Reflections on ‘Extinction: The Facts’ by Sir David Attenborough

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Posted Sep 16 2020 by Sophie Paterson of
Reflections on Extinction: The Facts by Sir David Attenborough

Hailed as ‘essential viewing’, ‘painful’ and ‘terrifying’ by viewers, Sophie Paterson shares her reflections on the hard-hitting BBC documentary Extinction: The Facts.

Did you tune into BBC One’s Extinction: The Facts on Sunday evening? If not, here’s a trailer clip of what you missed. You can also catch up here on BBC iPlayer.

Since airing, it has been heralded as a “harrowing warning that should be mandatory viewing for all” (Independent) and lauded far and wide by everyone from Chris Packham to Carrie Symonds. Twitter is teeming with posts and comments expressing anguish and, indeed, anger at the harsh realities presented by the nation’s most beloved naturalist. A pool of experts deliver stark statistics, interspersed with testimony from those on the front-lines of species extinction, such as James Mwenda, an award-winning member of the rhino unit team at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in central Kenya, which provides care and protection for the last two remaining northern white rhinos in existence – a mother and her daughter.

The facts presented are indeed devastating, drawing on a 2019 UN report based upon 15,000 scientific and government sources. To list just some:

  • Of the estimated eight million species on Earth, a million are now threatened with extinction – 500,00 plants and animals and 500,000 insects
  • Since 1970, vertebrates have declined by 60% in total
  • Since 1500, 570 plant species and 700 animal species have gone extinct
  • 25% of plant species assessed are threatened with extinction

Scariest of all, species extinction is now happening 100 times faster than the natural evolutionary rate and is accelerating, with devastating consequences for the entire ecosystem, ourselves included. The documentary highlights a number of key drivers behind this: the illegal wildlife trafficking trade, industrial fishing practices, growing consumption levels in developed nations which outsource polluting production practices, climate change (creating a so-called ‘escalator to extinction‘ effect for certain species) and – most significantly of all – habitat destruction in the name of monoculture agriculture (soy, palm oil, cocoa, coffee) and to house cattle for beef production. A common denominator throughout is corporate capitalism’s quest for perpetual economic growth.

Whilst none of this is likely to be new news for those already concerned with the ecological consequences of our actions – long highlighted here at – it is nevertheless a devastating indictment of the extent of the irreparable damage wreaked upon the biodiversity of our planet. The immediate question raised, then, is ‘what to do?’.

“I may not be here to see it, but if we make the right decisions at this critical moment, we can safeguard our planet’s ecosystems, its extraordinary biodiversity and all its inhabitants.”

Sir David Attenborough

It might seem far easier than not to simply turn away, to not even engage in the first place, and for this Sir David Attenborough and the team behind the documentary can be commended for achieving such wide reach and impact. Choosing to take decisive positive action when faced with seemingly such insurmountable odds, which may in turn fuel feelings of hopelessness and despair, is hard.

What happens next, says Sir David Attenborough, is up to every one of us – a statement I support, however stacked the odds may be in favour of the current status quo. Will it force meaningful change amongst politicians and corporations? I’m doubtful. As individuals, though, we can make changes. What we do know, however, is that, whilst lifestyle change is necessary, it is not sufficient. What is needed above all is a radical departure from our current economic system, the constant drive towards perpetual economic growth that is catapulting our ecosystem towards biological annihilation.

There is hope. People are building a new economy, co-operativising and democratising along the way. You can help them by purchasing from them and, where possible, working with them. We’ll soon be re-launching our sister site with even better tools and information to help as many people as possible make the switch away from the old and into the new – watch this space.

In the meantime, if you’ve got your own thoughts to share about Extinction: The Facts, I’d love to hear them.

David Attenborough’s Extinction: The Facts aired on BBC One in the UK on Sunday 13 September at 20:00 BST. Main image by duncan c via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) of graffiti on a wall in Shoreditch, London.

Sophie PatersonAbout the author

Sophie Paterson is a co-director at and, where she looks after promotion, social media, the blogs and more. A graduate of the School of Natural Building, she lives in Totnes, Devon, having previously spent a year living and volunteering on a nearby smallholding.