort of interest in nature, which makes viewers a biased sampling pool. The good news is that there are a growing number of methods which could be used to deal with these issues. Hopefully we will start to see some tangible effect of the work of Attenborough and the rest of the nature documentary industry some day soon.

The Anthropocene: A Human-Dominated Age on the Horizon

The impact of our species on the conditions and fundamental processes on Earth is unmistakable. From carbon emissions to the cities that dominate skylines to the plastics that swirl around in our seas, the evidence of our existence can be found anywhere. And now, a group of geologists considers our impact so drastic that a new epoch – the Anthropocene – should be declared. Whilst this change has gained support in much of the scientific community, others say that the Anthropocene is more about sensationalism or pop culture than science, as clear evidence for a new geological time is lacking. So whilst much of the scientific community, the general public and the media have already embraced the Anthropocene, the search for hard evidence for the start of a human-dominated age continues.

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Studying Sustainability in Norway  

The Norwegian Aquaculture Review Council is an academic collective comprised of NTNU students Danielle Hallé, Myranda O’Shea, Bastian Poppe, Emmanual Eicholz and Peter Anthony Frank.

I think it’s fair to say that most of Norway looks like the postcards. If you can peel your eyes away from the views, you’ll notice the aquaculture sea cages along the fjords, sheep grazing in the outfield, the seemingly endless network of trails, wind parks off in the distance, or a happy forger with a bucket full of mushrooms. The natural landscape offers myriad, well-utilized benefits, which makes for an interesting location for studying sustainable development and our coexistence with nature. The course The Sustainable Management of Ecosystem Services at NTNU offered an opportunity to do just that.

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Celine Frere: Working With Charismatic Species

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what's it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what’s it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out (Image Credit: Jason Pratt, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

We’ve talked at length about charismatic species on Ecology for the Masses. They’re the ones that draw in the public, whether they’re cute and fluffy, majestic, or dangerous. They’re generally easier to procure funding for. So what’s it like to work with them?

During a recent visit to the University of the Sunshine Coast, I sat down with Doctor Celine Frere to find out. Celine works with two of Australia’s most charismatic species, the koala and the bottlenose dolphin. We talked about the pros and cons of charismatic species, getting the public interested in them, and the future of global conservation.

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Mark Davis: Rethinking Invasive Biology

Mark Davis' 2011 paper "Don't Judge Species on their Origins" was not well-received by sections of the ecological community. But why is a call for rethinking our attitudes to invasive species so controversial?

In the series Norway’s Newcomers, we’ve looked extensively at not only Norway’s non-native species, but the genetics, definition and even the defense of alien species. So it made sense that we’d eventually find our way to interviewing an invasion biologist. I was in St. Paul, Minnesota earlier this year and was lucky enough to sit down with Professor Mark Davis.

Mark has been a strong opponent of the demonisation of invasive species for decades. Whilst many ecologists’ first reaction is to eradicate any non-native species, Mark has urged caution, and encouraged the community towards less pejorative terms. I spoke with Mark about the impact our work has on public opinion, how we should talk about non-natives, and living with the impact of invasive species going forward.

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Defining an Invader

The Northern Pike. Although it's native to Norway, it has been moved around since and is now classified as 'regionally invasive'.

The Northern Pike. Although it’s native to Norway, it has been moved around since and is now classified as ‘regionally invasive’. (Image Credit: Jik jik, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Two weeks ago, Norwegian Science Institute Artsdatabanken (ADB) announced that they would be changing the name of their invasive and alien species index. Formerly known as the Black List, the institute decided to use a name with less negative connotations, “Fremmedartslista“, loosely translated, the Alien Species list. Given this series’ focus on species from that list, it seems like an appropriate time to look at how we define the terms ‘alien’ or ‘invasive’ species.

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