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The Attenborough Challenge: A Life on Our Planet

Updated: Dec 29, 2020

by Maureen McAllister, E-RYT 200, RYT 500, YACEP

This challenge is something I've been gearing myself up to do for a long time, and by writing this blog over the course of the next year, I hope to keep myself accountable--and invite you to join me along the way. I pondered for a while about whether to offer prizes or a studio giveaway, but frankly, that's not what this is about. Studies show that when our motives are intrinsically-based, we are able to keep them sustained for longer and we feel better about ourselves than when they are extrinsically-motivated. Sustainable is the key concept here.


At 93 years old, Sir David Attenborough "has visited every continent on the globe, exploring the wild places of the planet and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder. During his lifetime, he has also seen first-hand the monumental scale of humanity's impact on nature." I recently sat down to watch his new Netflix documentary and life's "witness statement", A Life On Our Planet, and was re-inspired to once again make the shift towards a sustainable life. If you want to see a short summary of the documentary, you can read it here.


It is a truly beautiful, and heart-breaking film--hard to watch at times, though worth following through to the end. Unfortunately, this planetary trajectory we are on, left unchanged, will be our legacy; how we leave the world for the children and grandchildren who have just begun to arrive and how they will remember us. So I am inviting you to join me for a year's exploration of the hard, unglamorous lifestyle changes that are needed, and that can also be fun, rewarding, and joyous in their own right. As a yoga community, we can experiment with those lifestyle changes (which are already encouraged in yoga!) and lean on each other for support and discussion--and of course, anyone not native to the studio is welcome to join, as well!


Over the course of the last 10 years, I have been trying to live a more eco-friendly and minimalist life. The results have been varied, and in some years I do much better than others, (such is life). I believe this is the foremost problem humans and animals face together right now--rapidly-evolving climate change that will seal the coffin on the 6th great mass extinction which is already well underway. All the other day-to-day problems and well-meaning philanthropies that we worry about won't matter in about 100 years. So short a time! And unfortunately for the animals, we are the stewards of their fate, as well.


The first part of this challenge, (which I'm calling The Attenborough Challenge,) will mostly be an introduction to what I thought were some eye-opening facts from the documentary, and both a literal and figurative inventory and house-cleaning for the New Year! I will focus on two of the five Yamas, which are social ethics from the first limb of Pantanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga--your guide on how to live yoga as a lifestyle. Specifically Brahmacharya (moderation or "right use of energy") and Aparigraha (generosity or non-attachment). It also calls for us to explore how we are made up of and impact the world, instead of viewing ourselves as distant from nature or these problems.

Sobering Statistics from A Life on Our Planet (the following stats and timeline are documentary quotes from David Attenborough):


  • We have overfished 30% of fish stocks to critical levels. By damming, polluting, and over-extracting rivers and lakes, we've reduced the size of freshwater populations by over 80%.

  • We cut down over 15 billion trees each year, and only 50% of the total rainforest remains.

  • We're replacing the wild with the tame. Half of the fertile land on earth is now farmland. 70% of the mass of birds on this planet are domestic birds. The vast majority, chickens.

  • We account for over 1/3 of the weight of mammals on earth. A further 60% are the animals we raise to eat. The rest from mice to whales, make up just 4%.

  • Since he started filming in the 1950s, on average, wild animal populations have more than halved.

  • The Arctic, one of the coldest and remote places on Earth, has experienced a summer sea ice reduction of 40% in 40 years, resulting in less and less reflection of sun rays and more heat to be absorbed by the ocean.


Science predicts that were I born today, I would be witness to the following:


The 2030s.

The Amazon Rainforest, cut down until it can no longer produce enough moisture, degrades into a dry savannah bringing catastrophic species loss and altering the global water cycle. At the same time, the Arctic becomes ice-free in the summer. Without the White Ice Cap, less of the sun's energy is reflected back out into space, and the speed of global warming increases.


The 2040s.

Throughout the north, frozen soils thaw, releasing methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide accelerating the rate of climate change dramatically.


The 2050s.

As the ocean continues to heat and becomes more acidic, coral reefs around the world die. Fish populations crash.


The 2080s.

Global food production enters a crisis as soils become exhausted by overuse. Pollinating insects disappear. And the weather is more and more unpredictable.


The 2100s.

Our planet becomes four degrees Celsius warmer. Large parts of the earth are uninhabitable. Millions of people rendered homeless. A sixth mass extinction event is well underway. This is a series of one-way doors... bringing irreversible change. Within the span of the next lifetime, the security and stability of the Holocene era, our Garden of Eden, will be lost.

The first challenge. I realize that problems like these are so large they seem almost impossible to tackle. Not only that, they are so scary to think about our minds tend to balk and run in the opposite direction. This is why we are going to start by breaking parts of the solution presented down into pieces, month-by-month.


I've been meaning to clean out my closet for a year now, and one six-hour Netflix binge later, we arrived here (see left pic). So my first challenge for myself this year is to embrace recycling/donating, as well as, minimalism! I know we just came off a season of gift-giving, so perhaps this is the perfect time to start. I usually want less, after receiving more, so I will try to build the habit first in January, while it's easy!

This upcoming month I am challenging myself to:


1. Donate. Slowly de-clutter and clear out what I don't use anymore (one space around me each day). Instead of trashing or selling it, there are a lot of people suffering from this pandemic who could use donations right now (especially winter clothes). We are currently looking into donating to Clarksburg Closet and Interfaith Works Clothing Center, (recommendations of additional reputable charities welcome)!


2. Recycle. Sometimes when I'm out and there are no recycling bins near, it's easier to throw something into the trash. This month I am going to start the habit of carrying an extra bag in my car/purse or getting used to holding onto something until I come across one.


3. Embrace Minimalism. Markets and economies built primarily on perpetual growth can only last for so long until we as a globe run out of resources. Moving towards a more eco-friendly model I am going to do my best to not shop online or make a purchase unless I have a NEED. That may mean letting things sit in my online cart for a couple of weeks, while I think it over.


Three seems like a good place to start! I'd love to hear from you all as you get going! The Clarksburg Yoga and Wellness Community might be a good place to discuss or in the comments. If you would like to keep your observations or comments private, please feel free to email or message on social media!

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