Last week, I encouraged you to watch the premiere of Earth: A New Wild, the five-part series airing on PBS that provides a powerful and visually stunning journey into how ecosystems all around the world are not simply surviving but THRIVING. This is in part, due to the presence of humans. It’s kind of a wild concept (see what I did there?), but everywhere the brilliant host of this show, M. Sanjayan goes, he uncovers the most remarkable stories to prove it. In this week’s episode, we journey deep into Earth’s forests, exploring the rainforests of Alaska all the way down to the Amazon’s “Intangible Zone.” You’re even going to learn a thing or two about Portugal’s cork forests and how people are keeping this forest wild. No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, you read that right: the harvesting of cork for wine bottles has actually helped create and maintain a mosaic ecosystem that is often referred to as the “Amazon of Europe.” DRINK MORE WINE, PEOPLE. Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly Sanjayan’s point but you get the idea. Sanjayan says it best:
“Forests are home to more variety of wild life than anywhere else on terrestrial earth. The challenge is how to live alongside them without cutting them down.”
In last week’s post, I admitted that from time to time, I get a little emotional while watching eco-docs and this episode was no different. It pulled at my heart a bit. Maybe this is because I grew up in Paul Bunyan territory. It’s true, we Minnesotans spend a lot of time in the forests; camping, hiking, snowshoeing—you name it, we do it out there. At a very young age, I felt a connection to nature and as cheesy as this is about to sound, during this episode, Sanjayan brought this connection back to life for me. I was reminded, and you will be too, of how remarkable and just flat-out amazing the world’s great forests truly are. But before we go there, I feel obligated to visit the dark side. Come on, it’s a nature documentary; this was inevitable. I’ll try and keep it brief. Some very real and telling realities are brought to life here—one of which has been weighing heavy on my mind and I can’t go any further until I write about it. At the beginning of the episode, Sanjayan introduces us to an area of Ecuador known as the “Intangible Zone.” What the heck does that mean? The Intangible Zone is a protected area of the Amazon Rainforest that spans about 3,000 square miles and is home to one of the last known group of people, the Huaorani (Waorani), still living in voluntary isolation. Yes, yet another very wild concept. A collision of values is happening in this region. Not only is the “Intangible Zone” rich with biodiversity (many scientists actually believe it’s the most biodiverse place on the planet) but it’s also rich with oil. And where there’s oil, there are oil companies looking to extract it. To keep it simple, the fear is that if oil companies make their way into the “Intangible Zone,” the forest will be destroyed. As Sanjayan explains, “There are more species of trees in a couple acres here than there are in all of North America.” Here’s what I find a little upsetting—if we sucked this area dry of its oil, it would fuel the entire world for a total of 8 days. I’m going to pull a Jon Stewart here: 8 DAYS! ARE YOU $#[email protected] KIDDING ME?!!! There is, however, a silver lining to the story above. I’m not going to tell you what it is because I want you to watch the next episode of Earth: A New Wild. What I will tell you though, and what makes this series so great, is that Sanjayan might express a bit of doom and gloom here and there but he makes up for it by revealing stories that will, and I’m only exaggerating a little here, restore your faith in humanity. This series isn’t about the isolated little pockets of wilderness that are left, instead it’s about our relationship the natural world and discovering new ways of understanding and valuing, in this particular case, our forests, while they’re still standing. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this episode and I didn’t even have a chance to talk about the elephant battles happening on the edge of the forest in Sumatra but that’s more the reason for you to grab a bottle of wine (you’re helping the forest!), relax, and tune in for this weeks episode of Earth: A New Wild. Earth: A New Wild airs every Wednesday at 9 p.m. on tpt 2, throughout the month February. You can find out more information and schedule details here. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #EarthWildPBS.