Now the climate change deniers are attacking David Attenborough

  • Published on April 17th, 2019

There’s a new Netflix series featuring the voice of nature documentaries himself, David Attenborough. Called Our Planet, the series has been getting a lot of attention lately, for one scene in particular: walruses falling off a cliff.

walrus scene from One Planet by David Attenborough

By Climate Denier Roundup

In the Russian Arctic, as sea ice melts and walrus colonies have fewer and fewer options for places to rest, hundreds of walruses were forced to spread out on a large hill as the documentary’s crew rolled tape. At the top of the hill, like in so many melodramatic romance novels, was a cliff. And again, like in so many paperbacks, the end was tragic: dozens of the gathered walruses tumbled down the cliff to their death as the filmmakers watched in horror.

Because the clip generated conversation about climate change (if there were more ice to chill on then the walruses wouldn’t have been forced up the hill) it, of course, also generated conversation from climate denial.

Susan Crockford, known primarily for her polar bear denial blog, posted last weekabout how polar bears were really to blame for the walrus behavior, not climate change. Smelling controversy clicks, the Telegraph picked up on Crockford’s baseless accusations, kicking the story into the mainstream. Other questionable claims about the footage followed in the usual outlets as deniers played detective to try and debunk the documentary footage and message that climate change poses serious risks to wildlife.

Unsurprisingly, the reality of the situation, as captured on camera, proves to be more reliable than denier’s conspiracy theories.

Some deniers, like Crockford, blame polar bears for the falls, claiming that the walruses must have been fleeing potential predators. But as one of the producers told the Telegraph (in a quote that’s been freed from the paywall in Bob Ward’s debunking of this nonsense), “We would watch them for hours teetering back and forth on the edge before finally, falling off.”

Somehow it’s hard to believe that a creature would wait hours on the brink if a predator was close at hand. And it’s not like a polar bear would’ve gone unnoticed by the crew, as they had two members posted on bear lookout for safety.

One of the other, more malignant theories is that the presence of the camera crews and filming drones must have been what spooked the beasts. But as Ed Yong writes in the Atlantic, the crew was “filming from afar so their scents and sounds wouldn’t spook the skittish animals.”

So on the one hand, we have a team of deniers making baseless, speculative claims in a transparent attempt to confuse the public and make them believe what they can watch with their own two eyes is a lie.

On the other hand, we have professional film crews acting responsibly to capture a tragic moment. A moment that can be seen as an apt metaphor for our own response to a warming world: try and avoid it as long as possible, spreading out and up, until, eventually, there’s nowhere left to go but down.

Whether we slowly make our way back down the hill to safety or instead fall prey to our own poor foresight and find ourselves falling down a cliff, then, depends on if we heed the warning of the walrus, or instead bask blindly in the feel-good lies of deniers.

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