In short, it is the first program in a new series by Sir David Attenborough – living saint, naturalist, broadcaster, former BBC Two controller, Malthusian pessimist and well-rounded master of climate panic. Frozen Planet II, available on iPlayer, follows the excursions of its first series around the animals located at the poles with a new coverage of the species that dwell on the rest of the frozen surfaces of the Earth. Altogether, he reminds us, ice and snow cover a fifth of our planet.
We move from the largest ice cap, Antarctica (twice that of Australia), through the snow-capped peaks of the 5,500-mile long Andes, to Mount Kenya. We stop in the Great Steppe, where Pallas’s cat, notoriously grumpy, with very thick hair and very short legs, has to pounce on five rodents a day to survive. But how many times does Sir David have to talk about how cuddly animals will not survive climate change thanks to the terrible action of that horrible race, humanity?
Quite often, it would seem. In 2015, Attenborough told CNN about his conversion from a climate skeptic to a true believer and said that year’s COP21 climate conference would be “almost the last chance” to reverse climate change. Since then, our David has not missed an opportunity to denounce humanity as ‘invaded’ the world (2020) and as an ‘intruder’ on nature (2021).
Perhaps because he’s 96, Attenborough is extremely sensitive to the passage of time. “Time is running out,” he proclaimed in 2018. Earlier this year, he fared better, telling the UN Security Council: “No matter what we do now, it’s too late to avoid climate change.” .
Almost 40 minutes into his new series, he’s back to work. Arctic Greenland is more than 1,600 miles long and boasts a single ice sheet – the largest in the Northern Hemisphere – one mile thick. There, Attenborough reports that climate change increases the amount of meltwater flowing into the ice sheet, so that “a whole chain of events is triggered.” Meltwater accelerates the sliding of the descending ice sheet, eventually reaching the ocean, where it breaks into icebergs, some taller than the Empire State Building. Attenborough says Greenland is losing ice six times faster than it was 30 years ago and is solely responsible for a quarter of the world’s sea level rise. And such changes in the Arctic, he argues, have affected his highly specialized fauna, including … polar bears.
Yet the facts do not support Attenborough’s doomsday speculation. As the Daily skeptic notes that summer sea ice in the Arctic “hit a low in 2012 and has been recovering steadily since then.” In the United States, the National Snow and Ice Data Center records that Arctic sea ice lost 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles) in August and in the 43 years between 1979 and 2022. ‘ its extent is now “likely to remain higher than in recent years”. According to Copernicus, the Earth observation program of the European Union, in late June and early July 2021, the daily extent of Arctic sea ice “briefly reached record lows”; but as the summer and fall progressed, Arctic sea ice extent “remained well above the very low values observed in 2012 and 2020”. And in September, at the annual low of September 2021, the average monthly sea ice extent was only 8% below average, the highest low since 2014.
So there has There has been a palpable loss of Arctic sea ice over the past 43 years, but the jury is still out future of that expanse. So what does this rather hazy image mean for wildlife in the Arctic?
In 2020, Attenborough said polar bears could go extinct in the 1930s, although, like the Daily skeptic he rightly observes, “it is now generally accepted that polar bears are prosperous and increasing in numbers.” Undeterred, Attenborough notes that, in midsummer, Arctic sea ice is so thin that polar bears ambush their prey – in the film, a bearded seal – from the water, in a technique known as aquatic stalking. Somehow (we were not told how), the low cover now provided by the thinning ice causes polar bears to now have to attack a more aggressive and dangerous target: the hooded seal.
As early as the summer of 2035, our essay continues, the Arctic Ocean may be ice-free, making it more difficult for polar bear mothers to feed, let alone their cubs. To the moving notes of the violins, Attenborough concludes: the animals that inhabit our frozen lands and seas “need one thing more than anything else – and that is for the planet to stop warming … Now it’s up to us to make it happen”.
Words pinch your heartstrings, and that’s the point. In an instant, Attenborough goes from beautiful animals to politics. No graphics, no mediated scientific explanations: just emphatic propaganda. And it’s the same story with the second program in Attenborough’s new series: polar bears now have to travel 400 miles to eat seals, melting ensures killer whales kill more bow whales than ever, walruses “face a precarious future “, and it is uncertain whether polar bears” will survive into the next century “.
This type of move isn’t just vague and cheap with the truth. Through omission, it suggests that we humans can neither ship food nor carry out any rescue to save animal species that, in the decades to come, may – or may not – cope with worsening climatic conditions in the Arctic. It implies that the only way to prevent extinctions is to reduce our consumption. This is a typical emotional blackmail message that greens love.
In 1945, George Orwell scorned what has become Attenborough’s approach. Writing a review of a 1907 short story by the overrated leftist author Jack London, Orwell attacked what he called “Anglo-Saxon sentimentality about animals,” adding that, due to the influence of social Darwinism in London, “it appears that there is good reason to think that an exaggerated love for animals generally goes hand in hand with a rather brutal attitude towards human beings ».
So don’t be fooled. Attenborough is committed to making us feel guilty for allegedly killing our furry friends through our selfish behavior. This is not ‘science’. It is manipulative speculation.
James Woudhuysen is Visiting Professor of Foresight and Innovation at London South Bank University.