29 December 2020

Sir David Attenborough’s dire warning on the impact of global warning : It’s not science-fiction, it’s going to happen

Sir David Attenborough is back on screens with a new five-part series, A Perfect Planet, on BBC One. Shot across 31 countries over the space of four years, the landmark series takes a closer look at the forces of nature affecting Earth.

With each episode focusing on a different element – Volcano, The Sun, Weather, Oceans and Humans – it is no surprise the BBC team travelled to the far corners of the globe in search of rarely-seen species and breathtaking filming locations. Tackling a plethora of pertinent questions, the series shows both the positive and negative impact that humans and nature alike can have on the earth.

Ahead of the landmark series, we speak with Sir David Attenborough, 94, about what to expect from his latest endeavour.

You address the scale of human impact on the planet in this series…

“The first thing I keep reminding myself of, is that there are three times as many human beings on this planet as there were when I first made a television programme. It’s right now, it’s happening, and if we don’t sort out how we deal with the planet, we’re in big trouble.

Do you have a favourite scene from A Perfect Planet? 

“I have to say, that flamingo sequence is one of the most memorable sequences I’ve seen on television. Shot under extraordinarily difficult circumstances… it’s impossible not to identify with these poor little chicks who have to make it from the middle of this appalling lake to the edge to get away from their nest in the centre.”

Can we expect more groundbreaking cinematography? 

“It has been filmed so beautifully, the use of drones, that is to say cameras which can take you up into the sky, and see whatever you want to see, it’s so skilful. And the pictures are so indelibly planted on the mind, that’s what I think about actually on the whole series. My goodness, it’s extraordinary.”

Does climate change remain the biggest threat to the planet? 

“If we warm the earth to such a degree that the Arctic melts, every city in the world – every big city in the world, very nearly, will be underwater. A high proportion of the important cities in the world are built around the coast because of their ports and if the ice – if the northern Arctic melts, the seas are going to rise and flood those cities.

“That’s not imagination, that’s not H. G. Wells, it’s not science-fiction, it’s going to happen and we have still got a chance to stop it happening. What we have to do to persuade people that’s the case… You have to say there’s a very strong element in the United States that does not believe it – including the past president.”

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What small change can people make that will have a big impact? 

“Not waste. That’s what they can do – and that’s what they’ll be forced to do, really. I mean, it is extraordinary how much we do waste at Christmas, simply on wrapping paper – I’m as guilty as anybody. The chap who collects the refuse from this house would, I’m sure, say, ‘The amount of paper he throws away is awful’ – and that’s true. But the sort of lush extravagance of Christmas, perhaps, is out of place at this particular moment.”

Do you feel a responsibility to educate people using the platform you’ve created? 

“I sort of mistrust too much personality. I’m embarrassed by my own, every time I’m referred to. And I’m sure that Greta [Thunberg] would actually say the same. But, it’s the way of things, there have to be people that speak.

“We understand why it is that a personal statement is more powerful than one that’s an abstract statement or one that’s not backed up… Greta’s very good on this – Greta says all the time, ‘It’s not me, it is the science, it is the science we must listen to and the scientists’, and I absolutely agree.”

Is it frustrating to see people in power ignoring your warnings?

“Rome wasn’t built in a day and the whole world hasn’t suddenly changed overnight, but I think in fact people are more aware internationally of the natural world as a consequence of what we’ve been going through than the reverse. I think that’s the case.”

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How did you handled lockdown restrictions? 

“I’m very lucky. I don’t have a huge garden, I don’t want you to think I live on an estate. I’ve got a reasonable garden and it has a pond. Since I’ve lived here – which is 60 years, something like that, I can’t remember taking three walks a day in my garden, as I did almost every day this spring.”

Did it make you more aware of the nature around you?

“I was more aware this spring of flowers opening, buds forming, birds arriving, than I’ve ever been, because I’ve been busy – and most are. I mean, running for the tube and working in an office and I haven’t done that now for going on nine months, it’s amazing.”

A Perfect Planet airs at 8pm on Sunday, January 3 2021 on BBC One.

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