A Big Ask

    Up here in the Nordics, we know better than to take summer for granted. So, when the “heatwave” suddenly strikes, as it did last week, we celebrate those precious few days with uninhibited ardour. And, as always, a severe outburst of FOMO-fever ensues as well. The sheer thought of sitting inside when the sun is shining and the temperature climbs above 20 degrees centigrade is considered blasphemous in our part of the world.

    Therefore, you are forgiven if you happened to miss the Netflix premiere of Sir David Attenborough’s new documentary last week. After all, it is not one of those feel-good movies or mildly amusing series that you can enjoy drowsily, curled-up on the sofa with your family after a day of outdoor activities. It is not Breaking Bad we’re talking about; it’s Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet. And despite the familiarly cheerful voice of everyone’s favourite narrator, this is not a nature movie you can fall asleep to while hypnotised by the sound of whales or the majestic slow-motion movements of lions crossing the savannah.

    It is riveting.

    Not that the documentary contains any breaking news. The narrative, based on the planetary boundaries research that Rockström & co. published back in 2009, is familiar for anyone who’s ever dipped their toes into environmental studies during the past decade or so. The message that we must endeavour to stay within those nine boundaries for our own sake, not just for the stability of our planet, is rather obvious too. So how come it has already earned the reputation for being “probably the most important documentary that has ever been filmed”[1]?

    I blame it on the calm and optimistic tone that the filmmakers somehow manage to sustain for all of 75 minutes. Rather than dispatching doomsdays prophesies, the cool duo Attenborough & Rockström convey the feeling that we still have time to fix things: “We are an endlessly innovative species. Cooperation is our superpower. And we are beginning to see signs that major change is coming.” It works for me.

    What also works is the pragmatic and structured way of outlining just a few priorities for action: cut greenhouse gases to zero, protect the wetlands, soils, forests, and oceans that absorb our impacts, change our diets and the way we farm food and move to circular economies. Easy, right? Well, not really. As Rockström puts it, “of course, it’s a big ask.”

    I realise that urging you to see this documentary in the midst of a lovely summer-induced stupor is also a big ask. By all means, go ahead and ignore it. Step out and feel the caress of the sun, inhale the fresh air, listen to the birdsong and the buzz of insects, breathe in the fragrance of flowers and blossoming trees, and gorge your eyes on their bright colours. Enjoy it while you can…


    [1] According to expert Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.

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