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The Climate Spotlight: David Attenborough

David Attenborough is a naturalist, broadcaster and television personality that has inspired millions around the world. At the grand age of 94, his story is one that has inspired not only us but also generations before us. But, what can we learn from this living icon?

Early Life

Attenborough was born on 8 May 1926 in a suburb of London, England. His love for nature developed at a very early age. At seven, Attenborough began collecting bird eggs and fossils that he had found. His passion grew and he was later awarded a scholarship to study Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. 

The first big milestone in his career was in 1950 when he began a training programme with the BBC. Two years later he started working there as a producer, and from this point on his career kicked off. 


In 1954, Attenborough launched his very first series called Zoo Quest. This was the first show of its kind as it filmed not only captive animals but also animals out in the wild. This meant that the crew had to travel out to filming locations around the world. 

Despite the growing success, Attenborough felt there was more to learn. So, in the early 1960s he went on to study social anthropology at the London School of Economics. 

In 1965 BBC Two was launched, and thanks to his previous achievements, Attenborough was asked to come back to the BBC to work as the director of programming for both channels. The channels continued to get better and better but no matter how many awards they received, Attenborough did not feel fulfilled. He resigned from the BBC in 1972 to start his own journey of wildlife documenting. 

His first huge success was in 1976 when he launched Life on Earth. This 96-episode long programme, written and produced by Attenborough himself, attracted over 500 million views worldwide. His aim was to showcase the role of evolution in nature and make this extraordinary footage available to viewers at home.  

The David Attenborough Effect

The Attenborough Effect is a term which has come about due to the impact Attenborough and his documentaries have on society. It is a term which highlights how much progress we have made, and continue to make in terms of plastic use. This term is believed to have come about after Blue Planet II was broadcasted in 2017. With an astounding 14 million viewers, it was the most watched TV show of 2017. 

A large proportion of this series was devoted to highlighting plastic pollution around the world and in our oceans. This worried viewers far and wide, including those who had previously not been concerned by the amount of single-use plastic they consume. According to the Global Wide Index, there has been a 53% reduction in single-use plastic usage over the past 12 months. When consumers in the UK and US were questioned, more than half claimed to have reduced their reliance on single-use plastics in the past year. This shows just how impactful documentaries can be. 

However, the ‘Attenborough Effect’ does not stop at the individual level. The European Union passed the single-use plastic ban which bans single-use plastics such as straws and cotton buds. This has already come into force in the UK and is expected to be applied to all 28 countries by the end of 2021. The EU acknowledged the Blue Planet II series as part of the motivation behind this ban. 

Bans like this are a great step in terms of reducing single-use plastic usage; however, they will be ineffective if we as individuals do not strive for the same goal. The power is in all of our hands and no matter how insignificant your actions may seem, they do matter. Making a few switches to reusable or sustainably produced products in your daily life will definitely help in not only reducing your own carbon footprint but decreasing consumer demand for these products. 


Attenborough began making documentaries because he was fascinated by the natural world and all it has to offer. Conservation did not come into the picture until recently, when an increase in destruction of habitats has led to several species’ extinctions.  As more documentaries were filmed, it became evident that the rich habitats and wildlife that were once plentiful were becoming fewer year by year. Being such a huge figure in environmentalism, it is no surprise that Attenborough has now done many greats things to help with conservation efforts worldwide. 

David Attenborough has supported the World Land Trust for over 30 years and has been the president of Butterfly Conservation since 1998. On top of this, he was knighted by the Queen in 1985 for all his efforts. However, I am sure we can all agree most of his work is done by simply spreading awareness and educating the public. While his documentaries are beautifully produced and engaging, they are also educational. For example, his recent work, ‘Extinction: The Facts’ highlighted just how critical it is that we do more to help prevent the species we know and love from going extinct. 


Having won awards such as “the most trusted man in Britain”, criticism of David Attenborough is not easy to find. However, in 2018 Attenborough did cause some controversy when he said that repeated warnings about human destruction of the natural world may be seen as a “turn-off” to viewers. This led to questions about his intentions behind the programmes. Were they now becoming more focused on entertainment than education? I think that since this incident, he has done marvellous work and produced a number of informative documentaries. It must be extremely hard to strike the balance just right in terms of how many warnings and threats you want to include in your programme. 

Overall, I think there is a lot we can all learn from David Attenborough. However, we must not forget about other environmentalists who are not as famous, including ordinary people like you and I. 

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