Barack Obama has entered his David Attenborough phase, just in time for Earth Day. Higher Ground, the film production company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama with a multiyear deal with Netflix, released a new five-part docuseries earlier this month called “Our Great National Parks,” narrated by the former US president himself.
Visually, the series is exquisite. The choice to focus on national parks around the world was a smart one, both because it gives the project a unique angle in a crowded genre, and because Obama has a claim to fame when it comes to land conservation: As president, he added 22 new parks to the US National Park system and protected close to 550 million acres of habitat, more than any other US president in history. But the framing is also the series’ fatal flaw; at times, it seems Obama is taking a five-hour victory lap—not necessarily for his own conservation work, but for humanity’s. Of course, climate change is mentioned, but minimally; to say less about the crisis facing the world would verge on climate misinformation. And compared to other recent nature docuseries, like “Our Planet,” “Our Great National Parks” is downright regressive.
A new study published in the Royal Society’s journal for biological sciences analyzed over 20,000 bee-flower interactions in New Jersey to assess the value of bee diversity in wild plant communities. The researchers found that the number of functionally important bee species increased with the number of plant species in a community. Put more plainly, diverse ecosystems require greater bee diversity.
“I don’t want to show a bird flying,” says photographer Xavi Bou. “I want to show a flight.”
Although Bou has dedicated years of his life to photographing birds, someone encountering his work for the first time could be excused for having no idea what his subject is. In a project called Ornithographies, he creates mesmerizing images by taking many photographs per second and stitching up to 3,500 or more of them together. The results are beautifully abstract, capturing the energy of flight, whether in the chaotic squiggles that result when Alpine Swifts dive and swoop for insects, or the smooth, even undulations of a gull flying over the water. They may not be moving pictures—although Bou uses a cinema camera that takes 60 frames a second—but they have movement.