Entertainment22 April 2021
Imagine you are driving down a mountain road at night. Your foot presses hard on the accelerator. There are no safety barriers. As the road twists and turns, one miscalculation and the car will spin off the edge. And, by the way, the headlights have been switched off.
This could be the opening scene from an Alfred Hitchcock film. But this is the story of our lives.
As an Earth system scientist, I make sense of the world through data. However, I realize that people make sense of the world through stories. In the past two decades I have come to see that the biggest story in science today is a story of high drama, suspense and action. As a species, humanity is careening close to the edge. Our impact on nature is bringing us dangerously close to planetary boundaries. These are the thresholds myself and colleagues have identified ranging from climate change and the loss of species to the ozone layer and ocean acidification.
How close are we to the edge? This is the story we tell in a new Netflix documentary Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet, coming this summer.
Humanity has enjoyed a 10,000-year stretch of relative stability on Earth – a state of grace. This stability is the foundation of farming and our civilization. Everything we know and love depends on it.
It is tempting to think this is another climate story. But it is much bigger. It is about Earth’s life support system – the biosphere, a thin veil clinging to the surface of Earth where life thrives. My work is about understanding the interactions between Earth’s climate, ecosystems and life, the ocean and ice sheets, rivers, lakes and soils, forests and farms, the carbon cycle… and people – the economy, governments, consumers. As a species, as a global civilization, we are now in the driver’s seat. We are the main force for change in the biosphere.
But we can raise the drama up a notch. Our children are sitting in the backseat. They are shouting “turn on the headlights.” “Listen to the science.” “This is our future.” Our generation may be the last with the ability to keep our planet within the boundaries we need to thrive and prosper.
One person knows this better than anyone: Sir David Attenborough.
David is the greatest natural storyteller of our time. It was an immense privilege to work with David on this documentary. He has inspired generations of people. Now through Netflix we hope to reach even more people to inspire them to become planetary stewards – protectors of our global commons.
As Sir David says: “With major global decisions on biodiversity and climate change taking place this year there has never been a more important time to communicate the science of what is happening to our planet. The research featured in Breaking Boundaries is one of the clearest explanations I’ve seen of the threats we face and how we might tackle them. I hope that after watching this film many more people will see the urgency of our current situation and be inspired by the possibility of creating a stable healthy future for ourselves and the rest of the natural world.”
The key message from the film is that we still have time. We are an endlessly innovative species. Cooperation is our superpower. And we are beginning to see signs that major change is coming. The science is clear on what humanity needs to do. There are three priorities: cut greenhouse gases to zero, protect the wetlands, soils, forests and oceans that absorb our impacts, and change our diets and the way we farm food. This is the mission. And everyone benefits. We will live in a cleaner, healthier and more peaceful world. Imagine that same car, safely at home and the children asleep in their beds at night.