How Netflix’s Our Planet can inspire true environmental change
Netflix’s Our Planet isn’t here to scold us over our disregard for Earth and its ecosystems. Instead, the eight-part nature docu-series aims to celebrate our world’s beauty, and ensure that its survival – as well as our own – is secured for generations to come.
A production four years in the making, Our Planet is a three-way collaboration between Netflix, the WWF, and Silverback Films. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough and shot in 50 countries across all seven continents, the docu-series required hundreds of individuals to execute its vision.
Combining their resources, the trio set out to produce a landmark series that would delight audiences and offer a stark-yet-hopeful message about saving planet Earth. For Alastair Fothergill, Silverback Films’ co-founder and executive producer on Our Planet, finding a balance between being entertaining and educational was vital in getting the series’ message about sustainability across.
“For the first time we tried to talk in detail about the challenges and threats that our planet faces, and we felt the time was right to do that,” he says in an interview with My Good Planet. “The challenge was to ensure that it was entertaining and absorbing and educational, but still be attractive to a mass audience without being trite.”
Our Planet’s message is a difficult one to hear. The WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report revealed that, on average, 60% of all vertebrate species have disappeared in the last 40 years. A fifth of the Amazon has been lost in the past half-century, while 30% of the world’s shallow water corals have been wiped out in a similar timeframe.
It comes as no surprise to learn that humans pose the greatest threat to the fauna and flora that remain. Habitat loss, land degradation, overfishing and overhunting, and a general lack of awareness are just a few reasons behind this decline. These figures paint a sobering picture of humanity’s impact on Earth. For Alastair, then, Our Planet is the most significant series – thematically – that he’s been involved in throughout his 30-year career.
“I’ve done these big landmarks and I’ve been satisfied that they’ve been very successful globally,” Alastair notes. “But I feel that this series is more than just a TV series, and that’s our ambition with it. We think the time is right for it – we know the planet is under threat – but we also think that people are ready to engage in the narrative, particularly young people. It’s one of the reasons why we’re keen to be on Netflix because their audience is a younger one. A lot of the 16-30 year olds don’t watch terrestrial TV much, so there are a number of reasons why Netflix is a good partner for this particular project.”
Netflix’s influence on the 16-30 year old bracket cannot be understated. With binge-watching and streaming now the biggest way that millennials consume all forms of content, it was a no brainer for Silverback and the WWF to enlist their help with Our Planet.
“There are a number of advantages (in bringing Our Planet to Netflix),” Alastair states. “One is the fact that they skew young, as I said. But the main advantage is that, on April 5, in 190 countries to over 140 million subscribers, the whole series will be there. Very importantly, it’ll stay there for months and years to come. Blue Planet II was massively successful on the BBC – as it should have been – but it was only on iPlayer for a month and then sort of disappeared. The nature of co-productions that are done by terrestrial broadcasters to finance their big global series means that nobody, apart from Netflix, can offer this global transmission at the same time.”
Blue Planet II’s impact has been instrumental in curbing the use of everyday plastics. Waitrose’s 2018-19 Food & Drink Report revealed that 88% of people, who watched Blue Planet II, had changed their plastic use. With people’s perceptions about the products they use, and their environmental impact of, beginning to shift, Alastair hopes that Our Planet can capitalise on this. In doing so, he believes that real change can occur.
“I fundamentally believe that a lot of small asks can make massive change,” he adds. “We feel that our inspiration is to be a real part of the conversation. We hope we can move the dial in understanding about biodiversity, which is fundamentally important to the recovery of our planet, and I don’t think people fully realise that. You can get out of bed in the morning and be pessimistic about that, but I’m optimistic. I think humans are extremely intelligent and clever and determined, and I also believe that individuals have immense power. The real forces on our planet are not governments or big companies, and we need to demand those that supply us with energy, food, and goods to up their environmental standards.”
Part of that change comes in the form of the ‘Voice for the Planet’ initiative. Launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos in February, the scheme calls for a new plan – the New Deal for Nature and People – to be put in place by 2020. A first small step on the road to recovery perhaps, but one that Alastair thinks can appeal to people of different generations.
“We showed seven clips from the series in Davos, we had the Sir David interview with Prince William, and in the room where some of the most powerful people on our planet,” says Alastair. “They were visibly moved by what we showed, and there is no doubt we started a conversation that will continue. We live in a global world, so the things we eat and use, and the clothes we wear, comes from the whole world. We call it ‘Our Planet’ very specifically because it is ours, it’s the only one we’ve got, and we’re responsible for it. I don’t think young people, in any way, don’t agree with that. I think they’re global citizens and they recognise that.”
Our Planet wants to prompt a global call to action. Its overriding message seeks to change minds and hearts and, even ahead of its release, people are making their voices heard. The worldwide climate change student strike, which took place on March 15, is proof that people, especially those of school and university age, are waking up to the perils that planet Earth faces.
Typically modest, Alastair admits that one TV series won’t change everything overnight. He remains hopeful, however, that Our Planet can ignite a spark globally.
“I made Blue Planet and I saw what the series did around the world,” he concludes. “Billions of people saw those shows – and I know 500 million people watched the original Planet Earth – so I’m optimistic about our ability to communicate. We know that global communication means that people can’t get away with things without others knowing about it. I think you can empower movement through lots of people together making critical movements. I don’t think governments can hide anymore when there’s big, political will among masses of people and global communication allows you to whip that up in a way that you couldn’t have done even 10 years ago.”