‘From space, the view of our planet is breathtaking,” purrs Chiwetel Ejiofor, who narrates the wonderfully soporific new nature series Earth from Space (BBC One). It is a difficult time for the genre: all the pleasure to be found in viewing our natural splendour is being tainted, somewhat, by an imminent sense of doom and destruction. It’s hard to show beautiful animals without acknowledging that their habitats are at risk of disappearing entirely. Earth from Space does not evade the perils of climate change, and some of its quiet power comes from simply showing the damage being done.

It opens with a family of elephants in Kenya, with a calf in danger of starvation and a herd that has barely eaten because of an extreme dry season. These animals are heartbreakingly emaciated. But the rain comes and they make it through. The approach is more gentle than bombastic. Perhaps there is a hope that, in seeing animals in their glory, we might take more care of what we have.

Earth from Space promises a new perspective on nature documentaries by using, as its starting point, images taken from some of the thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth, which are now so capable of capturing minute detail that they can pick out individual animals from space. The tinfoil hat side of my brain began to look up at the sky with suspicion, before I realised that it is safe to assume that a herd of elephants frolicking in the rain holds more interest than the tea-drinking habits of a writer in perpetual pyjamas, but even so. From these unimaginably far away shots, we get closer, and zoom in, until we’re right there on the delta with warring hippos, or in the Himalayas with snub-nosed monkeys whose tiny faces are extraordinary, their smeared, plumped lips looking as if they belong more on the cover of a celebrity weekly than slurping the nectar of rhododendron flowers.

READ  Week in Review: Most popular stories on GeekWire for the week of March 17, 2019 - GeekWire

Ejiofor narrates us around the world with poetic flair, taking us from vignette to vignette with speed, and there is little time to linger. While some stories earn more time, we zip past seals on the coast of Namibia and an isolated, unexplored rainforest high on a clifftop in Mozambique; an underwater volcano is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interlude.

Truly remarkable ... Shaolin kung fu students captured from space.



Truly remarkable … Shaolin kung fu students captured from space. Photograph: BBC

There is ample aesthetic appeal in seeing Earth from above, which will not be news to anyone who has recently found themselves having to select a new screensaver. Sweeping shots of Lake Baikal in Siberia, frozen over for five months of the year, reveal shards of ice stacked like tiles, and there is a grim beauty to even its most perilous spots, as the huge dark rings of meltwater threaten the survival of baby seals.

There is far more here, however, than just a visual treat. Surveillance of this kind allows scientists to see places they might not have been able to access previously, and the resulting insights can be significant. The satellites pick up brown smears tainting the white ice of the Antarctic. The old adage that one should never eat yellow snow takes on a whole new meaning when its origins are revealed, and the diet of the emperor penguins that live there has a lot to answer for.

It is a rare moment of optimism: spotting these new colonies, essentially identified by the trails of faeces they leave in their wake, has more than doubled the known global population. Enjoy that moment while it lasts; it is followed by a shot of a vast iceberg four times the size of Greater London breaking off from the Arctic shelf.

Ejiofor explains that as well as spying on nature, satellites mean “we can also see our cities” (the tinfoil hat is vibrating again), and flashes of humans gathered en masse appear: in Mecca for hajj, Burning Man, even Glastonbury, though in my experience, it would be kinder all round not to zoom in on revellers too closely. In central China, though, the beauty is truly remarkable, and the programme-makers have saved the best until last. Thousands of students of Shaolin kung-fu, who train for six hours a day, six days a week, perform a routine in near-perfect unison.

Even from a regular point of view, this is an astonishing spectacle. But from above, from far away, it looks like a grand, magnificent flower unfurling. It seems inappropriate, in the light of the underlying message that people are ruining everything, to come to this point, but here we are, with human beings, stealing the show again.



READ SOURCE

WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here