The final episode of Perfect Planet should have us on our knees – in thankfulness for the amazing people who are so committed to bringing hope to our world, and in sadness at how we have messed it up so terribly.
We need to stop and acknowledge the feelings stirred up in us. Don’t push them away. Don’t allow them to be drowned out by other pressing demands going round our heads. We need to stop and look full-on at the horror that is happening to the wider natural world, to people living in poverty, and to the other creatures that share that world with us.
And we need to acknowledge that, collectively as a species, we have failed. Particularly in the economically developed parts of the world, we have failed and fallen dismally short of the role we should have been taking to look after and cherish other creatures and tread carefully on the earth.
We have failed for decades to listen to the increasingly clear messages coming from scientists working in so many different fields, but all noticing and saying the same thing. Instead of taking the action that needed to be taken ten, twenty, thirty, forty years ago we ignored the warnings and continued recklessly on our path to disaster: governments focused on national self-interest and short-term popularity; businesses put their heads in the sand and focused on shareholder returns; and we as individuals have focused on our own selfish pursuits.
The Christian word for this is sin, but whatever word you want to use, the reality is clear: we have failed and it is time for us to humble ourselves and admit it.
The story of Jonah in the Hebrew Scriptures tells of a reluctant prophet who went to Ninevah to deliver the awful message that, because of their evil ways, God was going to bring destruction. The people and the king listened and responded. They covered themselves in sackcloth and got down on their knees, in the dust. Intriguingly, the animals did so too. And (much to Jonah’s annoyance) God saw their response and had mercy on them.
We need to act urgently, of course we do. As governments, businesses and in our own individual lives, we must make serious changes. I have written and spoken extensively about those actions and I urge us all to do that. But right now, we need collectively to get on our knees, acknowledge the part we have all played in the terrible scenes we have been watching, and pray that there will be mercy.