“The Year Earth Changed” – “As we stop, remarkable things happen in the natural world.” – David Attenborough
COVID-19 has taken 3 million lives and disrupted almost 8 billion, and many of us have sheltered in place over the past year-plus. It’s been a brutal time for the human race, and – countless times – I’ve said to myself and out loud, “Good riddance, 2020.”
I assume that I’m not alone.
With so much death and disruption, it’s challenging to find pandemic positives within our emotional spaces, especially when a typical week’s highlight is a single, solitary trip to the supermarket; if one can afford groceries, that is.
Thankfully, director Tom Beard and narrator David Attenborough offer a reprieve from our doldrums, an encouraging silver lining peeking out from the mental and physical-health storms. Their inspiring documentary “The Year Earth Changed” might have a slender 48-minute runtime, but its vast, soaring message will sit with you long after the end credits.
The film’s premise is our reality: human beings – by and large – have stopped commuting to work, flying to getaway destinations, and hopping in cars and trains to visit close friends and grandkids, but Mother Nature has responded in promising ways. Beard and his team crisscrossed the globe, interviewed scientists, and found hopeful stories on land, sea, and air where our environment and the animal kingdom have made slight comebacks. Without crowded roadways and skies, air pollution dissipates. Dramatically less ship traffic offers quieter oceans for whales and dolphins. Sparser beaches and land-locked acreage allow our four-legged friends to roam and socialize.
For environmentally-conscious individuals – including this critic – who shed tears at the news of dwindling elephant populations, polluted oceans, and increased carbon emissions, this little documentary with bold outcomes will brighten your day…and year. For example, 2020 saw the atmosphere’s greatest drop in carbon dioxide in modern, industrial history. Sure, it makes logical sense, but it’s awfully reassuring when Attenborough states it.
This 94-years-young, well-traveled Brit earned a colossal, lengthy resume of writing, producing, narrating, and directing television programs and films about our planet. He’s our guide to six continents, and Beard’s cameras capture individual, diverse slices of tree-hugging joy. After experiencing “The Year Earth Changed”, I would love to share many specifics, but it’s better to absorb them while watching the doc. Let’s just say that animal and marine mamas and their babies are connecting more easily and growing closer with fewer people roaming around, and that’s one example of the planet’s upbeat springs in its step.
Still, this current interlude of nature’s progress doesn’t translate to a complete ecological turnaround. It doesn’t, and not by a long shot. Beard’s film calls out small strides, but they could be short-lived. Once I, you, and everyone else we know return to our traveling, consuming selves, Earth’s ecosystem will fall back into desperate territory. On the other hand, “The Year Earth Changed” may help inspire us to transform our daily routines for years, decades, and centuries to come. Maybe. One can hope because as downright cruel as last year was, it also sent a motivating wake-up call. On a personal note, I’d love to work from home for the rest of my days.
(“The Year Earth Changed” is streaming on Apple TV+)
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image and Trailer Credits: AppleTV+