Nature expert and veteran broadcaster David Attenborough's most recent documentary, 'Breaking Boundaries: The Science Of Our Planet' was released on Netflix this year. And while it has been criticized as another over-the-top, scary, and overtly theatrical climate change documentary, at its core, the messaging is simple – 'Be the Earth's Conscience.' But what does that mean, and how can I personally make a difference?
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I watched Breaking Boundaries on a clear, crisp day in September. The temperature was in the high sixties, so the windows in the den were open where I could hear the birds playing in the trees. Before sitting down for the film, I grabbed a handful of trail mix that I had just meticulously picked out from Whole Foods and a Smartwater—the big one, as I am trying to work on my hydration – and I found a comfortable spot in my favorite chair.
Before the film, these small preparations for my movie-watching comfort did not hit me as meaningful or impactful in any way. As the documentary came to an end, my thoughts wandered back. The windows open where the birds played, the decision to grab nuts as my snack of choice, and choosing to use a plastic water bottle — these unconscious actions, both good and bad, had made me wondering: what if my efforts became conscious? Could I somehow modify my previously unbeknownst ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors? And could these small actions make a difference?
Let’s take a closer look. Or as Attenborough might say, an “Earth’s Conscience” perspective.
Breaking Down my Impact
As I discovered from watching the film, all my seemingly inconsequential actions made an impact on our planet.
- The Trees outside my window are a critical element in promoting biodiversity and carbon offsets.
- My Trail Mix is made of nut-based plants that provide healthy protein and nutrients and directly affect land and water use.
- My Water Bottle is made of plastic, making it part of a linear economy that creates trash that cannot be upcycled or eliminated from our waste stream.
While fear must not paralyze us, this film showed some opportunities for us to make our changes to help the environment.
“Thinking and acting with one unified purpose — to ensure that our planet forever remains healthy and resilient.”
– David Attenborough
Thoughts about the Film
No matter where you stand on climate change, critics and proponents alike state that the documentary details some alarming statistics and fast-approaching global eventualities should we remain on our current trajectory.
The film is well-intentioned. It covers core global issues we currently face across nine defined boundaries. It highlights the importance of individual action and response.
But given its lean runtime, I thought it lacked depth about both the complex topics it sought to cover, and, more importantly, the potential solutions to these urgent global issues. I commend the film for calling to action the need for a broader societal shift toward sustainability.
Still, I would have liked if they better explored the closing themes of the film: planting, healthy-eating initiatives, and waste elimination.
While this was a miss for the film, it is an opportunity for Dirt to Dinner to share its thoughts, provide depth to these potential solutions, and bring these solutions to “your den,” if you will.
Three Conscious Decisions YOU can Make
The scientific evidence in the film shows that we face unacceptable risks to planetary health. However, it also states that we still have time to correct the situation! To cut greenhouse gases and protect our wetlands, soils, forests, and oceans, we can affect change at a household level through these three simple actions:
“We will live in a cleaner, healthier, and more peaceful world.”
1. Plant Trees
Planting trees is one of the most impactful and achievable solutions to reduce stress on our climate, Attenborough says.
It is vital to offset the carbon we will inevitably emit (at least to some level).
One tree doesn’t quite do it, but it will help. Over 40 years, one silver maple will sequester approximately 400 pounds of CO2, yet the average U.S. citizen emits 20 tons per year.
But carbon-capturing is not the only benefit of planting trees. It can also prevent soil erosion and help regenerate land, providing incredible benefits for global biodiversity.
I looked into how easy or hard this would be and found endless resources. Whether you want to plant one yourself in your backyard or community garden, or have a tree planted in your name, the resources both nationally and regionally are plenty!
I used one of our Dirt to Dinner partners, The Nature Conservancy, that has a program called A Billion Begins with One. It seemed fitting, given that I really wanted to know how my actions could make a more significant impact. I learned that my single donation does more than just put a seed in the ground; it provides habitats for future generations and helps turn the tide of deforestation.
Below are other notable organizations combatting deforestation:
And to read more about the benefits of trees, carbon sequestration, deforestation, and soil health, check out these D2D articles:
2. Diet Choices
The film emphasizes the benefits of the ‘flexitarian diet’ for the environment.
Similar to the Mediterranean diet, the flexitarian diet focuses on veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds, and lesser-processed plant-based proteins with the flexibility to incorporate meat and animal products.
Research shows that eating a balanced diet rich in plant-based and animal proteins while avoiding processed foods and limiting sugars can be environmentally beneficial.
As we know, some low-impact, sustainably-produced meat can help sequester carbon, reduce soil erosion, and add nutrients to the soil, which aids in a diverse soil microbiome that is critical for carbon capture.
In my household, we receive Daily Harvest deliveries; this is one of many options for meal delivery plans. What drew us to this specific service was their Harvest Bowls that we use as sides to our protein. The primary ingredients are vegetable-based and provide dense nutrient profiles that help deliver a good portion of my recommended daily value of dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals while calories remain low.
There are certainly other ways to make easy flexitarian diet choices. Simple decisions at the grocery store can be immensely impactful:
- Buy frozen fruits and veggies. These products contribute to 47% less food waste, as they last longer than their fresh counterparts while still maintaining a similar nutrient profile.
- Shop the perimeter of the store. Not only is this a way to eat healthier by avoiding processed foods typically found in the central isles, but there is typically less packaging, fewer additives, and less greenhouse gas impact.
- Go heavy on your veggies! As we know, we need 5-7 servings of vegetables per day, but did you know this is also a way to save a buck? Veggies are typically the least expensive items in the grocery store. Focus less on organic vs. conventional and more on freshness so you get the most bang for your buck.
- Buy LESS! Food waste is a huge problem. Come up with a meal plan before you hit the grocery store, and be sure to read the expiration dates. Here is a good resource on how to choose foods that last the longest!
- Read your labels! Don’t fall for labels that might be misleading and lead you to believe they are more sustainable than others—make educated decisions! Here is a list of labels that can serve as a guide.
- And don’t forget to bring your reusable bags to the store with you. Pack some in your trunk, so they are always on hand! But be sure to wash them as they can harbor unwanted bacteria.
Want some great ideas for flexitarian-type meals? Take a look at these delicious dishes:
3. Waste Reduction
The mass of global production runs on what is considered a linear economy, a system not designed to eliminate waste.
If we can turn linear systems into circular ones to recover raw materials, our use of resources can be what the film calls infinite.
These circular economies are critical to eliminating waste and can be achieved with the decisions we make at the grocery store.
Technologies such as blockchain provide supply chain transparency by informing us where our food comes from and the regenerative practices utilized to grow it.
Other technologies, such as an emerging field of smart-labeling, can show shoppers when our food expires, preventing edible foods from being thrown out! Companies like Mimica and SmartLabel are in the business of reducing food waste by providing environmentally-conscious information to make smarter decisions when throwing out food.
An elementary step we can make at home is reusing water bottles. It seems obvious, but the cumulative statistics are staggering.
Eighty percent of plastic water bottles end up in landfills already overflowing with more than 2 million discarded bottles in the U.S. To make matters worse, it can take up to 1,000 years for EACH bottle to decompose.
Want to learn more about how you can eliminate waste at home? Check out these articles on fast-food restaurants, buying your seafood, sustainable packaging efficiencies, as well as some myth-busting information on feeding our growing nation.
What Else Can We Do?
Our final recommendation would be to share this article with a friend. The more we empower our community with information that demonstrates how the smallest change at home can make a difference, the more of an impact we can cumulatively make.
The Bottom Line
No matter your thoughts on climate change or a popular planetary documentary, one thing is for sure: you can make a difference. We can make minor changes by way of decision-making at the grocery store, education about our food, and small efforts like planting a tree that can make a global impact.