Monday, 21 December 2015

Obama, Grylls, Muir and TV

A while ago I suggested a BBC TV programme where Obama went to Glacier Point with one of today's top environmentalists, say David Attenborough, George Schaller or David Suzuki, and they reenact the landmark meeting of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.

In the Muir/Roosevelt meeting, which lasted 4 days and involved the president sleeping out with Muir as the snow fell, Muir persuaded him to save large parts of the nation's wild places as National Parks.  It was heralded as the most important conservation meeting ever to have taken place.  National Parks were not only established throughout America over the coming decades but the idea spread around the world.  Today over 15% of the land and over 3% of the ocean is protected. In some way that protection relates back to the Glacier Point summit.

I never heard what happened to my idea but seeing Bear Grylls meet with President Obama in Alaska was the kind of thing I had in mind.  It was much tamer than the Roosevelt meeting.  For many obvious reasons it only lasted a few hours at most and there were 50 presidential people behind the camera.

Obama came across as fun, relaxed and intrigued by Gryll's exploits, and I thought Bear Grylls asked some excellent questions.  The one that struck me was when Obama was asked what advice he gave to his daughters.  His reply was simply wonderful - I paraphrase -  "Be useful and be kind, then where ever your passions lead you will get the most out of them."  Gryll's response was immediate - the kind bit is the hardest of all. Very true - more on that later in another blog.

Obama talked about climate change and how he would like his legacy to be a pathway to solving the problem.  The two end up looking over Harding Ice Field, a glacier that has retreated on average by 30 feet a year since 1973. "This climate change agenda is important as anything I will ever do."

Well, Paris has happened and the USA helped secure what has been called a landmark agreement. "We met the moment," said Obama.  Time will tell if countries really do stick by their agreement to phase out fossil fuels but it has to be a deal worth celebrating for now.

Did Bear Grylls help consolidate the president's commitment?  Did the sight of a shrinking mass of ice shock him into more determined action? Who knows.  But there is one point I didn't agree with.  He called Grylls a great ambassador for the planet.  A fabulous survival expert, tough as old boots and a genuinely good man for sure - an ambassador for the environment?  Hmmm - not really.

Bear Grylls has always seemed to me to be someone who sees the wilderness as something to battle and conquer.  He is an expert in survival but gives no indication he knows anything about the places he takes on.  As long as they are extreme, tough and remote that is good enough to demonstrate skill, and he is good at that for sure.  But to suddenly begin to talk about saving the planet turned his true authenticity into hollowness. I have baulked at him catching and eating wild animals on camera just for the shot. He has reverence for the landscapes that challenges him but he seems to completely lack compassion and wonder at wildlife. Animals are something to eat, not save.

Look at the youtube clips of him eating a live frog, salmon and octopus.

Does it matter?  Maybe not.  It is only telly, but I think many people find celebrities who suddenly find that the green message fits their agenda disingenuous.

I don't want to be churlish.  I thought it was a great watch and I admire both men enormously.  But I would have felt more uplifted if Grylls had been more upfront.

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