With an eighth of the planet’s species at risk of dying out, this documentary offered a stark look at the devastation that humans have wreaked, and are wreaking, on the natural world
It is hard to absolutely, positively look forward to an hour-long programme about the many varied, catastrophic ways we have ruined the world around us. David Attenborough’s Extinction: The Facts (BBC One) was as upsetting as you might expect. If his earlier Planet Earth series delivered joyous portraits of nature at its most spectacular, here we had beautifully shot footage of monkeys desperately leaping into a river to escape a forest fire, a baby bear looking lost in a ransacked, smoking landscape, and the corpses of killer whales, tangled in fishing nets, rotting on the shore. It was unbearably painful to watch.
People who make programmes about the environment are constantly searching for new ways to force us to pay attention, to make sure we resist the temptation to change channel in search of less distressing content. This time they tried making the theme of extinction feel urgent by filtering it through the prism of the coronavirus pandemic. But there is something depressing about this need to persuade people to focus on the imminent extinction of 1m different species by appealing to our self-interest, highlighting how humans will ultimately suffer as a result of the devastation we have brought upon ourselves.