Unlike most biologists, David Attenborough has managed to make himself a household name. He’s done this through a long career as a broadcaster, historian, and author, as well as a slew of documentary movies and series all devoted to exploring our planet and its natural wonders. Perhaps his most famous work is the documentary series called Life on Earth, essentially a documentary-style comprehensive survey of as much animal and plant life on the planet as is currently known to scientists. In his career as a broadcaster, Attenborough has worked mainly at the BBC, even in management roles when he served as the controller of BBC Two as well as the director of programming for BBC Television. He parlayed that experience into a lengthy documentary filmography that’s spanned more than 70 years. He’s the only documentary filmmaker to win a BAFTA award for works in black and white, color, and HD as well as 3D and 4K. He’s tackled difficult subjects in innovative ways, like his documentary, The Private Life of Plants, which had producers stymied on how to photograph hours of footage on subjects that were essentially immobile. Attenborough added time-lapse photography to the project and the results were good enough to win him a Peabody Award.
Why They Made the Worthy 100: By 2000, Attenborough had completed a body of work that would make most filmmakers think about retirement. Instead, he kept right on going but shifted the focus of his work from simply highlighting our planet’s natural wonders to overtly espousing the environmental changes we need to make to keep them healthy. In 2006 he released a documentary entitled The Truth about Climate Change and another concerning human population growth, called How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth in 2009. Then in 2019, he did what most filmmakers have done in the last decade, he worked with Netflix. The result was an eight-part docuseries called Our Planet. And though it showcased some of the wonders of planet Earth, it also focused on how destructive humans have been and continue to be on the environment. The same year he also aired a project he created for the BBC, this one with a much grimmer tone than his Netflix work, entitled, Climate Change—The Facts. He followed that one up with an even darker documentary, Extinction—The Facts, which discussed the decline in biodiversity and its long-term consequences. In 2021, he was a featured speaker at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), where he gave an impassioned speech on the state of climate change that still had optimistic overtones, stating that the human race represented “the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth.” Let’s hope he’s right.