Attenborough explores … Our Fragile World (excerpt transcript)

September 10, 2007 at 5:08 am | Posted in Arctic, Attenborough, Badgers, Cairngorms, Climate change, Communication, Corals, Documentary, Energy use, Fossil fuels, Greenhouse effect, Greenhouse gases, Our Fragile World, Polar bears, Public awareness, Renewable energy, Snow buntings, Subarctic, Television, Transcripts, UKTV | 3 Comments

Attenborough explores …

Our Fragile World

Brand new and exclusive to UKTV Documentary (watch the trailer and read about The making of Attenborough explores … Our Fragile World)

Thus began the programme that so impressed us: the boys and I watched it twice, and during our second viewing they helped me catch the words for the transcript of the opening section (below). As we watched and listened intently the first time, I was struck once again by the power of Sir David’s language. He speaks slowly and deliberately. His emphasis and intonation are the result of his expert knowledge of our natural world, and it shows. Each syllable, word, or phrase he emphasises is impressed on the listener for a reason. No words are redundant. Every word works—hard!

There has been much talk of framing science, and much less action taken to create or highlight good examples. So this is my attempt to redress that balance a little with an excerpt of a masterful gem produced by an expert. We are sharing this snippet with friends in California and beyond, because we have no idea how long it will be before this programme is broadcast Stateside: the sooner, the better, of course!

In his decades of creating world-class nature documentaries, Sir David Attenborough provides his own magnificent showcase of how to communicate with the public. Old and young, middle-aged (aka medieval, as the kids would say) people like myself, and also friends whose mother tongue is not English—we can all appreciate Attenborough’s impressive choice of words, and the way he delivers each one with care, patience and import.

We missed the live webchat after Sunday evening’s premiere, but the webchat transcript is worth reading after you have taken time to feast on the following words as narrated by Sir David Attenborough in the first part of his documentary:


Our planet boasts an extraordinary variety of habitats — from lush, green rainforests to dusty, hot deserts; from snow-capped mountains to the deepest oceans.

Many different natural forces have shaped Earth’s habitats over millions of years, but now there is one particular phenomenon that affects them all.

Our world is changing. In the last 100 years, the average temperature of our planet has increased by 0.7°C (nought point seven degrees Celsius) and it’s set to rise further. There is no doubt that our planet is warming at a rate unprecedented in human history.

Global warming isn’t a future phenomenon. It’s happening right now.

In this programme I’ll be explaining how the natural world is already responding to climate change: here in Britain, and around the globe. We’ll see how the polar bear is in genuine peril, and how the corals that make up some of our greatest ocean reefs are dying; how, closer to home, and a warmer Britain is attracting new arrivals from Europe, like this beautiful hummingbird hawk moth, but how rising sea temperatures are forcing our native cool water dolphins away from our shores; and how some of our most familiar animals are struggling to adapt to its changes.

(… badger bit …)

For better or for worse, all life is likely to be influenced by global warming and could continue to be so for many generations to come.

Attenborough explores …

Our Fragile World

Part 1

Since life began on Earth around 4 billion years ago, our planet has gone through extraordinary changes in its climate. At times the planet has been baking hot; and at other times largely frozen.

Many natural forces influence climate — the amount of energy we receive from the sun can wax and wane in cycles over hundreds and thousands of years; while particles from a violent volcanic eruption can block the sun’s warming rays and plunge the planet into a cool period; but, there is a part of our planet that has played a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate for billions of years — it’s all around us, but is invisible to us. Only when you look back at Earth from space can you really see it.

It’s our atmosphere.

This thin band is made up of a mixture of gases and water vapour. Some of the gases in our atmosphere influence our planet’s temperature through a phenomenon we call the ‘greenhouse effect’.

The ‘greenhouse effect’ is in fact a perfectly natural phenomenon. Without it, the world would be a very much colder place, and life would probably not exist here at all.

Energy from the sun, in the form of light and heat, passes through those greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is absorbed by the surface of the Earth, and then partially reflected back—but with a changed wavelength: a wavelength that cannot pass through the greenhouse gases any more than it does through this greenhouse glass. So heat is trapped here.

It’s only recently that we’ve come to accept that our species — humans — are capable of dramatically altering the composition of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. We’re doing so because we’ve come to rely on one particular type of fuel for nearly all our energy needs — fossil fuel.

The burning of fossil fuel, such as oil and coal, releases carbon dioxide as a by-product. This is an important greenhouse gas, and since the 18th century we’ve increased the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide by 30% (thirty percent). As a result, our planet is warming rapidly, and that is drastically affecting some of our most precious habitats.

Behind me are the Cairngorms …

Then Sir David talked about Britain’s second Industrial Revolution during the reign of Queen Victoria, and how now, 150 years later, “these mountains are changing almost certainly as a consequence of that industrial revolution” and the snow bunting is one victim of those changes: it has nowhere else to go. A description of how subarctic habitats are being affected in the far north of Britain, likely to cause a significant loss of species in the U.K., was used as an indication of, and segué to, examples of changes taking place in Arctic regions.

… we’ll see how the polar bear’s home is literally melting away, while in Britain climate change is a mixed blessing for our badgers … Just a very, very small change in climate can produce major effects on their population.


That’s how it ended before the break.

Does that give you some idea of the power of words and the strength of message, even without images? Add spectacular nature filming and you are in for an inspiring treat when this programme is shown in your area. Yes, it was inspiring while shocking with the extent of damage to, and upheaval of, ecosystems the unfolding story revealed. We have to change our energy sources, pronto! My sons were full of ideas of ways to save certain animals with a renewed awareness of their plight. There are ways to help, but it is clear we cannot turn back the clock and we are in a race against time to develop and adopt ways to harness renewable energies such as solar and wind power faster than we could send a man to the moon!



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  1. I have got to see this…once I finish Planet Earth, perhaps…

  2. When I hear of a significant Attenborough showing on TV Stateside, I shall let you know!

  3. […] attenborough habitats […]

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