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David Attenborough: Reverse our assault on the planet

Filed under Climate Emergency

Sir David Attenborough’s powerful new video is A Life On Our Planet. He labels it his ‘witness statement’ for our worryingly stressed planet. It is his ‘vision for the future’ for what we all face. The evidence and argument he assembles are sobering and chilling. The film is a must for everyone to watch.

Together we face ‘nothing less than the collapse of the living world’, he tells us all. Everyone must therefore take note and act. Why? He says this is literally about your survival.

“In the end after a lifetime’s exploration of the living world, I’m certain of one thing - this is not about saving our planet. It’s about saving ourselves.”

Sir David’s analysis is a stark challenge to all global leaders, both corporate and political. They must lead urgent action now on sustainability and the climate emergency before it is too late. Time is fast running out. The threat is existential for all we take for granted. But Sir David says there are also positives to rapidly work for so that ‘an alternative future comes into view’.

Thinking the Unthinkable (TTU) is already working to embolden leaders on WHY they need to engage and HOW they can do it. That is why we publish with enthusiasm the most powerful sentences in Sir David’s chilling analysis.

Every leader needs to be aware of them, then work out what to do.

“We’ve come this far, because we are the smartest creatures that have ever lived. But to continue we require more than intentions, we require wisdom.”

Sir David says we can make amends. We can still complete our journey of development and manage our impact so we are a species in balance with nature. But together we need the will to do so.

Many of Sir David’s arguments reflect the analysis and ambitions of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So this post matches his key quotes with those goals.

We want to encourage all leaders, current and future, to think the unthinkable and embrace radical uncertainty to survive and thrive.

Climate Action

“Right now, we’re facing a manmade disaster of global scale… If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. But the longer we leave it, the more difficult it will be to do something about it.”

“We are facing nothing less than the collapse of the living world. The very thing that gave birth to our civilisation, the thing we rely upon for every element of the lives we lead.”

“No one wants this to happen. None of us can afford for it to happen.”

“Our imprint is now truly global. Our impact now truly profound. Our blind assault on the planet has finally come to alter the very fundamentals of the living world.”

“Summer sea ice in the Arctic has reduced by 40% in 40 years. Our planet is losing its ice. This most pristine and distant of ecosystems is headed for disaster.”

Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

“The way we humans live on earth now is sending biodiversity into a decline. This too, is happening as a result of bad planning and human error…. The natural world is fading. The evidence is all around. It’s happened in my lifetime. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”

“We had broken loose. We were apart from the rest of life on Earth. Living a different kind of life. Our predators had been eliminated. Most of our diseases were under control. We had worked out how to produce food to order. There was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us. Unless we stopped ourselves we would keep consuming the earth until we had used it up.”

Responsible Consumption and Production

“If we continue on our current course, the damage that has been the defining feature of my lifetime will be eclipsed by the damage coming in the next.”

“We can’t cut down rainforests forever. And anything that we can’t do forever is by definition, unsustainable. If we do things that are unsustainable, the damage accumulates, ultimately, to a point where the whole system collapses. No ecosystem, not matter how big, is secure. Even one as vast as the ocean.”

“It’s entirely possible for us to apply both low tech and high tech solutions to produce much more food for much less land. We can start to produce food in new spaces. Indoors within cities, even in places where there’s no land at all.”

“We’re completing the journey. Ten thousand years ago as hunter gatherers, we lived a sustainable life because that was the only option. All these years later it’s once again the only option.”

Zero Hunger

“The planet can’t support billions of large meat eaters, there just isn’t the space. If we all had a largely plant-based diet, we would need only half the land we use at the moment.”

“Estimates suggest that no fish zones over a third of our coastal seas will be sufficient to provide us with all the fish we will ever need.”

“We must radically reduce the area we use to farm so that we can make space for returning wilderness. And the quickest and most effective way to do that is for us to change our diet.”

Affordable and Clean Energy

“The living world is essentially solar powered. The Earth’s plants capture three trillion kilowatt hours of solar energy each day. That’s almost 20 times the energy we need just from sunlight. Imagine if we phase out fossil fuels and run our world on the eternal energies of nature too - sunlight, wind, water and geothermal.”

“In previous events, it had taken volcanic activity up to one million years to dredge up enough carbon from within the earth to trigger a catastrophe. By burning millions of years worth of living organisms all at once as coal and oil, we have managed to do so in less than 200.”

Sustainable Cities and Communities

“A renewable future will be full of benefits. Energy everywhere will be more affordable. Our cities will be cleaner and quieter. And renewable energy will never run out.”

Life Below Water

“The living world can’t operate without a healthy ocean and neither can we. The ocean is a critical ally in our battle to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. The more diverse it is, the better it does that job.”

“The ocean is important to all of us as a source of food. Fishing is the world’s greatest wild harvest and if we do it right it can continue because there’s a win, win at play. The healthier the marine habitat, the more fish there will be and the more there will be to eat.”

No Poverty

“At some point in the future, the human population will peak for the very first time. The sooner it happens, the easier it makes everything else we have to do.”

“By working hard to raise people out of poverty, giving all access to healthcare and enabling girls, in particular to stay in school, as long as possible we can make it peak sooner and at a lower level.”

Decent Work and Economic Growth

“We invented farming. We learned how to exploit the seasons to produce food crops. The history of all human civilisation followed. Each generation able to develop and progress only because the living world could be relied upon to deliver us the conditions we needed.”

Reduced Inequalities

“Why wouldn’t we want to do these things? Giving people a greater opportunity of life is what we want to do anyway. The trick is to raise the standard of living around the world without increasing our impact on that world.”

Life on Land

“To restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity. The very thing that we’ve removed. It’s the only way out of this crisis we have created. We must re-wild the world.”

“Forests are a fundamental component of our planet’s recovery. They are the best technology nature has for locking away carbon and they are centres of biodiversity. ….The wilder and more diverse forests are, the more effective they are at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. We must immediately halt deforestation everywhere and grow crops like oil palm and soya only on land that was deforested long ago.”

David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet is produced by Silverback Films and WWF. It was released on Netflix on October 4 2020. You can watch it here.

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