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World Environment Day: Mapping the path to the future, one documentary at a time

World Environment Day: Mapping the path to the future, one documentary at a time

All of us have, at some point in our lives, looked deep within ourselves for the answer to one fundamental question to determine the path of our existence: What does the future hold for me? Many a times, amid our most philosophical and scientific musings, we have also elevated this question from being a mere inquiry limited to the self to one that has a bearing on the entirety of the human race- What is the fate that awaits humanity? There isn’t an easy answer to give, and even if you do find one, no one can tell if it is the right one. Has our greed irretrievably driven us past the point of no return? Will we become casualties of our own callous devastation of the planet? Or, is there still hope for us, and will our distant descendants watch the sun rise and set until its stable fuel supply dwindles and it expands into a red giant, swallowing the Earth in a fiery ring? 

We may not know for sure, but we can hope, and we can prolong the existence of Homo Sapiens and all the other species who share this planet with us in this epoch of geological time. We can also look to our past to seek inspiration from those extinct species who lived for millions of years and branched out into varying lineages until one twig in the tree of life came to represent us. The riveting story of evolution can both serve as a detailed account of the origin of life, and as a reminder that we are but tiny cogs in a great wheel that rolls toward a finitude that seems limitless to us. One of Sir David Attenborough’s oldest classic documentaries, titled Life on Earth, can help you understand something of the extent of this vastness that stretches behind us, if not before us, and magnify your awe of all the creatures that have come, through chance and natural selection, to currently inhabit the planet. 

Your admiration might prompt you to re-examine the impact we have had on all of these life forms and their distinctive habitats, and this, in turn, might lead you to confront the reality of our heedless exploitation. The glaring problems of habitat destruction and poaching will make themselves evident immediately. Nothing will make this grave truth and its terrifying repercussions more obvious than the documentary films Virunga and The Ivory Game. Both focus on two magnificent mammal species: The mountain gorilla and the African elephant respectively, and tell the story of the consequences of human activity on the future of their species. In the quest to determine our future, we will thus have unearthed the extent of the selfishness of those of our kind who live only to sate their greed and the boundlessness of the selflessness of those who live to protect all futures, ours and those of other living creatures. 

The next stop in your journey will lead you through the multifarious worlds that make up the one planet we all call our home. Whether it be diving into tropical and subtropical waters or braving the polar and subpolar north, you will be surprised to see the signs of the damage we have wrought even here, in these places that are presumed to be pristinely wild. To watch the evidence unfold before your eyes, we recommend that you watch Chasing Ice and Chasing Coral, and see how towering glaciers and the colourful frameworks of vital ecosystems, coral reefs, are also not spared the consequences of our far-reaching, harmful influence on Earth. 

One needn’t travel so far to see what we are capable of, however. One glance at our dinner plates can be enough, once we are able to see the food we eat with a renewed perspective. It might just be meat, but its consumption takes a heavy toll on our planet. How so, you ask? An accessibly thorough, shocking answer can be found in Cowspiracy and Seaspiracy, both documentaries that do not shy away from laying unacceptable, yet undeniable truths bare for their audiences. 

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This might all be a little too much to take in, but this World Environment Day, educating ourselves and receiving the right information might be the key to making an effort in the right direction. Circling back to our original point, it is plain to see that our actions will determine whether a more hopeful future for us will snuff out into a wisp of fantasy or manifest into reality. A sense of urgency to act must grip the world, urgency the likes of which is depicted in Fisher Stevens’ Before The Flood. If we are to ‘revive our damaged ecosystems’ in keeping with this year’s theme for the World Environment Day, we must comprehend, sooner rather than later, that the answers to the difficult questions we ask ourselves about the future will be defined by the choices we make in the present.

Therefore, it is time for us to stop asking- What is the future of humanity? and start posing a question of greater importance and relevance- What am I doing to secure the future of humanity? 

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