How This Sloth Could Save the World

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By 2030, we will only have 1% of the earth rain forests remaining. We are on the brink of the earths 6th mass extinction. Earth’s population of wild vertebrates — all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — declined 58% from 1970 to 2012. These startling facts are all directly linked to human evoked climate change.
However, the depiction of wildlife in David Attenborough’s BBC series ‘Planet Earth Two’, demonstrated above, seemed to overlook this reality. Instead of a truthful overview of global ecosystem decay, producer’s sought after obscure glimpses of awe-inspiring wild-life activity in non-urbanised areas. Altogether, these images create the idea that they are common place, and therefore represent the non-human world as thriving.
Perhaps this is harmless entertainment. Surely, the publics awe at the nature on screen increases interest in wildlife conservation?
However, it appears the opposite is true. The show’s skewed representation of global ecosystems contributed to the problem of complacency about climate change.
Social geographer, Stewart Hall, discusses how representations are what we use to negotiate the world around us. In doing so they come to constitute and shape reality. This theory is demonstrated within the response to Attenborough’s next series, ‘Blue Planet Two’
The show listened to critiques that Planet Earth Two had overlooked the impact of climate change on the wildlife it depicts. It concluded with an episode focused on the immense damage plastic waste is having on our oceans.
A national outcry ascended over disposable plastic and what it is doing to our oceans. The public reaction was so great that, within weeks of the episode airing, the government announced plastic waste as an urgent issue it will address. Indeed, just last week a potential ban of cotton buds, plastic drinking straws and other single-use plastics was proposed for 2019.
This evidences Hall’s theory that representations are how we constitute our world, and therefore shape reality. Previously, plastic waste was known to be seriously impacting our oceans, but it took an honest representation of its impact to truly stimulate change.
What I think is so interesting about this example is how it showcases the importance of human geographies’ more abstract themes within all areas of Geoscience. Topics like representation are not considered within Geoscience generally, yet, this example demonstrates how they often come to determine key issues researched across the discipline. Clearly, a cross disciplinary Geoscience approach is needed to tackle issues as complex as climate change.

James

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