Free: Watch Our Planet, a Groundbreaking Nature Documentary Series Narrated by David Attenborough

The nature doc­u­men­tary series Our Plan­et opens with a star­tling­ly stark obser­va­tion cour­tesy of broad­cast­er, biol­o­gist, nat­ur­al his­to­ri­an, and author Sir David Atten­bor­ough:

Just 50 years ago, we final­ly ven­tured to the moon…

Since then, the human pop­u­la­tion has more than dou­bled…

(and) In the last 50 years, wildlife pop­u­la­tions have, on aver­age, declined by 60 per­cent.

The twelve-episode series, nar­rat­ed by Atten­bor­ough, is the result of a four-year col­lab­o­ra­tion between Net­flix, Sil­ver­back Films and the World Wildlife Fund. The cre­ators aren’t shy that it’s a race to beat the clock:

For the first time in human his­to­ry, the sta­bil­i­ty of nature can no longer be tak­en for grant­ed.

Rather than take view­ers on a doom scroll of glob­al pro­por­tions, they cul­ti­vate their con­ser­va­tion­ist impuls­es with gor­geous, nev­er-before-filmed views of ice caps, deep ocean, deserts and dis­tant forests.

The high def footage of the mul­ti­tudi­nous crea­tures inhab­it­ing these realms is even more of a hook.

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Whether the frame is filled by a Philip­pine eagle chick, a herd of migrat­ing ele­phants, a hunt­ing Ben­gal tiger or a male orchid bee per­fum­ing him­self to bet­ter his chances of attract­ing a mate, Our Plan­et’s non-human stars are con­sis­tent­ly cap­ti­vat­ing.

Some of the footage speaks direct­ly to the hard­ships these crea­tures are expe­ri­enc­ing as the result of cli­mate change, dwin­dling habi­tats, and oth­er hav­oc wreaked by our species.

Field pro­duc­er Ed Charles said Atten­bor­ough remarked that the plight of a starv­ing polar bear and her cubs pad­dling around the Arc­tic Ocean in search of food was “a real heart­break­er, and that it would cap­ture peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions:”

This moth­er and her cubs should have been hunt­ing on the ice, even bro­ken ice. That’s where they’re supreme­ly adapt­ed to be, but we found them in water that was open for as far as the eye could see. That’s the real­i­ty of the world they live in today. Nature can be bru­tal. But to see this fam­i­ly with the cub, strug­gling due to no fault of their own, it makes it very hard.

Giv­en how many non-human crea­tures’ fates hinge on human action, and the film­mak­ers’ goal of help­ing us “tru­ly under­stand why nature mat­ters to us all, and what we can do to save it, (so) we can cre­ate a future where nature and peo­ple thrive”, it’s awful­ly sport­ing of Net­flix to bring the series out from behind its sub­scrip­tion pay­wall.

The first sea­son can cur­rent­ly be enjoyed for free on YouTube here.

The film­mak­ers also pro­vide a num­ber of free edu­ca­tion­al resources for schools and younger view­ers.

Not that we adults should sit back and wait for the younger gen­er­a­tion to bail us out of this seem­ing­ly insol­u­ble mess.

Our Plan­et’s web­site shares ways in which all of us can take an active role in sav­ing and restor­ing pre­cious parts of the plan­et our species has near­ly destroyed.

Again, it’s bet­ter than doom scrolling.

Con­sid­er our remain­ing jun­gles and rain­forests, “a nat­ur­al ally in the fight against cli­mate change” due to the incred­i­ble diver­si­ty of life they har­bor.

They help reg­u­late glob­al weath­er, cool the plan­et by reflect­ing the sun’s heat, gen­er­ate and send out vast amounts of water, and remove car­bon from the atmos­phere.

Atten­bor­ough points out that humans have cleared jun­gle and for­est suf­fi­cient to meet­ing all future human demand for food and tim­ber. The trick will be learn­ing how to use this pre­vi­ous­ly cleared land more effi­cient­ly while prac­tic­ing envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

Indi­vid­u­als can start by edu­cat­ing them­selves and hold them­selves to a high stan­dard, refus­ing to buy any item whose pro­duc­tion is tied to defor­esta­tion.

Gov­ern­ments can offer finan­cial incen­tives to com­pa­nies with a proven com­mit­ment to using this land in thought­ful, eco­log­i­cal­ly sus­tain­able ways.

Rather than suc­cumb to over­whelm­ing despair, take heart from inno­va­tors breath­ing new life into a defor­est­ed part of Brazil sev­en times the size of the Unit­ed King­dom.

Eco­log­i­cal con­cerns did not seem near­ly so press­ing when vast amounts of rain for­est once occu­py­ing this land were cleared in order to pas­ture cat­tle. A lack of fore­sight and sus­tain­able prac­tices led it to become so degrad­ed it could no longer sup­port graz­ing.

(Cat­tle aside, birds, insects, mam­mals, plants and oth­er for­mer inhab­i­tants were also SOL.)

Rather than cut down more pre­cious jun­gle, trail­blaz­ing envi­ron­men­tal vision­ar­ies are pro­mot­ing regen­er­a­tion with native seedlings, plant­i­ng fast-grow­ing, super-effi­cient crops, and restor­ing the jun­gle adja­cent to grow­ing areas as a form of nat­ur­al pes­ti­cide.

That pro­vides a glim­mer of hope, right?

The 97-year-old Atten­bor­ough can even get on board with eco­tourism, a risky move giv­en how a large car­bon foot­print can trans­late to a dim pub­lic view.

Per­haps he’s bank­ing that first-hand encoun­ters with won­ders once encoun­tered only in doc­u­men­taries could help keep the plan­et spin­ning long after we’re no longer here to bear wit­ness.

Watch the first sea­son of Our Plan­et for free here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

David Atten­bor­ough Reads “What a Won­der­ful World” in a Mov­ing Video

How Sounds Are Faked For Nature Doc­u­men­taries: Meet the Artists Who Cre­ate the Sounds of Fish, Spi­ders, Orang­utans, Mush­rooms & More

Watch Young David Atten­bor­ough Encounter Ani­mals in Their Nat­ur­al Habi­tats: Video from the 1950s and 1960s

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Pangea to the Present to the Future: Watch Animations Showing 500 Million Years of Continental Drift

Things change…

Espe­cial­ly when you’re track­ing the con­ti­nen­tal move­ment from Pangea to the present day in 5 mil­lion years incre­ments at the rate of 2.5 mil­lion years per sec­ond.

Wher­ev­er you are, 350 mil­lion years ago, your address would’ve been locat­ed on the mega-con­ti­nent of Pangea.

Here’s a map of what things looked like back then.

Those who’ve grown a bit fuzzy on their geog­ra­phy may require some indi­ca­tions of where future land­mass­es formed when Pangea broke apart. Your map apps can’t help you here.

The first split occurred in the mid­dle of the Juras­sic peri­od, result­ing in two hemi­spheres, Laura­sia to the north and Gond­wana.

As the project’s sto­ry map notes, 175 mil­lion years ago Africa and South Amer­i­ca already bore a resem­blance to their mod­ern day con­fig­u­ra­tions.

North Amer­i­ca, Asia, and Europe need­ed to stay in the oven a bit longer, their famil­iar shapes begin­ning to emerge between 150 and 120 mil­lion years ago.

India peeled off from its “moth­er” con­ti­nent of Gond­wana some 100 mil­lion years ago.

Its tec­ton­ic plate col­lid­ed with the Eurasian Plate, giv­ing rise to the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, by which point, dinosaurs had been extinct for about 15 mil­lion years…)


Geog­ra­phy nerds may chafe at the seem­ing­ly inac­cu­rate sizes of Green­land, Antarc­ti­ca and Aus­tralia. Rest assured that the map­mak­ers are aware, chalk­ing it to the “dis­tor­tion of the car­to­graph­ic pro­jec­tion that exag­ger­ates areas close to the Poles.”

Just for fun, let’s run it back­wards!

But enough of the past. What of the future?

Those who real­ly want to know could jump ahead to the end of the sto­ry map to see PALEOMAP Project founder Christo­pher Scotese’s spec­u­la­tive con­fig­u­ra­tion of earth 250 mil­lion years hence, should cur­rent tec­ton­ic plate motion trends con­tin­ue.

Behold his vision of mega-con­ti­nent, Pangea Prox­i­ma, a land­mass “formed from all cur­rent con­ti­nents, with an appar­ent excep­tion of New Zealand, which remains a bit on the side:”

On the oppo­site side of the world, North Amer­i­ca is try­ing to fit to Africa, but it seems like it does not have the right shape. It will prob­a­bly need more time…

Not to bum you out, but a more recent study paints a grim­mer pic­ture of a com­ing super­con­ti­nent, Pangea Ulti­ma, when extreme tem­per­a­tures have ren­dered just 8 per­cent of Earth’s sur­face hos­pitable to mam­mals, should they sur­vive at all.

As the study’s co-author, cli­ma­tol­o­gist Alexan­der Farnsworth, told Nature News, humans might do well to get “off this plan­et and find some­where more hab­it­able.”

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Map Show­ing Where Today’s Coun­tries Would Be Locat­ed on Pangea

Find the Address of Your Home on Pan­gaea: Open Source Project Lets You Explore the Ancient Land Mass­es of Our Plan­et

Paper Ani­ma­tion Tells Curi­ous Sto­ry of How a Mete­o­rol­o­gist The­o­rized Pan­gaea & Con­ti­nen­tal Drift (1910)

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Open Planet Lets You Download & Use 4,500 Free Videos That Document Nature & Climate Change

Plas­tic pol­lu­tion in the Red Sea

A melt­ing glac­i­er in Ice­land

Trees scorched by a wild­fire in Aus­tralia…

As the effects of cli­mate change become increas­ing­ly dire, we’ve grown accus­tomed to such grim­ly sober­ing visions.

Some look away.

Oth­ers work to height­en aware­ness of these clear and present envi­ron­men­tal dan­gers.

And some strive to imple­ment inno­v­a­tive solu­tions before it’s too late:

Solar pan­els in Cos­ta Rica

Bub­ble bar­ri­ers fil­ter­ing plas­tic refuse from Amsterdam’s canals…

Sus­tain­able agro­forestry in the Ama­zon.

A class­room full of desks con­struct­ed from recy­cled one-time use plas­tics in India…

The cre­ators of Open Plan­et, a soon-to-launch free footage library, hope to sup­port change-mak­ing orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als by sup­ply­ing video that can be edit­ed togeth­er into nar­ra­tives to “inspire opti­mism and action in this deci­sive decade for our plan­et.”

Car­o­line Petit, who pri­or­i­tizes edu­ca­tion and aware­ness in her posi­tion as Deputy Direc­tor for the Unit­ed Nations Region­al Infor­ma­tion Cen­tre for Europe, hails Open Plan­et for sup­ply­ing world­wide free access to high-qual­i­ty, accu­rate footage:

At this halfway point of the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, it is cru­cial to pro­vide all pos­si­ble tools to super­charge the break­throughs need­ed to achieve them. Cap­tur­ing hearts and minds to moti­vate action is one pow­er­ful way to do so.

Enlist­ing some non-humans play­ers to help achieve that end is a sound idea.

Behold a Nepal Gray Lan­gur moth­er and baby hang­ing out in the tree­tops…

Chee­tah cubs play­ful­ly spar­ring with each oth­er in Kenya’s Masai Mara Nation­al Reserve…

A group of Pash­mi­na goats peace­ful­ly graz­ing on wild sea buck­thorn berries on the high plateaus of Ladakh.

Open Plan­et’s 4,500 clip strong col­lec­tion also teems with pho­to­genic birds, insects, and marine life, with more being added all the time.

Stu­dio Sil­ver­back, which is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Carnegie Mel­lon University’s CREATE Lab on this project, cre­at­ed some of the footage specif­i­cal­ly for the plat­form.

The remain­der has been donat­ed by out­side film­mak­ers, broad­cast­ers, and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies who are cred­it­ed in their clips’ con­tent details.

In advance of its 2024 glob­al launch, Open Plan­et has released a most­ly uplift­ing 74-clip spot­light col­lec­tion drawn from over 2000 pieces of footage filmed in India

A look at the plat­for­m’s search­able fil­ter themes reminds us that the pic­ture is not so over­whelm­ing­ly rosy, but also makes a strong case that change is pos­si­ble:

Bio­di­ver­si­ty

Cli­mate

Con­sump­tion

Defor­esta­tion

Ener­gy

Extreme Weath­er

Food

Human Health

Land Man­age­ment

Nat­ur­al Dis­as­ters

Nature-only

Pol­lu­tion

Waste

Water

Sus­tain­able Future

Tech­nol­o­gy

Explore Open Planet’s footage library and cre­ate a free account to down­load the clips of your choice here. The videos are free to use for edu­ca­tion­al, envi­ron­men­tal and impact sto­ry­telling.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch 50 Hours of Nature Sound­scapes from the BBC: Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Proven to Ease Stress and Pro­mote Hap­pi­ness & Awe

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

Frank Capra’s Sci­ence Film The Unchained God­dess Warns of Cli­mate Change in 1958

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

A Surprising Animation Revisits the Miracle on the Hudson & the Cause of US Airways Flight 1549’s Crash

Near­ly 15 years ago, US Air­ways Flight 1549 took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Air­port, bound for Seat­tle by way of Char­lotte, North Car­oli­na.

Short­ly after take­off, the air­craft plowed into a flock of migrat­ing birds, and its engines failed.

In less than four min­utes, Cap­tain Ches­ley “Sul­ly” Sul­len­berg­er guid­ed the ves­sel down to the frigid Hud­son Riv­er.

Office work­ers on Man­hat­tan’s west side were riv­et­ed by the spec­ta­cle of pas­sen­gers stand­ing on the wings, await­ing res­cue by two NY Water­way fer­ries and oth­er local boats.

Every­one on board sur­vived, and few of their injuries were seri­ous.

The inci­dent was quick­ly framed as “the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son” and Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er was hailed as a hero.

Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er cred­it­ed his suc­cess­ful maneu­ver to his 42 years as a pilot:

I’ve been mak­ing small, reg­u­lar deposits in this bank of expe­ri­ence, edu­ca­tion and train­ing. And on Jan­u­ary 15, the bal­ance was suf­fi­cient so that I could make a very large with­draw­al.

Such mod­esty only empha­sized his hero­ism in the eyes of the pub­lic.

Such nar­ra­tives pre­oc­cu­py ani­ma­tor Bernar­do Brit­to, whose 2020 short Hud­son Geese comes at this his­toric event from anoth­er angle:

Nar­ra­tives become our way of explain­ing and under­stand­ing the world. They are a part of how we build our iden­ti­ties and the sto­ries we tell about our­selves. And sto­ries by def­i­n­i­tion are exclu­sion­ary. Because you can’t fit it all in a sto­ry. They’re reduc­tive. They’re sim­pli­fied, eas­i­ly digestible ver­sions of a chain of events that’s way too com­plex for us to wrap our heads around.

(His inter­est in look­ing beyond estab­lished nar­ra­tive bound­aries car­ries over to the land acknowl­edg­ment in his short’s final cred­its: ”Before Ches­ley, before air­planes, before the apart­ment in which this short was con­ceived, “New York City” was the home of the Lenape, Canar­sie, and Wap­pinger peo­ple.”)

Revis­it­ing the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son in the thrall of the Rashomon effect may mute your rage­ful impuls­es the next time a flock of Cana­da geese toi­lets its way across your favorite green space.

Even though Hud­son Geese clocks in at a tight five, we get enough time with its name­less lead to become invest­ed in his trav­els, his ded­i­ca­tion to his life part­ner, Sharona, his migra­tion his­to­ry, and his con­nec­tion to his ani­mal essence:

As we take to the air, I feel a famil­iar emo­tion, a deep sense that this is where I real­ly belong, more so than the lake in Shaw­ini­gan, much more so than the golf course on the Potomac, I belong here, in the air, fly­ing safe­ly over all the noise, high above the city, that unin­tel­li­gi­ble mess of spires and sky­scrap­ers, that island that became for rea­sons unknown to a sim­ple goose like me, the very cen­ter of all the world.

Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er and co-pilot Jeff Skiles receive ani­mat­ed cameos in Hud­son Geese, as do Tom Han­ks and Clint East­wood, leav­ing our anti-hero to won­der who will immor­tal­ize Sharona and who will remem­ber the day’s “fall­en fowl.”

(With regard to the last ques­tion, pos­si­bly, Tom Haueter, the Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board’s for­mer head of major acci­dent inves­ti­ga­tion. The Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion failed to imple­ment many of his pro­posed safe­ty mea­sures fol­low­ing the crash.)

The human media’s hot take was that “thank­ful­ly no one was hurt.

The goose can only con­ceive of the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son as a “com­plete and utter mas­sacre.”

Watch more of Bernar­do Britto’s ani­ma­tions on his Vimeo chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Sal­vador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Short Ani­mat­ed Film, Des­ti­no, Set to the Music of Pink Floyd

Shel Silverstein’s The Giv­ing Tree: The Ani­mat­ed Film Nar­rat­ed by Shel Sil­ver­stein Him­self (1973)

The Employ­ment: A Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion About Why We’re So Dis­en­chant­ed with Work Today

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Behold the Bridges in India Made of Living Tree Roots

Liv­ing green walls and upcy­cled build­ing mate­ri­als are wel­come envi­ron­men­tal­ly-con­scious design trends, but when it comes to sus­tain­able archi­tec­ture, the liv­ing root bridges made by indige­nous Khasi and Jain­tia peo­ple in the north-east­ern Indi­an state of Megha­laya have them beat by cen­turies.

These tra­di­tion­al plant-based sus­pen­sion bridges make it much eas­i­er for vil­lagers to trav­el to neigh­bor­ing com­mu­ni­ties, mar­kets and out­ly­ing farms by span­ning the dense trop­i­cal rainforest’s many gorges and rivers.

Their con­struc­tion requires patience, as builders train the aer­i­al roots of well-sit­u­at­ed, mature rub­ber fig trees into posi­tion using bam­boo, old tree trunks, and wire for sup­port, weav­ing more roots in as they become avail­able.

This mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional con­struc­tion project can take up to 30 years to com­plete. The care­ful­ly-tend­ed bridges become stur­dier with age, as the roots that form the deck and handrails thick­en.

The vil­lage of Non­gri­at has one bridge that has been in place for 200-some years. An upper bridge, sus­pend­ed direct­ly over­head, is a hun­dred years younger.

As vil­lage head and life­long res­i­dent Wis­ton Miwa told Great Big Sto­ry, above, when he was a child, peo­ple were leery of using the new­er bridge, wor­ried that it was not yet strong enough to be safe. Six decades lat­er, vil­lagers (and tourists) tra­verse it reg­u­lar­ly.

Archi­tect San­jeev Shankar, in a study of 11 liv­ing root bridges, learned that new struc­tures are loaded with stones, planks, and soil to test their weight bear­ing capac­i­ty. Some of the old­est can han­dle 50 pedes­tri­ans at once.

Humans are not the only crea­tures mak­ing the cross­ing. Bark deer and cloud­ed leop­ards are also known trav­el­ers. Squir­rels, birds, and insects set­tle in for per­ma­nent stays.

The Khasi peo­ple fol­low an oral tra­di­tion, and have lit­tle writ­ten doc­u­men­ta­tion regard­ing their his­to­ry and cus­toms, includ­ing the con­struc­tion of liv­ing root bridges.

Archi­tect Fer­di­nand Lud­wig, a cham­pi­on of Baub­otanik — or liv­ing plant con­struc­tion — notes that there is no set design being fol­lowed. Both nature and the vil­lagers tend­ing to the grow­ing struc­tures can be con­sid­ered the archi­tects here:

When we con­struct a bridge or a build­ing, we have a plan – we know what it’s going to look like. But this isn’t pos­si­ble with liv­ing archi­tec­ture. Khasi peo­ple know this; they are extreme­ly clever in how they con­stant­ly ana­lyze and inter­act with tree growth, and accord­ing­ly adapt to the conditions…How these roots are pulled, tied and woven togeth­er dif­fer from builder to builder. None of the bridges looks sim­i­lar.

The bridges, while remote, are becom­ing a buck­et list des­ti­na­tion for adven­tur­ers and eco­tourists, Nongriat’s dou­ble bridge in par­tic­u­lar.

The BBC’s Zinara Rath­nayake reports that such out­side inter­est has pro­vid­ed vil­lagers with an addi­tion­al source of income, as well as some pre­dictable headaches — lit­ter, inap­pro­pri­ate behav­ior, and over­crowd­ing:

Some root bridges see crowds of hun­dreds at a time as tourists clam­ber for self­ies, poten­tial­ly over­bur­den­ing the trees.

The Liv­ing Bridge Foun­da­tion, which works to pre­serve the liv­ing root bridges while pro­mot­ing respon­si­ble eco­tourism is seek­ing to have the area des­ig­nat­ed as a UNESCO World Her­itage Site.


Relat­ed Con­tent 

1,100 Del­i­cate Draw­ings of Root Sys­tems Reveals the Hid­den World of Plants

The Secret Lan­guage of Trees: A Charm­ing Ani­mat­ed Les­son Explains How Trees Share Infor­ma­tion with Each Oth­er

Daisu­gi, the 600-Year-Old Japan­ese Tech­nique of Grow­ing Trees Out of Oth­er Trees, Cre­at­ing Per­fect­ly Straight Lum­ber

The Tree of Lan­guages Illus­trat­ed in a Big, Beau­ti­ful Info­graph­ic

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Discover Edo, the Historic Green/Sustainable City of Japan

When you pic­ture mod­ern day Tokyo, what comes to mind?

The elec­tron­ic bill­boards of Shibuya and Shin­juku?

The teem­ing streets?

The maid cafes?

The robot hotel?

A 97 square foot micro apart­ment?

Bernard Guer­ri­ni’s doc­u­men­tary Natur­opo­lis — Tokyo, from mega­lopo­lis to gar­den-city describes Tokyo as “a giant city, a city which nev­er stops grow­ing:”

It has destroyed its nat­ur­al spaces. It has cre­at­ed its own weath­er. It’s too big for its own good. They say Tokyo is like an amoe­ba that absorbs every­thing in its path.

It’s a far cry from the urban space Toku­gawa Ieya­su, founder of the Toku­gawa Shogu­nate, intend­ed when plant­i­ng the seeds for Edo, as Tokyo was orig­i­nal­ly called.

As the above excerpt from Natur­opo­lis explains, the 16th-cen­tu­ry city was inno­v­a­tive in its incor­po­ra­tion of green space.

The daimyō, or mil­i­tary lords, were required by the shogu­nate to keep res­i­dences in Edo. Each of these homes was fur­nished with a gar­den­er and a land­scap­er to main­tain the beau­ty of its al fres­co areas.

Mean­while, crops were cul­ti­vat­ed in all com­mu­nal out­door open spaces, with irri­ga­tion canals sup­ply­ing the nec­es­sary water for grow­ing rice.

These plant-rich set­tings pro­vid­ed a hos­pitable envi­ron­ment for ani­mals both wild and domes­tic. The care­ful­ly curat­ed nat­ur­al zones invit­ed qui­et con­tem­pla­tion of flo­ra and fau­na, giv­ing rise to the sea­son­al cel­e­bra­tions and rites that are still observed through­out Japan.

Whether admir­ing blos­soms and fire­flies in spring and sum­mer or autumn leaves and snowy win­ter scenes in the cold­er months, Edo’s cit­i­zens revered the nat­ur­al world out­side their doorsteps.

Bashō did the same in his haiku; Uta­gawa Hiroshige in his series of ukiyo‑e prints, One Hun­dred Famous Views of Edo.

Some­what less poet­i­cal­ly cel­e­brat­ed was the impor­tance of night soil to this bio­dy­nam­ic, pre-indus­tri­al shogu­nate cap­i­tal. As envi­ron­men­tal writer Eisuke Ishikawa del­i­cate­ly notes in Japan in the Edo Peri­od — An Eco­log­i­cal­ly-Con­scious Soci­ety:

A long time ago, when excre­ment was a pre­cious fer­til­iz­er, it nat­u­ral­ly belonged to the per­son who pro­duced it. Farm­ers used to buy excre­ment for cash or trade it for a com­pa­ra­ble amount of veg­eta­bles. Fer­til­iz­er short­ages were a chron­ic prob­lem dur­ing the Edo peri­od. As the stan­dard of liv­ing in cities improved, sur­round­ing vil­lages need­ed an increas­ing amount of fer­til­iz­er…

(Any­one who’s shoul­dered the sur­pris­ing­ly heavy interactive–not THAT interactive–night soil buck­ets on dis­play in Tokyo’s Edo Muse­um will have a feel for just how much of this nec­es­sary ele­ment each block of the cap­i­tal city gen­er­at­ed on a dai­ly basis.)

The Mei­ji Restora­tion of 1868 brought many changes — a new gov­ern­ment, a new name for Edo, and a race toward West­ern-style indus­tri­al­iza­tion. Many parks and gar­dens were destroyed as Tokyo rapid­ly expand­ed beyond Edo’s orig­i­nal foot­print.

But now, the Tokyo Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment is look­ing to its past in an effort to com­bat the effects of cli­mate change with a push toward envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

The goal is net zero CO2 emis­sions by 2050, with 2030 serv­ing as a bench­mark.

In addi­tion to hold­ing the busi­ness, finan­cial, and ener­gy sec­tors to envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble stan­dard, the zero emis­sion plan seeks to address the aver­age citizen’s qual­i­ty of life, with a lit­er­al return to more green spaces:

Accel­er­at­ing cli­mate change mea­sures is impor­tant to pre­serve bio­di­ver­si­ty and con­tin­ue to reap its boun­ty. In recent years, the idea of green infra­struc­ture that uti­lizes the func­tions of the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment has attract­ed atten­tion. It is one of the most impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for the future: achiev­ing both bio­di­ver­si­ty con­ser­va­tion and cli­mate change mea­sures.

A Unit­ed Nation report* point­ed out that COVID-19 is poten­tial­ly a zoonot­ic dis­ease derived from wildlife, such infec­tious dis­eases will increase in the future, and one of the rea­sons is the destruc­tion of nature by humans.

Read Tokyo Met­ro­pol­i­tan Government’s Zero Trans­mis­sion Strat­e­gy and Update here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Met Puts 650+ Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed Books Online: Mar­vel at Hokusai’s One Hun­dred Views of Mount Fuji and More

Down­load 1,000+ Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints by Hiroshige, the Last Great Mas­ter of the Japan­ese Wood­block Print Tra­di­tion

Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beau­ty of Tra­di­tion­al Japan

See How Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Car­pen­ters Can Build a Whole Build­ing Using No Nails or Screws

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

Cats in Japan­ese Wood­block Prints: How Japan’s Favorite Ani­mals Came to Star in Its Pop­u­lar Art

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Behold an Astonishing Near-Nightly Spectacle in the Lightning Capital of the World

Extreme weath­er con­di­tions have become a top­ic of grave con­cern. Are floods, earth­quakes, tor­na­does and cat­a­stroph­ic storms the new nor­mal?

Just for a moment, let’s trav­el to a place where extreme weath­er has always been the norm: Lake Mara­cai­bo in north­west­ern Venezuela.

Accord­ing to NASA’s Trop­i­cal Rain­fall Mea­sur­ing Mis­sion’s light­ning image sen­sor, it is the light­ning cap­i­tal of the world.

Chalk it up to the unique geog­ra­phy and cli­mate con­di­tions near the con­flu­ence of the lake and the Cata­tum­bo Riv­er. At night, the moist warm air above the water col­lides with cool breezes rolling down from the Andes, cre­at­ing an aver­age of 297 thun­der­storms a year.

Watch­ing pho­tog­ra­ph­er Jonas Pio­ntek’s short film doc­u­ment­ing the phe­nom­e­non, above, it’s not sur­pris­ing that chief among his tips for shoot­ing light­ning at night is a point­ed warn­ing to always keep a safe dis­tance from the storm. While view­able from as far as 400 kilo­me­ters away, the area near­est the light­ning activ­i­ty can aver­age 28 strikes per minute.

More than 400 years before Pio­ntek shared his impres­sions with the world, Span­ish poet Lope de Vega tapped Cata­tum­bo light­ning in his epic 1597 poem La Drag­ontea, cred­it­ing it, erro­neous­ly, with hav­ing  thwart­ed Sir Fran­cis Drake’s plans to con­quer the city of Mara­cai­bo under cov­er of night. His poet­ic license was per­sua­sive enough that it’s still an accept­ed part of the myth.

The “eter­nal storm” did how­ev­er give Venezue­lan naval forces a gen­uine nat­ur­al assist, by illu­mi­nat­ing a squadron of Span­ish ships on Lake Mara­cai­bo, which they defeat­ed on July 24, 1823, clear­ing the way to inde­pen­dence.

Once upon a time, large num­bers of local fish­er­men took advan­tage of their prime posi­tion to fish by night, although with recent defor­esta­tion, polit­i­cal con­flict, and eco­nom­ic decline dec­i­mat­ing the vil­lages where they live in tra­di­tion­al stilt­ed hous­es, their liveli­hood is in decline.

Mean­while the Eter­nal Storm has itself been affect­ed by forces of extreme weath­er. In 2010, a drought occa­sioned by a par­tic­u­lar­ly strong El Niño, caused light­ning activ­i­ty to cease for 6 weeks, its longest dis­ap­pear­ance in 104 years.

Envi­ron­men­tal­ist Erik Quiroga, who is cam­paign­ing for the Cata­tum­bo light­ning to be des­ig­nat­ed as the world’s first UNESCO World Her­itage Weath­er Phe­nom­e­non warns, “This is a unique gift and we are at risk of los­ing it.”

See more of Jonas Piontek’s Cata­tum­bo light­ning pho­tographs here.

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Benedict Cumberbatch & Ian McKellen Read Epic Letters Written by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Von­negut is one of those writ­ers whose wit, human­ism and lack of sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty leave you han­ker­ing for more.

For­tu­nate­ly, the pro­lif­ic nov­el­ist was an equal­ly pro­lif­ic let­ter writer.

His pub­lished cor­re­spon­dence includes a descrip­tion of the fire­bomb­ing of Dres­den penned upon his release from the Slaugh­ter­house Five POW camp, an admis­sion to daugh­ter Nanette that most parental mis­sives “con­tain a par­en­t’s own lost dreams dis­guised as good advice,” and some unvar­nished exchanges with many of famil­iar lit­er­ary names. (“I am cuter than you are,” he taunt­ed Cape Cod neigh­bor Nor­man Mail­er.)

No won­der these let­ters are cat­nip to per­form­ers with the pedi­gree to rec­og­nize good writ­ing when they see it.

Hav­ing inter­pret­ed Shake­speare, Ibsen, and Ionesco, book lover Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch obvi­ous­ly rel­ish­es the straight­for­ward ire of Vonnegut’s 1973 response to a North Dako­ta school board chair­man who ordered a school jan­i­tor to burn all copies of Slaugh­ter­house-Five assigned by Bruce Sev­ery, a recent­ly hired, young Eng­lish teacher.

In addi­tion to Slaugh­ter­house-Five, the board also con­signed two oth­er vol­umes on the syl­labus — James Dick­ey’s Deliv­er­ance and an anthol­o­gy con­tain­ing short sto­ries by Faulkn­er, Hem­ing­way and Stein­beck — to the fire.

Revis­it­ing the event, the Bis­mar­ck Tri­bune reports that “the objec­tion to (Slaugh­ter­house-Five) had to do with pro­fan­i­ty, (Deliv­er­ance) with some homo­sex­u­al mate­r­i­al and the (anthol­o­gy) because the first two ren­dered all of Severy’s choic­es sus­pect.”

A decade lat­er, Von­negut also revis­it­ed the school board’s “insult­ing” objec­tions in the pages of  the New York Times:

Even by the stan­dards of Queen Vic­to­ria, the only offen­sive line in the entire nov­el is this: ”Get out of the road, you dumb m(———–).” This is spo­ken by an Amer­i­can anti­tank gun­ner to an unarmed Amer­i­can chap­lain’s assis­tant dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Bulge in Europe in Decem­ber 1944, the largest sin­gle defeat of Amer­i­can arms (the Con­fed­er­a­cy exclud­ed) in his­to­ry. The chap­lain’s assis­tant had attract­ed ene­my fire.

Word is Von­negut’s let­ter nev­er received the cour­tesy of a reply.

One won­ders if the recip­i­ent burned it, too.


If that 50 year old let­ter feels ger­mane, check out Vonnegut’s 1988 let­ter to peo­ple liv­ing 100 years in the future, a lit­tle more than 50 years from where we are now.

In many ways, its com­mon­sense advice sur­pass­es the ever­green words of those it namechecks — Shakespeare’s Polo­nius, St. John the Divine, and the Big Book of Alco­holics Anony­mous. The threat of envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse it seeks to stave off has become even more dire in the ensu­ing years.

Vonnegut’s advice (list­ed below) clear­ly res­onates with Cum­ber­batch, a veg­an who lever­aged his celebri­ty to bring atten­tion to the cli­mate cri­sis when he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Extinc­tion Rebel­lion Protests in Lon­don.

1. Reduce and sta­bi­lize your pop­u­la­tion.

2. Stop poi­son­ing the air, the water, and the top­soil.

3. Stop prepar­ing for war and start deal­ing with your real prob­lems.

4. Teach your kids, and your­selves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhab­it a small plan­et with­out help­ing to kill it.

5. Stop think­ing sci­ence can fix any­thing if you give it a tril­lion dol­lars.

6. Stop think­ing your grand­chil­dren will be OK no mat­ter how waste­ful or destruc­tive you may be, since they can go to a nice new plan­et on a space­ship. That is real­ly mean, and stu­pid.

7. And so on. Or else.

Von­negut, who died in 2007 at the age of 84, nev­er lost his touch with young read­ers. Who bet­ter to recite his 2006 let­ter to his fans in New York City’s Xavier High School’s stu­dent body than the ever youth­ful, ever curi­ous actor and activist, Sir Ian McK­ellen?

Cum­ber­batch is a won­der­ful read­er, but he’d require a bit more sea­son­ing to pull these lines off with­out the aid of major pros­thet­ics:

You sure know how to cheer up a real­ly old geezer (84) in his sun­set years. I don’t make pub­lic appear­ances any more because I now resem­ble noth­ing so much as an igua­na. 

Now if only these gents would attempt a Hoosier accent…

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Ian McK­ellen Recites Shakespeare’s Son­net 20, Backed by Garage Rock Band, the Flesh­tones, on Andy Warhol’s MTV Vari­ety Show (1987)

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Nick Cave’s Beau­ti­ful Let­ter About Grief

Watch Sir Ian McKellen’s 1979 Mas­ter Class on Macbeth’s Final Mono­logue

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads “the Best Cov­er Let­ter Ever Writ­ten”

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Its cur­rent issue cel­e­brates Kurt Vonnegut’s cen­ten­ni­al. Her most recent books are Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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