There are not many who achieve so much, but Sir David most definately has!
This is our planet. It is the only one we have (stating the obvious!).
This beautiful photograph taken from the Apollo 11 mission says it all. That Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969 changed everything.
But one thing that was not on anyone’s mind then; the state of the planet!
How that has changed since 1969.
David Attenborough is a giant of a man, and I say this out of humility and respect for what he has done in his long life, he was born in May, 1926, and he is still fighting hard to get us humans to wake up to the crisis that is upon us.
Please take 45 minutes and watch this film. It is so important.
But before you do please read this extract taken from this site about the film:
For decades David Attenborough delighted millions of people with tales of life on Earth, exploring wild places and documenting the living world in all its variety and wonder. Now, for the first time he reflects upon both the defining moments of his lifetime as a naturalist and the devastating changes he has seen.
Honest, revealing and urgent, the film serves as a witness statement for the natural world – a first-hand account of humanity’s impact on nature, from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the jungles of central Africa, the North Pole and Antarctica. It also aims to provide a message of hope for future generations.
“I’ve had a most extraordinary life. It’s only now I appreciate how extraordinary,” Sir David says in the film’s trailer, in which he also promises to tell audiences how we can “work with nature rather than against it”.
The film retraces Sir David’s career, his life stages and natural history films, within the context of human population growth and the loss of wilderness areas. “I don’t think that the theoretical basis for the reason why biodiversity is important is a widely understood one,” he told the Guardian in September.
This autumn, a series of publications warned that “humanity is at a crossroads” in its relationship with nature, culminating in a UN report that the world has failed to meet a single target to stop the destruction of nature in the past decade.
Sir David has been vocal about the threat of climate change in recent years, calling on politicians to take their “last chance” to act rather than continue to “neglect long-term problems”.
“We need to learn how to work with nature, rather than against it”, according to Sir David. In the film, he is going to tell us how.
Now watch the film. Please!
As you can see, in the film Sir David states that the only way out of this mess is a massive focus on rewilding.
Coincidentally, Patrice Ayme last Sunday wrote about rewilding: California Grizzly: Rewilding Is A Moral Duty. In the latter half of that essay, he wrote: “One should strive to reintroduce American megafauna, starting with the more innocuous species (and that includes the grizzly). By the way, I have run and hiked in grizzly country (Alaska), with a huge bear pepper spray cannister at the ready. I nearly used the cannister on a charging moose (with her calf which was as big as a horse). The calf slipped off, and I eluded the mom through a thicket of very closely spaced tough trees. But I had my finger on the trigger, safety off. Moose attack more humans than grizzlies and wolves combined (although a bear attack is more dangerous). In any case, in the US, stinging insects kill around 100, deer around 200 (mostly through car collisions), and lightning around three dozen people, per year.
As it is, I run and hike a lot in California wilderness, out of rescue range. I generally try to stay aware of where and when I could come across bears, lions and rattlers. My last close call with a large rattlesnake, up a mountain slope, was partly due to hubris and not realizing I was moving in dangerous terrain. Fortunately I heard the slithering just in time. Dangerous animals make us aware of nature in its full glory, and the real nature of the human condition. They keep us more honest with what is real, what humanity is all about.
And that should be the primordial sense.“
I will close by offering you this photograph. May it inspire you to rewild, in small ways and also, if you can, in bigger ways. All of us must be involved. Otherwise…
For someone born on May 8th, 1926 he, perhaps, should be slowing down. But none of it. He is passionate about how we are endangering our planet. And having a public profile he is the right position to do something about it, albeit a warning statement.
Sir David’s new programme lays out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it.
“In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined,” Sir David states in the film.
“It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”
Speaking to a range of scientists, the programme highlights that temperatures are rising quickly, with the world now around 1C warmer than before the industrial revolution.
“There are dips and troughs and there are some years that are not as warm as other years,” says Dr Peter Stott from the Met Office.
“But what we have seen is the steady and unremitting temperature trend. Twenty of the warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 22 years.”
The programme shows dramatic scenes of people escaping from wildfires in the US, as a father and son narrowly escape with their lives when they drive into an inferno.
Scientists say that the dry conditions that make wildfires so deadly are increasing as the planet heats up.
Some of the other impacts highlighted by scientists are irreversible.
“In the last year we’ve had a global assessment of ice losses from Antarctica and Greenland and they tell us that things are worse than we’d expected,” says Prof Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds.
“The Greenland ice sheet is melting, it’s lost four trillion tonnes of ice and it’s losing five times as much ice today as it was 25 years ago.”
These losses are driving up sea levels around the world. The programme highlights the threat posed by rising waters to people living on the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, forcing them from their homes.
“In the US, Louisiana is on the front line of this climate crisis. It’s losing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet – at the rate of of a football field every 45 minutes,” says Colette Pichon Battle, a director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy.
“The impact on families is going to be something I don’t think we could ever prepare for.”
Sir David’s concern over the impacts of climate change has become a major focus for the naturalist in recent years.
This has also been a theme of his One Planet series on Netflix.
His new BBC programme has a strong emphasis on hope.
Sir David argues that if dramatic action is taken over the next decade then the world can keep temperatures from rising more than 1.5C this century. This would limit the scale of the damage.
“We are running out of time, but there is still hope,” says Sir David.
“I believe that if we better understand the threat we face the more likely it is we can avoid such a catastrophic future.”
Yes, nature can be cruel but in ways that we understand. Animals, to the best of my knowledge, do not hunt for sport. Animals do not lie. They don’t seek political power (sorry; couldn’t resist that!).
All of which is my short introduction to an item that Dan sent me yesterday.
A wolf pack: the first 3 are the old or sick, they give the pace to the entire pack.
If it was the other way round, they would be left behind, losing contact with the pack. In case of an ambush they would be sacrificed.
Then come 5 strong ones, the front line. In the center are the rest of the pack members, then the 5 strongest following. Last is alone, the alpha. He controls everything from the rear.
In that position he can see everything, decide the direction. He sees all of the pack. The pack moves according to the elders pace and help each other, watch each other.
For once I am speechless, I knew that wolves are different, but didn’t realize how much we could learn from them…
Compelling, eh! But factually correct?
In this case Nature is not guiding us. It is man misguiding us.
That makes for a compelling and inspirational story about teamwork — but it’s not true.
David Attenborough took the photo in question for the BBC’s “Frozen Planet” Series in 2011. It shows 25 timber wolves hunting bison in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. The female alpha wolf led the pack, and the others followed in a single file line to save energy as they made their way through deep snow, according to the environmental website Benvironment.
Wolf packs are typically about half the size of the pack pictured in the photo from 2011. Most packs don’t hunt prey the size of bison (which is 10 times the size of a wolf), but the larger pack is able to. And the wolves walking in a single file line through deep snow is a classic example of how they’re able to use weather conditions to their advantage while hunting prey that’s much larger than them.
Also, the idea that wolves have to be on the lookout for “ambushes” or attacks isn’t true, either. Wolves are at the top of the food chain and have no natural predators. Aside from turf battles with other wolves (which wouldn’t start in an ambush) bears are the only threat to wolves in Canada. Even so, experts say that bears are only able to prey on wolf pups because grown wolves are too fast, swift and clever to get caught by them.
I will close with this quotation from Andre Gide:
Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.
Yesterday, a wonderful number of readers ‘Liked’ my set of photographs on the theme of being a wildlife photographer. Thus it was providential, when deliberating on what to write for today’s post, to see that George Monbiot had published an article covering his recent interview with Sir David.
Before republishing that interview, let’s take a look at the man; Sir David that is!
Wikipedia has a comprehensive and fulsome description of him, that opens, thus:
He is best known for writing and presenting the nine Life series, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, which collectively form a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on the planet. He is also a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, and 3D.
From across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, we’ve taken your comments during #AttenboroughWeek and made this video as a thank you to everyone who got involved. Click on the annotations to see each of the clips in full.
My interview, in his 90th year, with Sir David Attenborough
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 23rd January 2016
You cannot meet David Attenborough without reflecting on the lottery of life. He bounces into the room unaccompanied, a little stiff in the lower back perhaps, but otherwise breezy and lithe. He is sound in wind and limb, vision and hearing, his eyes sparkle, his face is scarcely rumpled by time. Yet in three months he will celebrate his 90th birthday.
While other people’s worlds tend to shrink with age, his seems to expand. His curiousity ranges as widely as ever. His ability to understand and assimilate new information seems unabated. “Oh, I forget things,” he claims. When I press him for examples, he tells me, “Well, where I put my glasses, I had them about three minutes ago and they have simply evaporated, they’ve dematerialised. Oh yeah, and I forget engagements.”
But these, surely, are afflictions suffered by anyone immersed in the world of ideas. He has no diffulty remembering the things that fascinate him. When I ask him about his new project, his body bundles up with excitement.
“Luminous earthworms! Did you know about luminous earthworms? Aaah, aaah, yes, very interesting. I’m doing a thing on bioluminescence … and with a little research we discovered that there are earthworms in France that are luminous – in the earth! Why? Yes, why?! Well at the moment I am just thinking about it. As you well know there’s a gene for luminosity and it’s very widespread, and so you would like to suppose that it has some antiquity. So maybe luminosity was a by-product of digestive processes or energy processes or something.
“And if it is, the exciting thing is – what about all those graptolites, what if they were luminous?! In which case, now you suddenly realise that trilobites have bloody good eyes, so maybe they were there too! Wow!” (Graptolites and trilobites are long-extinct marine animals).
I mention his latest film, which will air on Sunday, about the excavation and reconstruction of the skeletons of Titanosaurs, the biggest terrestrial animals known to have walked the Earth. Why, I ask, do dinosaurs exert such a grip, especially on the minds of children?
“Partly because nearly all the adults have got it wrong. It’s one of the easiest subjects for a kid – or it was when I was a kid – for you to expose your parents, because you had just read the new cigarette card and there was a name there, a polysyllabic name, your parents had never heard of.”
And there he still was, I realised, the boy with his cigarette cards, his excitement about creatures that lived many millions of years ago undimmed by the passage of mere decades.
So this is what must have happened. On one of his early expeditions through a remote tract of rainforest, he stumbled across the elixir of life. He has been hoarding it ever since and surreptitiously sipping a little every day. Either that, or he is simply the luckiest man alive: fit, bright, relevant, in love with life, the last man standing.
He has the decency to be aware of his luck. “People sitting in corners doing nothing aren’t there because they want to sit in the corner doing nothing. They would much rather be doing [things]. And I am lucky enough to be able to do them. It would be very ungrateful to have that facility and not use it.” He has, of course, no intention of retiring.
There is only one lifeform he is reluctant to discuss, the scientific curiosity known as Sir David Attenborough. He created a powerful sense, when talking, of intimacy and candour, leaning in, holding my gaze, twinkling and gurning, speaking in his confidential whisper. But when I came to read the transcript of our interview I found that what had felt like frank confession was nothing of the kind. What he said with his body bore no relation to what he said with his words.
I pressed him several times on an issue with which I have long been struggling. How do those of us who love the natural world cope with its loss? He must have seen more than his fair share of devastation.
“Oh yes, of course. You go to Borneo and see oil palms everywhere where there was forest. You see people everywhere where there weren’t people.”
“And how does it affect you, seeing those changes?”
“Well you feel apprehensive for the future, of course you do.”
“So how do you cope?”
“I don’t have a rosy view of life, of the future, I look at my grandchildren and think ‘what are they going to have to deal with?’, of course I do. How could you not?”
But what about the emotional impact? Does he not get depressed? Does he have a mechanism for avoiding depression? He answered by bouncing the issue onto someone else.
“I once asked exactly the same question of Peter Scott [the great British conservationist, who died in 1989]. And he said, ‘Well you can only do what you can do.’ So what I do is what I can, but I wish to goodness I had done a tenth of what Peter did.”
While his self-deprecation is charming, it also seems defensive. I pictured those two quintessentially English men stroking their chins and repeating “you can only do what you can do” to each other, and thought of a scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. An army captain pays a call on one of his men, who is lying in bed, nonchalently reading a book. “What’s all the trouble, then?”. “Bitten, sir. During the night”. “Hmm. Whole leg gone, eh … Any idea how it happened?”. “None whatsoever. Complete mystery to me. Woke up just now, one sock too many.” Monty Python made their television debut on BBC2, commissioned by the controller at the time, a certain David Attenborough.
When talking in general terms, he uses the word “I”. When asked to talk about his feelings, he says “you”. Some of this is perhaps generational: it was once considered vulgar to discuss such matters. But perhaps his great fame has also obliged him to develop a carapace. I asked whether his public life has blurred the boundaries of his private self.
“There has always been the private and the public thing in you, in everybody”, he replies. “You are different things to different people, to your children, to your television producer.”
Can he go anywhere in public without being mobbed?
“I have to confess the ubiquity of the selfie is, er – On occasion when they say ‘do you mind’, I say ‘well, I am off duty at the moment’, and they say ‘oh are you?’, by which time I’m three yards down the road. But I do have to remember that they are the people who … listen to me, you know, and so you try not to be rude.”
I asked him if he ever gets lonely. His wife, Jane Oriel, died almost 20 years ago.
“Hmm? Oh. My daughter lives in the same house as me now and has done for many years. So once a day I see her, she runs my business affairs and, you know, I’m very lucky.”
He is just as discreet about the politics surrounding his work. On the day I met him, the controller of BBC2 and BBC4, Kim Shillinglaw, lost her post. He was plainly delighted, chuckling and winking and grinning when he asked me whether I had read that morning’s news. But he was careful to say nothing quotable. Television producers I know expressed intense frustration at her instant and unexplained dismissal of programmes they proposed on environmental themes.
But the problem, as I perceive it, is much wider than that: has there not been a systemic failure by television to cover the great crisis of our age: the gradual collapse of the Earth’s living systems?
“I am absolutely certain that the general public at large is more aware of the natural world than it was even before the industrial revolution,” he replies, “and that people are well informed about not only what the world contains but the processes that go on. Television has made a contribution to that. … I greatly regret the fact that there are no or very few regular – ”
He stops himself, and plunges into a more general discussion of scheduling. Surely, I persist, there’s a real problem here? Entire years have passed without a single substantial programme on environmental issues.
“Well,” he says, more crisply than at any other time in the interview, “you’ll have to take that up with the controllers.”
I suggest that his own interest in the state of the world appears to have intensified in recent years.
“That’s not an interest. I wish I didn’t have it. I wish there was no need to have it. It’s not an interest, it’s an obligation.”
But he has surely been more prominent as an environmental voice in the past twenty years than he was before?
“Well yeah, and that is very simple in that I have been in the BBC all my working life, practically, and you knew very well … that if you said something, just because you are on the damn box people thought it was true and you’d better be bloody well sure that it is true.”
(I used to curse this reticence, willing him to get off the fence and denounce the destruction of all he loved.)
He explains that his views on climate change crystallised when he attended a lecture – he could tell me when it was if he had his diary to hand – by the president of the US National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone. After that, he made two programmes, called Are We Changing Planet Earth? and Can We Save Planet Earth?
Attenborough is not just a master of the art of television, but also one of the medium’s pioneers, producing programmes almost from its launch in this country, and guiding the development of some of its treasured strands, first as controller of BBC2 (from 1965 to 1969), and then as the BBC’s director of programmes (until 1973). Has he helped to create a monster?
“Well it depends how you define a monster. And are all monsters malign?”
Has it not encouraged us to be more sedentary, I ask: to spend less time engaging with the world about us? He laughs and winks: “And we gave up sitting in pubs for three or four hours a day! How awful!”. Would he lay any ills at the door of television? “Oh yes, of course. Adipose tissue.” Anything else? “What you might call visual chewing gum, in that it stops you thinking about anything else. But then I feel that about music. I mean I cannot understand how people want to go round with -” he mimes a pair of headphones and shifts the conversation onto a safer subject.
I was packing my things after saying goodbye when suddenly he sprang back into the room, this time wearing his glasses and holding a small leather filofax. “I’ve found the details of that lecture by Ralph Cicerone. I thought you’d want to know.” He showed me the address and the date: 2004. The old scientific habit – record your facts, check your facts – had not deserted him. As I marvelled at his recollection that he had left something hanging, and his determination to resolve it, this remarkable specimen of life on earth skipped away to his next appointment.
So let me continue on a little more by offering a short clip of Sir David as millions will have seen him from the wonderful animal partnerships BBC series.
Then it’s only natural for this blog to offer this item:
Then I am going to close today’s post by presenting a video that was first shown in this place back in September 2012.
If you need a reminder of how beautiful our planet is (and I’m sure the majority of LfD readers don’t require that reminder) then go back and watch David Attenborough’s video and voice-over to the song What a Wonderful World. This short but very compelling video shows why the planet is so worth protecting. Enjoy!
So make a diary note to celebrate Sir David’s 90th birthday on May 8th.
There have been a couple of hard-hitting posts this week, first about the implications of climate, with respect to the massive drought across the USA this year, and the efforts of Polly Higgins of the Eradicating Ecocide movement to make ecocide a crime against humanity.
This short but very compelling video shows why the planet is so worth protecting. Enjoy!
For those readers who are not regular BBC television viewers, the Beeb has for many years run an excellent factual/science & nature series under the name of Horizon. Just recently there was a programme with the title of How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth?
It was presented by that familiar face on the BBC in terms of the natural world, Sir David Attenborough. It was an appropriate and worthy person to present the information.
But before getting into some of the details underpinning the programme, there seems to been an enormous and unspoken omission at Copenhagen – why no debate about global population trends?
Luckily the media noticed the rather obvious exclusion. Here’s the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper (online version) of the 8th December, 2009. An extract:
Population growth is the one issue accused of causing driving climate change that no one at the Copenhagen climate summit dares to talk about.
The argument is that more people consume more resources, therefore producing more greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
The global population is currently at 6 billion and could rise to 11 billion by 2050 if fertility rates continue, not only threatening the climate, but food shortages and conflict as well.
Organisations like the Optimum Population Trust, that is backed by Sir Jonathan Porritt, Dame Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough, advocate birth control as a way of slowing climate change.
As Sir David has said: “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more.”
A study by the London School of Economics found contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green solutions such as investing in green technology.