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The Guardian view on The Green Planet: verdant and necessary | Editorial

David Attenborough’s new series takes aim at plant blindness, providing a vital service in the fight against global warming

The term “plant blindness” was coined in 1998 to describe our general tendency, as humans, not to see the plant life that surrounds us. The problem has understandable roots: the human brain evolved to detect difference, and then to categorise that difference as either threat or non-threat. Plants, being unlikely to attack, are lumped together and treated as background, a green screen against which dramas take place. Many plants, and especially trees, exist on a different timescale to humans – who, moreover, have spent millennia dividing existence into conscious beings and things, where the former are afforded automatic importance over the latter. Combined with the general move to cities, and then to screen-based life indoors, this has resulted in, for example, up to half of British children being unable to identify stinging nettles, brambles or bluebells; 82% of those questioned could not recognise an oak leaf.

We become more emotionally involved in what we can comprehend. Plants, as David Attenborough reminds us in his new BBC series, The Green Planet, “are the basis of all life, including ourselves”. And yet the beauty and power – and scope for anthropomorphism – of the polar bear, the snow leopard, the orangutan mean many more will campaign to save them than, say, crested cow-wheat.

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