The other night I watched a wildlife program narrated by David Attenborough about a pride of lions making their way through parched African countryside, getting thinner and weaker by the day. When a young lion cub could no longer keep up and lay down in the dirt to die, it was too much for me; I got up and left the room. It’s one thing to know that life and death is constantly playing out across the globe and quite another to watch it in close-up in the living room.
Normally, though, I watch David Attenborough programs from start to finish, mostly in a state of transfixed awe. The recent program about salmon swimming against the current to return to their birthplaces to spawn and die was extraordinary, especially the time-lapse sequence at the end showing a single fish decomposing into the earth to feed the giant tree beside it.
I’ve watched programs like these since childhood, in recent years noting how the photography gets more amazing with every new series. It’s only recently that I realised that these recent programs, produced by the BBC and narrated by David Attenborough, could be the last records we will ever have of many of these animals behaving naturally in the wild. Because the fact is that the “wild” is shrinking and their conditions of life are rapidly changing. Not in “the future”, but now. It’s already happening. Maybe, like David Attenborough himself, they’ll pass off the stage, leaving just their images and voices in DVD libraries.
But I don’t feel as gloomy as this would suggest. As the Paul Gilding, the former CEO of Greenpeace said on ABC Radio National the other day, as a species we’re good at responding to crises. We’re not very good at seeing them coming or heading them off (he mentioned the appeasement of Hitler) but once they’re on, we come good. Once the Second World War got going, just about everyone did their bit. Whole economies shifted into war production. People accepted rationing and saved their brown paper and rubber bands. Paul Gilding’s website, The Cockatoo Chronicles, is at http://paulgilding.com.
I’m the publicity officer for Bathurst Community Climate Action Network (BCCAN). This is the text of a column written for The Western Advocate on Thursday July 2, 2009. Visit www.bccan.org.au