I recently finished watching the BBC’s new series Planet Earth II and without exaggeration it was an absorbing and humbling experience. My brain (and spirit) were stimulated by visually magnificent inspiring stories about the other beasts (besides us humans) that are our companions in this our home.
I was very touched by every episode. It helped me connect with my animal Nature. Like other animals, I must be graceful, strong, handsome, powerful, adaptable, clever, cooperative. I am beast. Those stories that we tell ourselves that us humans are smarter and superior and rational and intellectual… they seem totally lame compared with the Majesty of Nature as shown in this series.
Anyhow, this commentary is not meant to be a review or a critique of the series. I am not very knowledgeable at all about photography or film making or biology to fully appreciate the value of this series. Instead, what I want to do with this piece is share some thoughts that I baked after watching the final episode, Cities. They are admittedly dark, yet not negative or fatalistic. I would say they are made of a sort of dough of realism and fear with a flavor of disillusion for society as a construct but I certainly kneaded it with a fundamental hope about the human being and its natural goodness.
The episode Cities shows the adaptability of animals and how they have learned to thrive among humans an how it is their presence in cities what allows for the development of deeper more intimate bonds between humans and Nature. Suddenly, wild animals are not threats or obstacles or mysteries. Instead, they are our buddies, our heroes, our idols. This episode sends a very positive message to urban dwellers and city planners about how we can incorporate nature into our planning and how both humans and animals can grow more splendidly if we count them as part of our communities.
Despite the hopeful message, the last story in the episode is totally disheartening. It is the story of turtle hatchlings that confuse the moonlight with the beach lights and head towards the city instead of the Ocean.
Turtles use light as an indicator for the direction they need to take once they hatch. The water reflects the moonlight therefore signaling the direction towards which the Ocean lies.
According to the show, 80% of all turtle hatchlings become disoriented by beach lights and never reach the Ocean. Instead they suffer all sorts of dissastrous fates. Some are predated by clever crabs that have learned to build their homes under the beach light knowing that turtles will be following them; a few other hatchlings die of exhaustion, many are ran over by cars, others get trapped in sewers. Theirs misfortunes never seems to end.
The story of the baby turtles is painful to the bare bone. But it illustrates what is happening to all the animals that have not been able to adapt to the fast changing pace of the human-made environment. It is truly a sad story.
But I share it not because it taught me anything new. I knew that animals everywhere in the world are disappearing at unprecedented speeds and that humans are modifying the physical landscape and turning it into a hostile place for wild animals. What this story triggered was a more existential and critical thought about society and the so-called Western societies in particular.
This story of turtles that confuse bright neon lights for the more pristine light of nature made me think of humans that also fall into this trap. It feels that this is exactly what happens to use as we learn the ways of the modern world. As we come into this Modern world, we think we are taking the right direction and following the right light, the one that signals the Ocean. But instead we become mesmerized with fake lights and obsessed with following them. These lights lead us to take paths that sometimes never end and that will definitely never reach the Ocean.
Many humans nowadays pray of other clever humans that take advantage of their disorientation, they die of exhaustion, they get metaphorically ran over by machines, they fall into the gutter and eventually die as hatchlings. If only 20% make it to the sea, a lot less actually survive to adulthood. Imagine how few are able to live fulfilling lives. Sad. This happens to the humans that can adjust to the fast changing ways to the Modern machine that us humans have created.
I am not sure how to end this post without a depressing message. I guess that for us as individuals, my hope is that we adapt and learn to discern the truth from the fake. And for us as a society I invite us all to do what David Attenborough invited the world to do in the conclusion of the series. Let’s create homes for both wildlife and humans. Let’s be gentle to one another and consider in our decisions the bigger interconnected cosmos that we are part of.