Review by Julian Palacios – please note this is a subjective, single-author review and does not represent Vegan4Life as a whole
“David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet” is marketed as a fond recollection of Attenborough’s over 60 year career as a naturalist and documentary personality. However, Attenborough is aware of his stardom, and uses his time in the film to deliver a stark warning about the future of our planet if we continue on the trajectory our consumerist society has set. Particularly interesting from a vegan perspective is his critique of meat consumption and the deforestation required to sustain our appetite for beef – a refreshing perspective to hear, as a vegan, coming from a mainstream voice.
The documentary is well worth the watch purely for Attenborough. He knows how to hold an audience enthralled, with a lifetime of heart-warming wildlife footage to pull on our heartstrings, but also how to create powerful tension as the years of his life go by and we are shown the statistics of how rapidly the world’s biodiversity is shrinking and atmospheric carbon rising. The film is so expert at evoking powerful emotions that when halfway through the film he begins his call to environmental action, I was almost compelled to bring everyone I know into a room to watch it again with me.
From a vegan perspective, the film is both refreshing and disappointing. The last act of the film consists of Attenborough delivering his solutions to our climate crisis – what we can do to avoid the barren, grey, burning future he foretold in act two. What’s confusing is that while he does suggest more critical and limited consumption of meat – even going so far as to suggest we should all be consuming a “mostly” plant based diet – his lifetime of interacting with and valuing animal life hasn’t led him to adopt a vegan philosophy.
From a utilitarian perspective, his recommendation that we improve the health of our oceans, in large part because it will produce even more fish to eat, seems appropriate. However, this suggestion casted a stark contrast, in my eyes, with his assessment of the declining popularity of whaling in the 1970s and 80s. When reflecting on the history of whaling and the rise of protests against it, he says “animals who were once only considered sources of meat and oil now became personalities… the killing of whales turned from a harvest to a crime.” Oddly, he fails to recognise that increased public awareness of what we do to so called “production” animals in factory farms might have the same effect – that the slaughter of animals isn’t only a crime if they are going extinct.