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David Attenborough: humanity must come to its senses or face environmental disaster

The BBC broadcaster and naturalist fears for the planet after seeing the global population treble during his career – but firmly believes that the world can still could come together to avoid catastrophe

Published: Thursday, 13th October 2016 at 3:56 pm

Sir David Attenborough has issued a rallying call to the developed world to unite and overcome the threats to the future of the planet posed by overpopulation and environmental damage.


In a rousing address to a festival audience in Bristol, he admitted that the problems facing the world often made him despair.

“It’s easy to get depressed, very depressed, and I do. But you have to take the longer view,” he said.

Interviewed by fellow naturalist Chris Packham at a session during the city’s Wildscreen Festival, he warned, “I am quite sure that almost every one of us in this room has seen a better world than any of our grandchildren will do. The world is going to be poorer, and more crowded; the weather is going to be more extreme; the seas are not going to be as productive. But I hope humanity will come to its senses in a global way to handle these problems and I believe it can be done.”

He said the population of the world had tripled during his 60-year broadcasting career. “Three times as many,” he said emphatically. “They all need houses and roads and food for their children and themselves. A certain amount comes from reclamation of urban areas, but a great deal comes from the natural world. And that is a major disaster. And greater densities of urban population produces all sorts of evils – urban violence, starvation…”

The threats facing the planet sometimes seemed insurmountable he admitted, but Attenborough said he still retained hope that things could be turned around. In supporting a new global vision he paraded his own very green credentials.

“I am apprehensive but I still don’t think we ought to despair. If we can get together we can find solutions to a lot of the problems we face, particularly with energy production. Within ten years it could be absolutely possible to produce energy directly from the sun and the tides and the wind at – and this is the key thing – a price which undercuts the oil and the coal. And that can be done.”

Packham asked Attenborough whether we needed greater activism to protect endangered wildlife. In doing so he revealed that he’d just returned from Cyprus where he’d been cutting nets to release birds that had been illegally trapped.

Attenborough said the work of wildlife filmmakers played an important role in making the public aware about the threats to both the wilderness and the wild animals that share it.

“I seriously think that wildlife programming and film-making is of crucial importance to the future of the world. The UN has said that the majority of the human race is now urbanised, so a majority of the human race doesn’t see a true wild animal. We also know that we depend upon the natural world for every breath of air we take and every mouth of food we eat. If we damage the natural world we damage ourselves. If the natural world is in peril we are in peril.


"People should be aware of the way the natural world works to understand when they’re damaging it.”

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