World Earth Day: Apple TV+ documentary The Year Earth Changed is a call for human-nature coexistence
The documentary shows how the coronavirus-induced lockdown allowed the nature to thrive as humans were locked indoors and manmade activity did not intrude on surrounding ecology.
As the coronavirus-induced lockdown started, bringing human activity to a sudden halt, traffic died down. The reduced noise pollution meant that the chirping of birds was the new dominant sound in streets. Researchers have substantiated that by noting new notes in the San Francisco sparrow’s mating call.
Glacier Bay, Alaska’s humpback whales find the underwater environment 25 times quieter as every cruise stands cancelled and marine traffic is absent. In this silence, scientists find that humpbacks are talking to each other more often and communicating across farther distances.
These are just two instances among the many portrayed in the Apple TV+ documentary The Year Earth Changed, of the natural world thriving as human beings are locked indoors, and manmade activity not intruding on the surrounding ecology.
Narrated by David Attenborough and shot across five continents during the course of the 2020 lockdown, it shows how nature is thriving. Besides lowered noise pollution, just 12 days into lockdown, the lesser air pollution meant people in Jalandhar were able to see the Himalayas, hidden behind smog for over 30 years.
The Ganges boasted of an 80 percent rise in oxygen level. Underground landscapes are also enjoying the quietest period in recorded history as vibration from travel and industries has halved. Overall, annual global CO2 emissions have fallen by over six percent, the largest drop ever measured. “The minute we paused, the earth was able to breathe again,” asserts Attenborough in the voiceover, about the massive sigh of relief nature has heaved in human absence.
Wildlife has also been flourishing in ways we have not seen in decades, and several endangered species are finding the human-less atmosphere a useful chance at survival. In Kenya, no rhinos were killed for their horns, for the first time since 1999. With no human activity or distraction around, endangered species like the sea turtles on Florida’s Juno Beach are also finding a way to boost numbers. “Globally, turtle numbers have been in steep decline. Partly because they have been reluctant to visit the ever-busier beaches,” informs the documentary. Now, for the first time in her life, a female turtle is able to lay her eggs in peace, the film showing them lustrously collecting in the sand, with hundreds of turtles doing the same over the weeks.
A few months into lockdown, one also saw viral photos of wildlife roaming urban streets. In one instance were the Sika Deer of Nara, Japan, who had turned to temples for food, were now left alone, risking starvation. But the elders lead the family over two kilometres through the city, reaching a small patch of green, once part of the lavish meadows they grazed upon. Not only did scientists find this diet to be healthier, but fewer visitors also meant less plastic trash which can kill a deer. “Even when it seems that animals benefit from our presence, in many cases, they’re actually better off without us,” says Attenborough, reminding of how animals are simply reclaiming land that was originally theirs.
With Attenborough’s assured narration and Tom Beard’s experienced directing, the documentary is an easy, gripping watch, taking viewers away from the horrors of COVID-19 and toward a thriving natural world.
Even though it doesn’t take on the ‘humans are the real virus’ perspective, it does remind that the impact of the lockdown will not last forever and that we need to do better, accommodating and coexisting with wildlife in a way that considers their needs as much as our own. It is up to each of us to adopt not just personal changes but rally for a ‘new normal’ which takes other species into consideration, not taking the natural world for granted anymore.
Given the speed and extent of nature’s response, scientists suggest that even small changes like short shutdowns of beaches every summer or nightly closures can make a vital difference to the wildlife cohabiting the space. Asking ship vessels to go slower and move in groups can lead to a smaller footprint. Encouraging good conduct among tourists and tour guides about being quiet and respectful is another step toward coexisting. The more we recognise how interconnected our lives are with the natural world, the more we can work toward bringing about a balance and creating a healthy, thriving planet for the future.
The Year That Changed Earth is streaming on Apple TV+.
— All photos courtesy Apple TV+
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