TV review: A Tale of Two Climates

May 27, 2021

Climate change according to the BBC, Ade Adepitan and Greta Thunberg

Posted by Andrew Johnson

As the coronavirus crisis – maybe, just maybe – begins to recede during an uncertain new Spring, the good old BBC has helpfully stepped up to give us all something else to worry about.

To be fair, the BBC has been excelling recently in covering the mounting global concerns about climate breakdown.  National treasure Sir David Attenborough, the pre-eminent natural historian and BBC lifer, has continued to produce his trademark seminal series that cover the dual climate and ecological crises that are engulfing nature around the planet.

And two recent BBC documentary mini-series have covered the growing climate emergency from two quite different angles.  Both have succeeded in beaming the climate crisis into locked-down UK living rooms, from various climate-ravaged places around the world.

By now, I’m assuming that if you’re still with me, you’re not one of the apathetics who, at the mere mention of ‘Climate Crisis’, stopped reading to go watch cat videos on YouTube?  So let’s dive in, shall we!

Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline

Now, unlike the famed icon-in-his-own-lifetime Sir David, I’d not come across Ade Adepitan before.  Ade (pronounced ‘Addy’) is a British TV presenter born in Nigeria, a former Paralympian wheelchair basketball player who now hosts travel documentaries and sports programmes for BBC TV.

Over a three-part series, Ade travels to different parts of the world to explore how people and nature are being affected.  He shows that climate breakdown has already started – it’s not something that will happen in decades to come, it’s happening right here on Planet Earth, right now.

The series contains some memorable, heart-breaking and chilling scenes:

  • An island in the Solomons in the Pacific Ocean that just ten years ago was paradise on Earth, but which now is inundated owing to rising sea levels – the before-and-after photography makes for a poignant glimpse into the near future for low-lying islands and coastal areas right across the globe
  • Baby sea turtles existentially threatened by being born 99% female, because of the warming of the sand in which their eggs are laid
  • Bushfires turning large, populated areas of Australia into a burning hellscape, shrouding a large city in smoke, with bats falling out of trees and dying because of the extreme heat.

Ade brings these apocalyptic scenes to us alongside a message of hope, as he scours the globe for potential solutions to stop the devastation.  Scientific detail is not Ade’s strong suit, but he does clearly demonstrate the interconnectedness of the climate crisis.

A point made successfully by this series is that the people being severely impacted by climate change today, are not usually the people who have contributed very much to its increasingly rapid and destructive march.  Hence the strong social aspects to climate change and global efforts to tackle it.

Ade addresses ‘the elephant in the room’ as he calls it, in episode one.  This is that, to make the series Ade must travel by plane, which creates fossil fuel emissions which are driving climate breakdown in the first place.  He is apologetic, but believes it is important to “see and meet the people being impacted by climate change every day”.

The series is quite hard-hitting, but it also does a solid job of balancing the harsh reality of the effects of the climate emergency, with the question many want answering – what can be done to avert climate catastrophe?

A former head of Greenpeace tells Ade that if we start to see this as an emergency on the scale of a world war, then we are in with a chance.  We have the necessary technology and capability for innovation and we have the necessary wealth.  The message is clear: what we need is action from those in power.

Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World

The Swedish teenage sensation Greta Thunberg will likely need no further introduction.  Ms Thunberg has graced our screens ever since she started her SKOLSTREJK FOR KLIMATET (it hardly needs translating) in 2018 when just 15 years old.

Since then Greta has become the face of youth climate activism.  She has the perhaps unwanted distinction of being so famous that people know her solely by her forename.

She has appeared at climate conferences and addressed movers-and-shakers around the globe.  She has spoken at the United Nations assembly, the US Congress, the European and UK parliaments and other get togethers of the powerful, the rich and the famous.  Greta was TIME magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ in 2019.

But Greta doesn’t want you to listen to her, not any more.  In the three-part BBC docu-series Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World, she says “People listen when I talk, but I don’t want that.  I want you to listen to the science.”

Greta’s crusade to get governments and business organisations across the planet to take climate change seriously, is obviously not done for personal adulation or fame.  Indeed, the series revealed moments where Greta was thoroughly disliking the limelight.

The series follows Greta and her father, Svante, as they travel through North America to attend a climate conference in Chile in South America.  To understand the impact of climate change, like Addy, Greta visits different locations in each episode to reveal how the planet is changing.

But there’s no ‘elephant in the room’ here, since Greta refuses to fly, insisting on carbon-neutral modes of transport.  So she is reliant on sometimes stomach-churning trips on sail boats across the Atlantic Ocean.  Now that’s dedication to the climate cause!

The series presents ‘the science’ in a way that is very easy to understand, with facts and figures illustrated by imagery and actual scenes of climate impacts.

We see Greta visit a glacier that is melting even faster than climate models predict, discovering that part of the reason is down to soot from forest fires falling on it.  A case of one climate domino knocking over another?

In one episode in California, she witnesses the destruction that forest fires create, like Ade did in Australia.  It shows how fires destroyed the ironically named Paradise, a town at the centre of a deadly inferno in 2018.  Dozens of people died.  The harrowing scenes shown really are of the ‘end of the world’ variety.  Greta’s emotions were surprisingly rational here: “People die and people suffer, but completely fail to connect the dots.”

Perhaps the most moving scenes came when we heard from Svante, the anxious father who is accompanying his clearly vulnerable, autistic teenage daughter while she takes on the governments of the world.  “If she’d been a footballer or a ballet dancer, I’d have supported her,” he said. “But if this is what she wants to do, so be it.”

Greta’s demands for change – “the only thing that creates hope is action” – are growing louder as they are amplified by millions of alarmed people around the world.  Whether father or daughter welcome it or not, it seems the world still wants to listen to Greta Thunberg.

All episodes of both series are streaming on BBC iPlayer now:

Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline | iPlayer

Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World | iPlayer

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