For decades, David Attenborough has shown us the world.
He’s been the voice of nature for an entire generation – exalting in all its beauty, and lamenting the trials and struggles it faces. Who could know more about how human activity has impacted the natural world than he? And yet, despite the damage he’s reported time and time again, Attenborough remains optimistic about the state of the world. Perhaps it’s time we took a leaf out of his book.
The covid-19 pandemic raised oodles of questions about the way human beings relate to the animal kingdom and the ecosystems in which we exist. We found out first hand – and not for the first time – the price that comes with consuming and farming animals and encroaching on their habitats. Reflecting on all of this, Vice interviewed Attenborough to pick his brain about the pandemic, capitalism, the future, and his latest show: A Perfect Planet.
Like most of us, Attenborough spent much of the last year isolating himself from the pandemic, meaning he had to find innovative ways to continue production of the new series remotely. For him and his team, that meant relying on local crews, and recording his universally recognisable voice from his dining room, “with blankets around the walls”.
But as he, and all of us, sheltered in place, climate change continued to wreak havoc on the planet, making it a more crucial time than ever not only for A Perfect planet, but also for change. Like the pandemic brought many of us together by highlighting how much we need one another, solving the climate crisis will need the same kind of cooperation.
“We are rapidly approaching disaster,” David Attenborough told Vice, “and if we are to deal with [issues like climate change] properly and solve them, it’s going to require effort from all the nations of the world. Everyone has to come together”.
According to Attenborough, the impacts of lockdown measures on the environment were a double-edged sword – despite less air pollution in a number of places, and rumours of wild animals returning to urban areas, there were also some darker consequences to humans not being out and about.
“In London, we have cleaner air and we’ve noticed more urban animals like foxes and badgers around,” said Attenborough. “There have also been more songbirds during the summer and that’s been good.
“The negative lies with places that depend on eco-tourism and tourists. Suddenly that income has stopped and poaching has become a bigger problem in Africa especially because of that”.
It may seem like every time we solve one problem, another lies just around the corner – either a consequence of the initial solution or another hurdle along the same race. It can be tough to tell whether our lockdowns are helping or harming the environments we’ve withdrawn from, and saving lives while economies crumble can be a difficult situation to grapple with. But just because we’ll undoubtedly continue to face challenge after challenge, doesn’t mean we’re supposed to give up trying altogether. The reminder that Attenborough wishes to share with us all is that we’re all in it together – no matter what it is.
Whether fighting climate change, a pandemic, inequality, or anything else, no person – and certainly no nation – can be expected to tackle it alone. “We have to go in with the notion that we are all together, as one world, which is what I hope to emphasize in the new series: that we all have a problem to solve and we are all in it together”.
Developed countries need the contribution of developing ones just as much as the developing nations need theirs. Though it can be easy to fall into the trap of being competitive or taking on an “us” and “them” mentality, the health of our planet is a bigger deal than our pride – regardless of where that pride stems from.
There is no planet B. And, in 2021, we need to make sure we remember that. If we can stick together, there’s no reason we, like David Attenborough, can allow ourselves to once again be optimistic about the future of our planet.