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.”


Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut

Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut
Updated 8 sec ago

Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut

Bangladesh investigates crippling 10-hour nationwide power cut

DHAKA: Bangladeshi officials were investigating on Wednesday why power was cut to about three quarters of the country, halting the vital garment sector and telecommunications services for about 10 hours.

Electricity was fully restored just before midnight on Tuesday, government officials said.

“We suspect a transmission line experienced a technical glitch that led to a cascade of failures throughout the national power grid,” Mohammad Hossain, the top official at the government’s power cell division, told Reuters.

The grid malfunctioned at around 2 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Tuesday, leading to blackouts across up to 80 percent of the country.

Telecoms services and work in the lucrative export-oriented garment industry, which supplies to clients such as Gap Inc., H&M, and Zara, ground to a halt.

Grid failures generally happen when there is a big mismatch between demand and supply, sometimes due to unexpected or sudden changes in power use patterns.

Power division secretary Habibur Rahman said officials were investigating the possibility that the failure originated in a substation near Ghorashal, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the capital, Dhaka.

“Our investigation team is in Ghorashal now. Once we get the report from them, we’ll know what caused it,” Rahman said.

Bangladesh’s recent impressive economic growth has been threatened by power shortages since the government suspended operations of all diesel-run power plants to reduce costs for imports as prices have soared.

The diesel-run power plants produced about 6 percent of Bangladesh’s power generation, so their shutdowns cut output by up to 1500 megawatts.

Earlier this month, Faruque Hassan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said that the situation is so serious that garment factories are without power now for around four to 10 hours a day. Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest garment exporter after China, and it earns more than 80 percent of its total foreign currency from exports of garment products each year.

Last month, the Asian Development Bank said in a report that Bangladesh’s economic growth would slow to 6.6 percent from its previous forecast of 7.1 percent in the current fiscal year.

Weaker consumer spending due to sluggish export demand, domestic manufacturing constraints and other factors are behind the slowdown, it said.


Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’
Updated 8 min 8 sec ago

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

Nobel Prize for three chemists who made molecules ‘click’

STOCKHOLM: Three scientists were jointly awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for developing a way of “snapping molecules together” that can be used to design better medicines, including ones that target diseases such as cancer more precisely.

Americans Carolyn R. Bertozzi and K. Barry Sharpless, and Danish scientist Morten Meldal were cited for their work on click chemistry and bioorthogonal reactions, which are used to make cancer drugs, map DNA and create materials that are tailored to a specific purpose.

“It’s all about snapping molecules together,” said Johan Aqvist, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that announced the winners at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Sharpless, 81, who previously won a Nobel Prize in 2001 and is now the fifth person to receive the award twice, first proposed the idea of connecting molecules using chemical “buckles” around the turn of the millennium, Aqvist said.

“The problem was to find good chemical buckles,” he said. “They have to react with each other easily and specifically.”

Meldal, 68, based at the University of Copenhagen, and Sharpless, who is affiliated with Scripps Research in California, independently found the first such candidates that would easily snap together with each other but not with other molecules, leading to applications in the manufacture of medicines and polymers.

Bertozzi, 55, who is based at Stanford University, “took click chemistry to a new level,” the Nobel panel said.

She found a way to make the process work inside living organisms without disrupting them, establishing a new method known as bioorthogonal reactions. Such reactions are now used to explore cells, track biological processes and design drugs that can target diseases such as cancer more precisely.


Putin makes Chechnya’s Kadyrov an army general

Putin makes Chechnya’s Kadyrov an army general
Updated 05 October 2022

Putin makes Chechnya’s Kadyrov an army general

Putin makes Chechnya’s Kadyrov an army general
  • Kadyrov said Putin had "personally" informed him of the decision
  • "The President of Russia awarded me the rank of colonel general," Kadyrov said on Telegram

MOSCOW: Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday he was granted a top rank in Russia’s army, just as Moscow’s forces suffer a series of defeats in Ukraine.
The 46-year-old Chechen leader — one of the most outspoken voices in Russia backing Putin’s Ukraine offensive — said it was a “huge honor” for him.
Kadyrov, a former warlord who rules Chechnya with widespread violations of human rights, said Putin had “personally” informed him of the decision.
“The President of Russia awarded me the rank of colonel general,” Kadyrov said on Telegram. “This is a promotion for me.”
The rank of colonel general is the third highest command rank in the Russian military hierarchy.
Kadyrov’s appointment to the rank came as the Ukrainian army pushed back Moscow’s forces in areas that the Kremlin proclaimed to be “Russian forever.”
The Chechen leader said he would do “everything to end the special military operation quickly” — using the Kremlin’s term for its Ukraine campaign.
Chechen units — including Kadyrov’s own militia with a sinister reputation, the “Kadyrovtsi” — are fighting alongside regular Russian forces in Ukraine.
Kadyrov has thrown his full backing behind Putin’s campaign, regularly calling for the most drastic tactics to be used in Ukraine.
This week he called on Moscow to use low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine after Russian troops were forced to retreat from the town of Lyman.
He then said he was sending three of his teenage sons — aged 14,15 and 16 — to the front.


Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach
Updated 05 October 2022

Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach
  • The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia
  • Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday said his nation may need to turn to Russia to fulfil its fuel needs amid rising global energy prices, bucking pressure from Western allies for countries to shun Moscow.
Speaking to the Manila Overseas Press Club, Marcos, who is also agriculture minister, said the Philippines may also deal with Russia for supply of fertilizer.
“We take we take a very balanced view because the truth of the matter is, we may have to deal with Russia for fuel, for fertilizer,” said Marcos.
The Philippines like many countries is grappling with soaring inflation, due to supply woes fanned by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the ousted late strongman who ruled the Philippines for two decades, also said he wanted his country to play a key role in promoting regional peace, amid challenges posed by North Korea and China-Taiwan tensions.
“We hope to be part of leading, the ones that are leading the effort for peace,” he said.
He said he would propose a new approach to the crisis in Myanmar at an upcoming meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November, which could involved engaging the military government directly.
Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits over its failure to implement a five-point peace plan it agreed with ASEAN in April last year, after violent turmoil erupted in the country following a military coup.
The generals have been outraged by ASEAN’s unusually tough stand and have said they intend to comply with its plan, but will not agree to its call to hold dialogue with a pro-democracy resistance movement they call “terrorists.” “It’s time to put together, to put forward some concrete proposals on what we can do to at the very least to bring at least representatives of the military government to the table so we can begin to talk about these things,” Marcos said.
On Wednesday, Cambodia, the current ASEAN chair, confirmed that a request had been sent to the State Administrative Council, as the junta is known, that it nominate a non-political figure to represent Myanmar at the upcoming leaders’ summits. “Again, the SAC has refused to send anyone to the summits,” Cambodia Foreign spokesperson Chum Sounry said.


Bombing of mosque at Afghan interior ministry kills four

Bombing of mosque at Afghan interior ministry kills four
Updated 05 October 2022

Bombing of mosque at Afghan interior ministry kills four

Bombing of mosque at Afghan interior ministry kills four
  • An explosion occurred at a mosque of the ministry when worshippers were offering mid-day prayers
  • “Four worshippers were martyred and 25 others were injured,” Interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafy Takor said

KABUL: A bombing in a mosque on the grounds of Afghanistan’s interior ministry in Kabul killed four people and wounded 25 others on Wednesday, an official said, with injured patients claiming it was a suicide attack.
Since the Taliban returned to power last August they have made security a priority but attacks have ramped up in recent months, with officials trying to downplay them.
Interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafy Takor said an explosion occurred at a mosque of the ministry when worshippers were offering mid-day prayers.
“Four worshippers were martyred and 25 others were injured,” he said in a statement to reporters, adding that an investigation was being conducted.
Takor had earlier said the explosion had occurred at a mosque located “at a distance from the interior ministry.”
Italian non-governmental organization Emergency, which operates a hospital in Kabul, said it had received 20 male patients, two “dead on arrival,” following “a bomb attack in a mosque at the interior ministry.”
“The number of injured people arriving increased and they reported seeing a man detonate a device,” said Emergency country director Dejan Panic.
“It was a suicide attack,” he added in a statement, quoting patients.
Takor denied it was a suicide attack but did not give any other details of the blast.
On Wednesday afternoon the Emergency hospital was closely guarded by Taliban forces, who were also heavily deployed around the scene of the attack.
The latest blast comes after a suicide bombing on Friday killed 53 people in a Kabul classroom, including 46 girls and women, according to a UN toll.
Witnesses said the attacker blew himself up in the women’s section of a gender-segregated classroom at a study hall in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood — an enclave of the historically oppressed Shiite Hazara community.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for that attack, which Taliban authorities said claimed 25 lives.
However, the jihadist group Daesh, which considers Shiites heretics, has carried out several deadly attacks in the same area targeting girls, schools and mosques.
The Taliban were also accused of plotting attacks on the Hazara community as they waged a two-decade insurgency against the old US-led regime which collapsed last August.
The hard-line Islamists’ return to power in Afghanistan last year brought an end to that insurgency and a dramatic decline in violence.
The Taliban movement — made up primarily of ethnic Pashtuns — has pledged to protect minorities and clamp down on security threats.