Feature

David Attenbourough's way of life

Green Lifestyle magazine

Legendary naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough speaks exclusively to Green Lifestyle of his hopes and fears as we reach what he terms a “crossroads” in our relationship with planet Earth.

Sir David

Credit: UKTV

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‘Regret’ is not a word that is used very often by Sir David Attenborough. He scoffs at its mention, virtually dismissing the entire notion. “In my career, do I have any?” he muses. “Bah, none whatsoever. I don’t live a life of regret; I live a life of life. Nothing can be seen as a mistake – all of it is par for the course.”

Celebrating his 87th birthday this year, the godfather of global ecology is showing no signs of slowing his busy pace, having just returned from China where he spent time examining newly discovered fossils for the Discovery Channel. But, arguably the planet’s most recognisable living authority on the natural world, he admits frustration that he has not been able to do more to arrest what he says is a worrying slowdown in ecological and environmental awareness. “As inhabitants of this planet, we are more educated and more informed than at any time in the past, and we’re certainly doing more than ever before to protect the planet. But our attitude is more out of duress than intent, and that worries me.

“I’ve witnessed first hand the destruction laid upon the planet by man, and it’s devastating to see,” he continues. “And much of it is accidental, if such a thing can be possible. When I first started in my career in 1952, there were 2.5 billion people on the planet. Now there are seven billion, and in 2050 we’re looking at [9 billion]. I ask you, where are we all going to go?

“We all want to feed ourselves, have homes, have cars and ultimately watch our own families have their own families. But the planet cannot sustain such gargantuan growth and this is, by far, our biggest concern. In short, it’s the growing presence of man himself that seems to be the deadliest threat to our survival... to our planet’s survival.

“Unfortunately, it’s been swept under the rug for another day because the recovery of the world economy is of paramount interest. I find it odd that climate change is frequently addressed as a global threat, but where are the mentions of population increase and the detrimental consequences? It might sound melodramatic, but we are in danger of steaming towards disaster, at a faster rate than was ever anticipated. I hope some sort of paralleling solution can be found before then.”

But Attenborough – who, during his illustrious career, has been lucky enough to observe rare snow leopards, dive with the mysterious narwhals and, with the help of computer graphics, even walk with dinosaurs – is keen to balance the equation. “What I’ve tried to impart has been knowledge, and in the modern era knowledge is everything. That does give me hope.

“The Internet is making people more aware of green issues – the evils of illegal dumping, ocean acidification and threats to marine welfare, destruction of habitats, deforestation and more. Two decades ago we would only access this information if we saw a newspaper article or caught a television documentary. Now, we can actively research it. That’s why even areas suffering from poverty, such as Uganda, can still do marvellous things preserving their mountain gorilla population. It’s why, on a really local level, people are beginning to realise the value of walking or cycling over polluting modes of transport, of sourcing local goods that are organically produced. It’s why there is a reaction against power plants and pylons, and an embracing of local renewable energy, local employment and local trade through farmers’ markets.

“It’s not been a good few decades for the planet, but I sense there is a real shift now. We’ve just got to seize that and take it on – all of us.”

With many decades of work behind him – and a host of plants and animals named in his honour – Attenborough will not let old age prevent his work on issues to do with wildlife, nature and conservation. “You either give in to it and say, ‘That’s it, I’m finished’, or you keep going. I have no intention of giving up my work. As long as my body keeps going, so will I.”

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After this article was written, and just before he was due to come to Australia for his tour, David Attenborough went into emergency heart surgery. While his tour to Australia has been postponed, he is still coming, and some tickets are still available - click here to purchase.