Netflix Docudrama Based On Breaking Boundaries Book Debuts

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Last month, Penguin Books releasedBreaking Boundaries, The Science Of Our Planet” by climate scientists Johan Rockstrom and Owen Gaffney with a foreword by Greta Thunberg. In it, the authors identify nine planetary boundaries, from biodiversity to ozone, that have kept our Earth stable over the past 10,000 years. The authors warn that if one or more of those boundaries are breached, the cascading effects may cause changes to our planet that will render it unsuitable for human habitation.

Image credit: Penguin Books

In order to stop short of breaching those boundaries in this decade, we humans must create the fastest economic transition in history. But the authors are hopeful. They write about the factors at work they believe will prevent those breaches from occurring, including the activities of groups such as the schoolchildren led by Greta Thunberg, the nations that are committed to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, and the decline in cost of renewable energy to the point where it is less expensive than energy from burning fossil fuels.

In an email to CleanTechnica, Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the  Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, had this to say: “The book Breaking Boundaries is about the transformation of several areas of society, including energy, needed to maintain economic, social, and political stability on Earth. The book is an engaging and easy-to-read mesh of scientific history and insight about where we need to go from here. It is helpful for simplifying complex phenomena and bringing important problems to the forefront for public consumption. The more books like these, the better.”

For more on Professor Jacobson and his extraordinary ideas on how to slash carbon emissions while creating millions of employment opportunities, check out his plan to bring 100% renewable energy to 139 countries around the world.

Now On Netflix

The book is now the basis of a Netflix documentary featuring the commentary of David Attenborough. According to New Scientist, it “focuses squarely on the science of our planetary decline, setting out in unflinching detail the extent of Earth’s degradation — and the catastrophic consequences of anything but drastic action.”

Johan Rockström is the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In 2009, he identified nine natural processes upon which all life on Earth depends and the limits within each that cannot be exceeded without endangering humanity.

This framework of “planetary boundaries” provides the structure of the film. With support from Attenborough’s voiceover and a global assembly of experts, Rockström details the impact of anthropogenic change on the nine processes and where we stand in relation to the “irreversible tipping point” for each. In the case of at least four – climate change, biodiversity, land-system change, and nitrogen and phosphorus imbalance – we are already operating in the high-risk zone, Rockström suggests.

Breaking Boundaries is a necessary bridge between scientific and mainstream understanding of an issue too often framed in terms of plastic straws, New Scientist says.

“It is more ambitious in its desire to educate than the average nature documentary, not only setting out the scope of the crisis but drilling into the details. The 75-minute run time is densely packed, fast-paced and — for those moved by facts as much as footage of struggling wildlife — undeniably dismal. By the time talk turns to solutions, the viewer will be left reeling at the scale of the challenge but convinced of the necessity to act. The overall and lasting impression is one of urgency.”

Disastrous trajectories have been reversed before, Rockström says. Panic over the disappearing ozone layer in the 1980s spurred concerted political action that led to its recovery. “It was indeed fantastic to witness: scientists raised the alarm and the world acted,” says Attenborough. In the words of New Scientist, “This film sounds the alarm like never before. The question is, will we hear it?”

Panned By The New York Times

Not everyone is impressed by the Netflix show. Writing in the New York Times, Calum Marsh says, “It’s hard to concentrate on land composition and vanishing biodiversity amid the barrage of bizarre visual effects and histrionic music. To accentuate the seriousness of the situation, these experts lean hard on metaphors — we hear a lot about falling dominoes, tipping points, danger zones, runaway trains, open windows, the sides of coins and, most whimsically, “planetary friends and planetary foes.”

“The movie visualizes these metaphors tritely, for instance by cutting to a moody shot of a window being shut, and relies extensively on an elaborate C.G.I. visual of featureless humans walking on color-coded pathways, which looks like a commercial for pain-relief medication and to which the film returns constantly, to laughable effect. “Breaking Boundaries” may have interesting — even critical –0 information to convey about the future of our species and the fate of the planet. But the form is so insane that the message is nearly lost in the muddle.”

Ouch! That hurts. If you don’t care for the 72-minute movie,  you can always read the book. That’s what people used to do in the days before the internet and social media robbed us of our capacity for critical thinking.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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