Rare ray of hope

Published date23 April 2024
Publication titleSignal
OUR Living World begins with a cheesy inspirational quote: ‘‘Realise that everything connects to everything else.’’ Leonardo da Vinci said that, possibly. Soon, this nature series has glowing blue lines running across the screen, and Cate Blanchett on the voiceover, authoritatively announcing that the planet’s species are dependent on each other in ways we cannot immediately see and might not have imagined

It sounds as if this programme thinks it has discovered the concept of ecosystems, and across four episodes it makes repeated use of the same trick: it shows us one animal or plant, then shocks us with how that one helps another. Gradually, however, the show builds into a powerful lecture on the climate crisis, conservation and, in particular, the importance of small gestures and how they can have larger effects down the line. In an age when we urgently need to act, but the task of maintaining a survivable planet can seem too big for an individual to contemplate, let alone tackle, it’s a valuable lesson.

We start with a rhinoceros commuting through a Nepalese town in rush hour, padding along the tarmac, unconcerned by the traffic or the delighted locals wielding smartphone video-cameras. Humans have built over his natural route from one feeding ground to another. But this is not, on the whole, a show about our species encroaching on the natural world. It’s about how delicate that world is, such that the tiniest infringements can be deadly — and reversing those abuses could be priceless.

We move to the Arctic, where we watch reindeer being stalked by wolves. The wolves’ attentions force the herd to stay on the move, we are told. This means they graze over a wider area. That means there is a larger blanket of uninterrupted snow, and that, in turn, means the top of the Earth has a bigger reflective panel on its roof to disperse the heat of the sun.

In the sea nearby, the water beginning to freeze is part of a system of ocean currents and temperature movements that manifests on the coast of Africa as a storm, leading to nitrate-heavy rain falling and revitalising the dry savannah. In the watering hole that results, a family of hippos frolic to lounge jazz. Another hippo tries to muscle in; the elder male fights him off; the cool jazz plays again.

We’ve gone from hungry wolves to angry hippos, both cute sequences that could appear in any wildlife documentary. When the rains abate, elephants pick at dry, dead trees, leaving logs on the ground that help...

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