While I love seeing Sir David Attenborough on my Insta feed, I can’t help but ask myself: is there any point?
Few people have achieved the same level of universal appeal as Sir David Attenborough. I’d struggle to think of another old white man as beloved (with the possible exception of Father Christmas).
Through my extensive scientific research (i.e. binge-watching all of his docs and engaging anyone I can in breathless, gushing conversation about how wonderful he is), I have deduced that it is down to the following three factors:
1) His soothing voice, AKA ‘The Morgan Freeman Effect’.
2) His sheer endurance and longevity. We can all remember Attenborough from our childhood- watching him was a family ritual at my house. One of my earliest memories is hiding behind the sofa while he narrated footage of giant howler monkeys devouring some smaller, fluffier monkeys (perhaps not the most positive of examples, but memorable to say the least: my first introduction to the brutality of nature).
3) He loves animals. Everyone loves animals. That’s something fundamental we can all agree on.
Breaking the internet
24th September 2020 will go down in history as the day Sir David Attenborough ‘broke the internet’ by joining Instagram. In the process, he also broke the world record for the fastest ascent to 1 million followers (four hours and forty-four minutes). It’s clear people are tripping over themselves to pick up what he’s putting out there, namely: “THE PLANET IS DYING BEFORE OUR VERY EYES AND WE REALLY, ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW” (I’m paraphrasing).
Interestingly, the same cannot be said for young Miss Greta Thunberg, the precocious environmental activist the world loves to hate. Both Greta and Sir David are preaching the same message, yet while one is greeted with the same unfettered enthusiasm one might project upon a barrel of puppies, the other gets: “I hate u Greta thunder bag” and vomit emojis.
It is all so painfully predictable, so hair-pullingly exasperating that still, in the 21st Century, a young woman and an old man can say the exact same thing and ellicit completely different reactions. I am, unsurprisingly, not the only person to make this observation. This unavoidable comparison casts a dark shadow over the fanfare of celebration that welcomed Attenborough to the ‘gram.
One could argue that the climate crisis is an issue so huge, so desperately urgent that it transcends all others, even entrenched systemic sexism. From this point of view – and I admit this through gritted teeth – Sir David’s sudden engagement on one of the most used social media platforms in the world does have value.
Given how much more palatable people find him than Thunberg, he may well find and inspire a new audience on the app. He may, where the polarising Thunberg has failed, be able to convince even the most hardened climate change-denier to adopt a more conscious lifestyle. I truly hope he does.
The cynic in me does not have much faith though. Before you come after me with pitchforks, this opinion is not a reflection on Sir David as a trustworthy source; he could tell me trees were made of liquorice and I wouldn’t even question it. But his having an Instagram will not, I fear, make one iota of difference when it comes to implementing any real action towards solving the climate crisis.
David and Goliath
All of Attenborough’s 5.7 million (and counting) Insta followers have chosen to follow him. They’ve sought him out and actively pressed the blue button. He hasn’t found a new audience, merely another platform from which to speak to his existing one.
That’s not a complaint and no one could accuse him of not having the most noble of intentions. I’m just not too optimistic about its actual, tangible impact on the cause, given that others are going to greater lengths than simply setting up a social media account.
The old rhetoric, where the onus is on us as individuals to change our collective lifestyles to fix the planet, is misinformed, misguided and unfairly places blame where it doesn’t belong. It is not their fault for making all the water bottles plastic, it is our fault for buying them. We should all feel very bad about killing the planet and go and buy Chilly Bottles immediately.
Of course, we should all do our bit, but all the bamboo toothbrushes on earth cannot erase the current level of damage. Since the 2017 publication of The Carbon Majors Database, we have known that it is actually a handful of giant fuel companies that are responsible for this mess, not us and our collective wanton recklessness with plastic bags.
The biggest obstacles to climate change activism are greedy billionaires. Suckling on Capitalism’s teets, they gaslight us all into believing climate change doesn’t even exist to protect their fiscal interests at the expense of everyone and everything else.
Attenborough for world leader?
There is really only one option left. As much as I wish it was Sir David and his IGTV vids, it isn’t. It is a full-blown, worldwide revolt against the Capitalist stranglehold that sees the CEOs of Shell laugh on their stacks of wealth while the world burns.
Our whole societal and economic system needs to be overhauled in order to address these titans. While I admire and share Sir David’s faith in his younger fans – “It’s their tomorrow… I won’t be here. They will be” – I worry that when Thunberg and her revolutionary cohorts have come of age it will be far too late.
Put simply: the very foundation of our house is rotten. We really need the ability to go back in time and start again. God-like though his reverence may be, I fear this is a job too large for a nonagenarian wildlife documentary maker.
That being said you never know: if TikTok-ers can band together to troll a Trump rally, maybe Insta will prove to be just the right petri dish for Sir David to grow an online army that goes on to stage a massive coup, wipes out Big Fuel and starts a New World with green energy and equality.
With that in mind, I shan’t be unfollowing. Just in case.