David Attenborough's online quest to save the environment

Molly Taylor analyses David Attenborough's move to social media, and its impact on the environmentalist movement

Molly Taylor
26th October 2020

On the 24th of September, the world was treated to a lovely surprise…Sir David Attenborough’s first Instagram post. The account took only four hours and forty-four minutes to reach one million followers, breaking the previous world record by thirty-two minutes.

The 94-year-old states in his first video that he is exploring a new method of communication in order to raise awareness about the world’s climate crisis and “explain what the problems are and how we can deal with them”.

Social media in recent years has received criticism for encouraging bad mental health, self-esteem and even sleeping habits. However, events like this remind us of how and why social media can be used in beneficial ways.

What is so clever about Attenborough’s gravitation towards this modern medium is that social media is almost second nature to many of us, and therefore by conveying the message through an authority figure that we trust, and a medium we find accessible, it makes the climate crisis easier to absorb and listen to.

Attenborough could have certainly remained within the realm of television and radio, however by breaking away from these traditional methods, his social media presence can be read as an adaptation towards a fast paced and ever-changing world, a world he knows he will no longer be a part of in years to come.

This act of modernising the message in order to adjust and appeal to the younger generation is one which is both necessary and smart; by adapting and engaging with the people who will inevitably have to deal with the consequences of the climate crisis, Attenborough shows an awareness that salvation, inevitably, lies with young people.

We have seen other examples of the benefits of social media within the climate crisis in recent years, a prime example being Greta Thunberg’s rise in popularity due to social media and the press. The genesis of Thunberg’s activism career starts in 2018, when she sat on the steps of Swedish Parliament every Friday in protest of the climate crisis. Since then, she has attended numerous conferences including the UN Climate-Change Conference in Poland and the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. Her fame and popularity, for the most part, is down to social media and the press, whose coverage of Thunberg allowed her to gain traction in her cause and spark an interest in the climate crisis amongst young people all over the world.

 Since his first post on Instagram, Attenborough has posted more videos and photos in order to educate people all over the world about topics such as climate change, diversity and habitat loss as well as global warming.

We can see in the past that social media has educated many people and highlighted the detrimental effects that environmental degradation is having on our planet, and why we should care about it. By both recognising and harnessing the power of social media, Attenborough has sparked an interest and instigated concern amongst many people regarding the longevity of our planet, whose landscapes are disappearing, oceans are dying, and climates are fluctuating. Yet it is not all doom and gloom.

Figures like Greta Thunberg have shown that no one is too small to make a difference, and by recognising that, we can hopefully make meaningful change in years to come.

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