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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.