• Television

“Changing Planet” – Earth Day Programming

Hosted by global conservation scientist and CEO of Conservation International Dr. M. Sanjayan, the PBS program Changing Planet is an unprecedented seven-year global storytelling series, featuring the latest science and emphasizing local voices while monitoring climate change in six locations each year over seven years.

Always airing during Earth Month, the program returns for a second year to revisit some of the planet’s most vulnerable ecosystems and provide updates on how communities are working to fight climate change.

Visit the outback of Australia and meet custodians from the Indigenous Pintupi, who are having spectacular success preserving 16,000 miles of vital ecosystem.

Travel to California as traditional burning practices that mitigate the risk of megafires are undertaken by the Tule, Mono and Yurok tribes of Native American people, while a family of reintroduced beavers is changing how fire moves through the landscape.

In Kenya, we hear about the conflict between farmers and elephants and a solution that allows elephants to continue in the wild, distributing seeds in their dung that protect all species around them.

The show also travels to Cambodia, Greenland and The Maldives to look at ventures that will protect crocodiles, musk oxen and coral reefs.

We spoke via Zoom to Bill Gardner, Vice President of Multiplatform Programming & Head of Development at PBS, about his mission to produce the most ambitious climate change stories on television.



How did this series come about?

This was a commission shared between us and the BBC because we wanted to tell these stories over time and not just be sensational and kind of a flash in the pan. All of our storytelling in this climate and planetary health space is looking at what’s happening over time and focusing on efforts to be part of the solution. We picked these ecosystems, and we don’t necessarily always go to the same story every year, but sometimes we will, just to be able to track change in progress. We aren’t putting our thumb on the scale or editorializing about it; we want you to just see events as they transition.

Why is it important to tell these stories?

Some of the actions that we could take to save the planet are not particularly mysterious and they’re a matter of choice. They actually don’t require a lot of change in behavior for us to be better stewards, nor are we really negatively impacted in terms of the lives we lead, so we have to be realistic. People aren’t going to stop driving cars or going to supermarkets, but you can look at certain activities that don’t require a lot of extra effort in all of these shows, and it’s a powerful message that we can all try to leave things a little better, and remember that nature will also heal itself if you let it.


Were you surprised about the connections explored that suggest all living things are able to connect in ways that help the planet, like elephants and oxen and even Australian dugongs spreading natural solutions through seeds in their dung?

Without seeming too hippy-dippy about it, it’s clear when you watch this that we are all really interconnected and sometimes if you just stop screwing with things and let nature do its thing, everything will bounce back pretty quickly.

Why is Dr. Sanjayan the right host for this series?

I’ve been putting him on PBS shows for a decade and he’s such a fantastic communicator, because even though he is one of the world’s great conservationists, he has this gift of speaking normally to folks who maybe don’t understand everything, so you feel that you have a part in it too. For somebody who has been all over the world, he still brings a sense of excitement and wonder to the viewer.

After making so much content about climate change, are you more optimistic than before about our future or less so?

I am optimistic because I think the opportunity is there as a global civilization to respond to the challenges that we have and see solutions being put out there are viable and don’t require everybody to become vegetarian, which isn’t realistic. Not everyone feels that way. (Swedish activist) Greta Thunberg would say you have to do a complete 180 degrees to change, but we’re not trying to tell people what to think, but just give them context. One of the things that’s also exciting to me about this kind of content is the people you meet. You realize that the new adventurers are scientists, and they’re younger and smarter than ever before, so they are the Indiana Joneses of the future!

Changing Planet airs over two hours on April 19 on PBS, streaming simultaneously on all station-branded PBS platforms (check local listings) including PBS.org and the PBS App and also available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.