Sir David Attenborough sounds fresh call to save plant life with BBC production ‘The Green Planet’ TV series

Special Legendary English naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s five-part BBC series “The Green Planet” premiers in the Middle East on Jan. 10. (Supplied/BBC)
Legendary English naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s five-part BBC series “The Green Planet” premiers in the Middle East on Jan. 10. (Supplied/BBC)
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Updated 05 January 2022

Sir David Attenborough sounds fresh call to save plant life with BBC production ‘The Green Planet’ TV series

Legendary English naturalist Sir David Attenborough’s five-part BBC series “The Green Planet” premiers in the Middle East on Jan. 10. (Supplied/BBC)
  • Legendary English naturalist’s five-part BBC series premiers in the Middle East on Jan. 10
  • “The Green Planet” series comes as many of the planet’s ecosystems stand on the brink of collapse

BOGOTA: Towering more than 250 feet above the forest floor, the sequoia trees of California are the biggest living things on the planet.

It is while standing at the foot of one of these 3,000-year-old giants that English broadcaster and natural historian Sir David Attenborough opens his new series, “The Green Planet,” which will be broadcast in the Middle East on BBC Earth on beIN from Jan. 10.

“Plants, whether they are enormous like this one or microscopic, are the basis of all life, including ourselves,” the 95-year-old broadcaster says in the opening minutes of the first episode, titled “Tropical.”

“We depend upon them for every mouthful of food that we eat and every lungful of air that we breathe,” he continues. “Plants flourish in remarkable ways. Yet, for the most part, the secrets of their world have been hidden from us. Until now.”

The five-part BBC production claims to offer a fresh look at the extraordinary world of plants. To do this, it is said to have used an array of pioneering technologies, from robotic rigs and drone cams to moving time-lapse photography, super-detailed thermal cameras, deep-focus macro frame-stacking, ultra-high-speed photography and the latest in microscopy.

The result is a series that transforms the seemingly static world of trees and plants into a dynamic journey through a parallel universe in which plants are as aggressive, competitive and dramatic as wild animals, locked in a life-or-death struggle for food, light and procreation.

 

 

One sequence in the opening episode features time-lapse footage of leafcutter ants demolishing the succulent leaves sprouting from a branch and carting them off to their underground lair, where a giant fungus waits to feast on the mulch. The ants are rewarded for their efforts by the fungus with a steady supply of tiny mushrooms.

The sequence depicting this strange symbiosis was filmed over a period of three weeks deep in the Costa Rican rainforest, where the camera operators wrestled their heavy equipment through dense jungle, braving bouts of torrential rain.




Sir David speaking during an event to launch the UN’s Climate Change conference, COP26, in central London in February 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

According to producers, the weather was not the only challenge they had to overcome. A team filming sequences in Borneo, for example, faced their share of adversity after accidentally disturbing a nest of Asian giant hornets, resulting in some nasty stings.

Later in the series, Sir David himself fell foul of an especially prickly cactus known as cholla. Even though he was wearing a Kevlar under-glove with a welding mitt on top, the plant’s dense rosette of spines was able to pierce the protection.

In another scene from episode one, viewers encounter a species of bat that, in a similar way to the ants and their friendly fungus, exists in perfect symbiosis with a night-blooming flower. It offers the small mammals exclusive dibs on its precious nectar in exchange for their services as pollinators-in-chief.

Viewers are also introduced to a rather repulsive-looking, meter-wide parasitic plant known as the corpse flower, which imitates both the appearance and stench of rotting meat — complete with fur and teeth — to attract pollinating flies.




Behind the scences. Camera operator Oliver Mueller uses a specially built robotic camera system, known as the Triffid, to film the corpse flower (Rafflesia keithii), Borneo. (Supplied/BBC)

Covering 27 countries and produced over a period of four years, “The Green Planet” claims to provide the first comprehensive look at the world of plants since Sir David’s previous series, “The Private Life of Plants,” was broadcast 26 years ago.

“In ‘Private Life of Plants’ we were stuck with all this very heavy, primitive equipment, but now we can take the cameras anywhere we like,” Sir David said in a recent interview.

“So you now have the ability to go into a real forest, you can see a plant growing with its neighbors, fighting its neighbors, or moving with its neighbors or dying. And that, in my view, is what brings the thing to life and which should make people say, ‘Good lord, these extraordinary organisms are just like us.’”

Over the course of the series, Sir David traveled to the US, Costa Rica, Croatia and northern Europe, from deserts to mountains, rainforests to the frozen north, to create a fresh understanding of how plants live their lives, experience the seasons and interact with the animal world — including humanity.




Behind the scences. Team doctor, Dr Patrick Avery, in a canopy tram in Costa Rica with Sir David and drone pilot Louis Rummer-Downing. Patrick has just launched a drone carrying a camera, which will film David’s journey through the canopy. (Supplied/BBC)

The timing of the broadcast of “The Green Planet” could not be more critical, coming as it does just as many of the world’s ecosystems appear close to collapse, with climate change, deforestation and pollution causing ever-more extreme weather events and the loss of precious biodiversity.

In the Middle East, for instance, where temperatures regularly top 40 C for several months of the year, experts warn that climate change could soon render parts of the region uninhabitable for humans.

In response to the looming challenge, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have launched renewable-energy initiatives, embracing green fuels such as wind, solar and hydrogen power. Both nations also participated enthusiastically in COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

The previous month, Saudi Arabia launched its Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives, committing the Kingdom to reaching net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2060, and to planting 10 billion trees over the coming decades, rehabilitating 8 million hectares of degraded land and establishing new protected areas.




Behind the scenes. Sir David standing amoungst Giant Sequoias,Sequoiadendron giganteum, the largest trees in the world. California, USA. (Supplied/BBC)

Sir David addressed world leaders during COP26 to press home the need to drastically reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and prevent increases in global temperatures exceeding 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

“Perhaps the fact that the people most affected by climate change are no longer some imaginary future generations but young people alive today … perhaps that will give us the impetus we need to rewrite our story, to turn this tragedy into a triumph,” he told delegates.

“Our burning of fossil fuels, our destruction of nature, our approach to industry, construction and learning are releasing carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented pace and scale. We are already in trouble. The stability we all depend on is breaking.”

Sir David ought to know. During a career spanning almost seven decades, in which he has presented some of the most memorable nature documentaries ever filmed, he has witnessed this progressive destruction firsthand.




Clockwise from bottom: Khasi family using a living root bridge. Meghalaya, India; Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), Sonoran desert, Arizona. A mature saguaro can store 5000 litres of water; and Winter in the Boreal Forests of Finland. Spruce, Pine and Birch dominate this landscape. (Supplied/BBC)

In 1937, when he was 11 years old, the population of the world stood at 2.3 billion, and the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at 280 parts per million. Today there are almost 7.8 billion people on the planet and the level of carbon in the atmosphere stands at about 415 parts per million.

Sir David joined the BBC in 1952 as a trainee producer. While working on a series called “Zoo Quest,” between 1954 and 1964, he was given his first opportunity to visit remote corners of the globe and capture footage of wildlife in its natural habitats.

He left filmmaking behind in 1965 to become the controller of BBC2, during which time he helped to introduce color television to the UK, before serving as director of programs for BBC Television.

But in 1973 he decided to quit the administrative side of television and return to making documentaries.




Clockwise from L: A Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, the largest trees on Earth; flowers of the ‘7-hour flower’, Merinthopodium neuranthom, are pollinated by Underwood's Long-tongued Bat (Hylonycteris underwoodi); and Giant Water Lily, Victoria species, in the Pantanal region of Brazil. (Supplied/BBC/Paul Williams)

He soon established himself as Britain’s best-known natural history programmer, presenting the “Life on Earth” in 1979 and “The Blue Planet” in 2001.

It is as a result of this lifetime of filmmaking, and of course his gentle and instantly recognizable narration, that Sir David now stands at the forefront of issues related to conservation and the planet’s declining species — and is considered a British national treasure.

“The world has suddenly become plant-conscious,” he said recently. “There has been a revolution worldwide in attitudes toward the natural world in my lifetime. An awakening and an awareness of how important the natural world is to us all. An awareness that we would starve without plants, we wouldn’t be able to breathe without plants.”

Sir David believes the COVID-19 pandemic, and the resultant lockdowns, encouraged people to pay closer attention to the plant life around them.

 




Sir David now stands at the forefront of issues related to conservation and the planet’s declining species — and is considered a British national treasure. (AFP/File Photos)

“I think that being shut up and confined to one’s garden, if one is lucky enough to have a garden — and if not, to having plants sitting on a shelf — has changed people’s perspective and an awareness of another world that exists to which we hardly ever pay attention,” he said.

So, what does he hope audiences will take from “The Green Planet”?

“That there is a parallel world on which we depend and which, up to now, we have largely ignored, if I speak on behalf of urbanized man,” he said.

“Over half the population of the world, according to the UN, are urbanized, live in cities, only see cultivated plants and never see a wild community of plants.

“But that wild community is there, outside urban circumstances normally, and we depend upon it. And we better jolly well care for it.”


With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks
Updated 7 sec ago

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks

With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks
NICE, France: Tourism is booming again in France — and so is COVID-19.
French officials have “invited” or “recommended” people to go back to using face masks but stopped short of renewing restrictions that would scare visitors away or revive antigovernment protests.
From Paris commuters to tourists on the French Riviera, many people seem to welcome the government’s light touch, while some worry that required prevention measures may be needed.
Virus-related hospitalizations rose quickly in France over the past two weeks, with nearly 1,000 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized per day, according to government data. Infections are also rising across Europe and the United States, but France has an exceptionally high proportion of people in the hospital, according to Our World in Data estimates.
French government spokesperson Olivia Gregoire has said there are no plans to reintroduce national regulations that limit or set conditions for gathering indoors and other activities.
“The French people are sick of restrictions,” she said Wednesday on channel BFMTV. “We are confident that people will behave responsibly.”
France’s parliamentary elections last month resulted in President Emmanuel Macron losing his majority in the national legislature, while parties on the far right and the far left that had protested his government’s earlier vaccine and mask rules gained seats.
After the prime minister this week recommended that people resume wearing masks on public transportation, commuter Raphaelle Vertaldi said, “We need to deal with the virus, but we can’t stop living because of it.”
Vertaldi, who was boarding a train in Boussy-Saint-Antoine south of Paris, said she opposed mandatory mask use but would cover her mouth and nose again, if the government requires it.
Hassani Mohammed, a postal worker in Paris, didn’t wait for the government to decide. He masks up before his daily commute. With his wife recovering from surgery and two children at home, he does not want to risk contracting the coronavirus a third time.
“I realized that the pandemic does not belong to the past,” Mohammed said.
Masks have been contentious in France. Early in the pandemic, the French government suggested masks weren’t helpful. It ultimately introduced some of Europe’s toughest restrictions, including an indoors and outside mask mandate that lasted more than a year, along with strict lockdowns.
A Paris court ruled Tuesday that the French government failed to sufficiently stock up on surgical masks at the start of the pandemic and to prevent the virus from spreading. The administrative court in Paris also ruled that the government was wrong to suggest early on that that masks did not protect people from becoming infected.
The government lifted most virus rules by April, and foreign tourists have returned by land, sea and air to French Mediterranean beaches, restaurants and bars.
In the meantime, French hospitals are struggling with long-running staff and funding shortages. Local officials are contemplating new measures, including an indoor mask mandate in some cities, but nothing that would curb economic activity.
French tourism professionals expect a booming summer season despite the virus, with numbers that may even surpass pre-pandemic levels as Americans benefit from the weaker euro and others rediscover foreign travel after more than two years of a more circumscribed existence.
On the French Riviera, a slow economic recovery began last summer. But with attendance at gatherings still capped, social distancing rules and travel restrictions in place a year ago, most visitors to the area were French.
A tour guide and electric bicycle taxi driver in Nice described her joy at seeing foreign visitors again. During France’s repeated lockdowns, she transported essential workers, and took people to hospitals, to care for elderly relatives or for PCR tests.
Now, passengers on her bike from the US, Australia, Germany, Italy or beyond reach for the hand disinfectant taped to the barrier between the passenger and driver’s seats. She said she still diligently disinfects the bike before each ride, “like it’s 2020.”
A retired couple from the UK visited France this week on their first trip abroad since pandemic travel restrictions were lifted. They started with a cruise down the River Rhône – face masks were mandatory on the ship — and ended with a few days on the Mediterranean.
“It’s been delightful from start to finish,” said Ros Runcie, who was in Nice with her husband, Gordon. “Everyone is so pleased to see you, everyone is really polite and nice to visitors.”
Sue Baker, who was traveling with her husband, Phil, and the Runcies, observed: “It feels very much like pre-2020.”
Asked about the possible return of French mask rules, Phil Baker said, “Masks are a bit uncomfortable, especially in the heat.”
But his wife added, “If it means we can still go on a holiday, we’ll put them back on without hesitation.”

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half
Updated 02 July 2022

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on road safety called Friday for global action to cut the annual toll of nearly 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries in traffic crashes by at least half by decade’s end.
The political declaration adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-day session says traffic deaths and injuries not only cause widespread suffering for loved ones but cost countries an average of 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross domestic product.
It says that “makes road safety an urgent public health and development priority.”
The delegates urged all countries to commit to scaling up efforts and setting national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as called for in the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
Addressing Thursday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that road accidents are the primary cause of death globally of young people ages 5 to 29, and that nine out of 10 victims are in low- and middle-income countries.
“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” he said. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”
The UN chief called for “more ambitious and urgent action to reduce the biggest risks — such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or any psychoactive substance or drug, failure to use seatbelts, helmets and child restraints, unsafe road infrastructure and unsafe vehicles, poor pedestrian safety, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.”
He urged increased spending on improving infrastructure and implementing “cleaner mobility and greener urban planning, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
The UN Road Safety Fund, which was established in 2018 to help cut road deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries, held its first pledging event Thursday and said 16 countries and private sector donors had pledged $15 million.
The fund said it is financing 25 high-impact projects in 30 countries and five regions around the world and more money is needed.
Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, said, “More funding can and must be channeled toward road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day.”
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid said Friday that “in most countries, investments in road safety remain underfunded.”
Some countries don’t have “the resources or the know how to design safer roads or vehicles, or to inculcate safe road use behavior,” he said, which is why the declaration calls for delivering road safety knowledge to all road users in the world.


African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
Updated 02 July 2022

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency

African officials: Monkeypox spread is already an emergency
  • The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported

HARARE: Health authorities in Africa say they are treating the expanding monkeypox outbreak there as an emergency and are calling on rich countries to share the world’s limited supply of vaccines in an effort to avoid the glaring equity problems seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monkeypox has been sickening people in parts of central and west Africa for decades, but the lack of laboratory diagnosis and weak surveillance means many cases are going undetected across the continent. To date, countries in Africa have reported more than 1,800 suspected cases so far this year including more than 70 deaths, but only 109 have been lab-confirmed.
“This particular outbreak for us means an emergency,” said Ahmed Ogwell, the acting director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control.
“We want to be able to address monkeypox as an emergency now so that it does not cause more pain and suffering,” he said.

FASTFACT

Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last week, WHO said its emergency committee concluded that the expanding monkeypox outbreak was worrying, but did not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency. The UN health agency said it would reconsider its decision if the disease continued spreading across more borders, showed signs of increased severity, or began infecting vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.
Globally, more than 5,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in 51 countries, according to the US Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
The majority of those cases are in Europe. No deaths beyond Africa have been reported.
Within Africa, WHO said monkeypox has spread to countries where it hasn’t previously been seen, including South Africa, Ghana and Morocco. But more than 90% of the continent’s infections are in Congo and Nigeria, according to WHO’s Africa director, Dr. Moeti Matshidiso.
She said that given the limited global supplies of vaccines to fight monkeypox, WHO was in talks with manufacturers and countries with stockpiles to see if they might be shared.
The vaccines have mainly been developed to stop smallpox, a related disease — and most are not authorized for use against monkeypox in Africa.
Vaccines have not previously been used to try to stamp out monkeypox epidemics in Africa; officials have relied mostly on measures like contact tracing and isolation.
“We would like to see the global spotlight on monkeypox act as a catalyst to beat this disease once and for all in Africa,” she said at a press briefing Thursday.
WHO noted that similar to the scramble last year for COVID-19 vaccines, countries with supplies of vaccines to stop monkeypox are not yet sharing them with African countries.
“We do not have any donations that have been offered to (poorer) countries,” said Fiona Braka, who heads WHO’s emergency response team in Africa. “We know that those countries that have some stocks, they are mainly reserving them for their own populations.”
WHO said last month it was working to create a mechanism to share vaccines with countries with the biggest outbreaks, which some fear could see vaccines go to rich countries like Britain, Germany and France, some of the agency’s biggest donors and who already have their own supplies.
While monkeypox cases in Europe and North America have been mostly identified in men who are gay, bisexual or sleep with other men, that is not the case in Africa.
WHO’s Tieble Traore said that according to detailed data from Ghana, the numbers of monkeypox cases were almost evenly split between men and women.
“We have not yet seen spread among men who have sex with men,” he said.
Among monkeypox cases in Britain, which has the biggest outbreak beyond Africa, the vast majority of cases are in men.
Scientists warn that anyone is at risk of catching monkeypox if they come into close, physical contact with an infected patient or their clothing or bedsheets.
In Africa, monkeypox has mainly been spread to people from infected wild animals like rodents or primates.
It has not typically triggered widespread outbreaks or rapid spread between people.


Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
Updated 02 July 2022

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 

Marcos appoints Philippine UN envoy as new foreign minister 
  • Enrique Manalo, a career diplomat, began his foreign service career in 1979
  • Prior to his new appointment, he served as the Philippine ambassador to the UN in New York 

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. appointed Manila’s UN Ambassador Enrique Manalo as the country’s new foreign affairs secretary, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Friday.  

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the late Philippine dictator, won a landslide victory in May’s presidential election and was sworn into office on Thursday.

He has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy. 

Manalo is a career diplomat who has been serving as the Philippine permanent representative to the UN in New York and had twice served as the department’s undersecretary.  

BACKGROUND

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has vowed to open a new chapter in the country’s history and said his administration would have an independent foreign policy.

“President Marcos appointed Secretary Manalo in view of his long and distinguished career in the Philippine Foreign Service and his vast experience in diplomacy,” the DFA said in a statement. 

Marcos preferred a career diplomat to helm the department, the DFA said, so that the Philippines could “effectively advance its interests [on] the international stage in the face of formidable challenges.” 

Manalo took his oath on Friday at the presidential palace in Manila but will need a few days “to wind up affairs in his previous post,” press secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said in a text message to reporters. 

His appointment is seen as reflecting Marcos’ choice to have an official who “truly understands the external challenges and opportunities” faced by the Philippines, Victor Andres Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, a research consultancy firm in Manila, told Arab News.

“A senior career foreign service officer brings that to the office,” he said.

“I hope Secretary Manalo focuses on broadening our engagements and partnerships with countries that believe in a multipolar world and a rules-based international order.”

Manalo, whose career in foreign service began in 1979, had also served as acting secretary of the DFA for two months in 2017 as well as Philippine ambassador to the UK and Belgium.

His appointment and that of other officials in Marcos’ cabinet would have to be approved by the appointments commission of the Philippine House of Representatives. 


Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
Updated 01 July 2022

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island

Ukraine army accuses Russia of firing phosphorus bombs on Snake Island
  • Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island
  • The Russian defence ministry on Thursday described the retreat as "a gesture of goodwill"

KYIV: Ukraine’s army accused Russia of carrying out strikes using incendiary phosphorus munitions on Snake Island Friday, just a day after Moscow withdrew its forces from the rocky outcrop in the Black Sea.
“Today at around 18:00... Russian air force SU-30 planes twice conducted strikes with phosphorus bombs on Zmiinyi island,” it said in a statement, using another name for Snake Island.
The Russian defense ministry on Thursday described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian army on Friday accused the Russians of being unable to “respect even their own declarations.”
Its statement was accompanied by a video that showed a plane drop munitions at least twice on the island, and what appeared to be white streaks rising above it.
Phosphorus weapons, which leave a signature white trail in the sky, are incendiary weapons whose use against civilians is banned under an international convention but allowed for military targets.
Ukraine has accused Russia of using them several times since it invaded its neighbor in late February, including on civilian areas, allegations Moscow has denied.
Ukraine claimed the Russians were forced to retreat from the island after coming under a barrage of artillery and missile fire.
Snake Island became famous after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers respond using bad words to a Russian warship that called on them to surrender.