Conserving the conservation conversation: should Sir David pass the torch?

Jon Deery explores why David Attenborough's social media platform is important, and who should now take the mic

Jon Deery
16th November 2020
April 11, 2019 - WASHINGTON DC - 2019 World Bank/ IMF Spring Meetings. From Source to Sea: Innovative Ways to Tackle Marine Pollution. Sir David Attenborough, Broadcaster, writer, and naturalist; Kristalina Georgieva Chief Executive Officer of the World Bank; David Katz Founder and CEO of The Plastic Bank; Roberta Barbieri Vice President for Global Sustainability, PepsiCo; Peter Thomson UN Special Envoy for the Ocean; Dag-Inge Ulstein Minister of International Development, Norway; Laura Tuck Vice President, Sustainable Development, World Bank; Sophie Hollingsworth Environment and Oceans Lead, Global Citizen; Surasak Karnjanarat Minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Thailand; Thomas Kimber Founder, Karün. Photo: World Bank / Simone D. McCourtie

Throughout his long career, Sir David Attenborough has always been incredibly quick to embrace new technology. He was there at the BBC when they switched from film to digital, he’s filmed series in black-and-white and full colour, HD and 4K, and is the only presenter to have won awards in all the above formats. There’s even a hologram of him at the Natural History Museum’s VR experience. Given all of that, why has his account on Instagram been gaining criticism?

His account broke world records when it was first launched, drawing over a million followers in under five hours. Right from the start, it was established that Sir David himself was not running the account - that was for his promotional team to handle - but the short clips and interviews he posted were more than enough to keep his followers interested. Each had a short message related to his latest film ‘David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet’, which the account was set up to promote.

“And that’s it.” Attenborough declared six days ago: “I’ve passed on the things I wanted to share.”

Many followers of the account were disappointed that Attenborough had not used his immense new platform to continue spreading vital messages

Many followers of the account were disappointed that Attenborough had not used his immense new platform to continue spreading vital messages to his 6.1 million followers. Others complained that Attenborough should have taken the opportunity to ‘pass the mic’ to other conservation activists, since he was in such a powerful position.

User @elieoutside wrote in the comments to Attenborough’s final post: ‘With the massive audience this account has amassed, this is the perfect opportunity to drive real change, by passing the mic to BIPOC and marginalised environmentalists who are already doing the work.’

@dora_botta_ wrote ‘I am sorry but this stinks. Like after all the promo for the new Netflix film and accumulating millions of followers the account just stops posting? Like we can walk away from this mess like that?’

All of these arguments, however, simply echo what Attenborough had already said in his final message: ‘There are others on social media who can pick up the threads from here… this is not my story, it’s ours, the story of everyone alive now. And the final chapter is ours to write.’

The account then encouraged followers to use the hashtag #TheFutureIsUpToUs, and promote their favourite conservationist Instagram accounts. David Attenborough’s account created a story full of these conservationist voices, called ‘It’s up to us’, which is still available to check out.

Ultimately, the task of deciding who should have the mic passed to them, when there exists such a rich wealth of inspiring climate activism accounts, is close to impossible. Leaders like Greta Thunberg already have a huge following, so wouldn’t benefit as much from the extra attention, and smaller accounts are so plentiful that choosing a specific person from among the crowd would be a disservice to the rest of the activists.

There are many more gems to be found on that long ‘It’s up to us’ story, though, and many more beyond that to look out for

Of the accounts found in the story, @down2the_wire, @rewilding_argentina and @surfersagainstsewage are all inspiring conservation accounts, and @conservationoptimism is a personal favourite. There are many more gems to be found on that long ‘It’s up to us’ story, though, and many more beyond that to look out for.

Perhaps Attenborough should have more enthusiastically shown his support for specific activists, and maybe taken the responsibility of his massive platform more onto his own shoulders, rather than leaving it to his promotional team.

But he is currently 96 years old, and, having just released a film he called his ‘witness statement’, is looking to the next generation to take up the climate activism mantle themselves. This is, after all, our story.

Feature image: Flickr @WorldBankPhotoCollection

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