• Reading Level 5
Science | Geography | Citizenship

Attenborough calls for the rewilding of Earth

Can we still save the planet? A new EU report shows that three quarters of Europe’s species require better conservation, and 80% of its key natural habitats are in poor or bad condition. An elderly man walks through a deserted city. The floors of the decaying buildings are strewn with broken glass and books whose pages stir in the wind. The only other human faces to be seen are on a faded mural. A fox slips along a corridor; a moose pauses in the middle of the road. Enormous trees have grown among abandoned tower blocks. The man is David Attenborough, and the place he is exploring is Chernobyl. Following an explosion at its nuclear power plant in 1986, every one of its 50,000 inhabitants had to be evacuated. The explosion was the result of human error - perhaps the most expensive one ever. "But," Attenborough says in his new film, A Life on Our Planet, "Chernobyl was a single event. The true tragedy of our time is still unfolding across the globe, barely noticeable from day to day. I'm talking about the loss of our planet's wild places, its biodiversity." The environment, he explains, is "a finely tuned life-support machine", that humans have pushed out of sync. As at Chernobyl, the natural world will survive in some form - but unless we mend our ways, we may not. The European Environment Agency's latest report echoes his anxiety. It says that less than half of the continent's bird species are thriving, and marine populations are threatened by over-fishing. Attenborough was born in 1926, and the pace of change in his 94 years has been extraordinary. When he was 11, the world held two billion people, and 66% of the Earth was wilderness. Today its population is 7.8 billion, and only 35% is wilderness. Some of the film is horrifying. In one scene, an enormous old tree is felled by a single man with a power saw. Half of the world's rainforests - some three trillion trees - have now been lost. Attenborough outlines two possible scenarios for the future. The first is truly frightening. In the 2030s, the Amazon rainforest becomes a dry savannahA large flat area covered with glass and occasional trees. . In the 2040s, global warming accelerates as melting permafrost releases methaneA particularly strong greenhouse gas produced by fossil fuels and cattle. into the atmosphere. In the 2050s, coral reefs die and fish populations crash. In the 2080s, over-farmed soil results in food shortages. By 2100, much of the planet is uninhabitable and billions are homeless. But, Attenborough tells us, "If we act now, we can yet put it right." Carbon levels can be reduced by using power from wind, water and the Sun. These are predicted to be the world's main sources of power within 20 years. The sea could be replenished by introducing no-fishing zones. This has been successfully done in Palau, and is being attempted on a much larger scale by the UN. Eating less meat would reduce the demand for farmland and make reforesting possible. Dutch vegetable farmers have managed to increase production tenfold by using sustainable methods. In Costa Rica, much of the rainforest has been re-established thanks to government grants. On a global scale, we could grow enough trees to absorb two thirds of the carbon we have emitted to date. Can we still save the planet? Permaproblem? Some say, no: too many of us are short-sighted about climate change and only interested in getting rich. As long as there are profits to be made from destroying rainforests and burning fossil fuel, people will carry on doing so. And with powerful leaders like presidents Trump and Bolsonaro encouraging their activities, there is little anyone else can do to stop them. Others argue that nobody deliberately sets out to destroy the natural world - we just need people like Attenborough to explain the problem and show us how to behave better. The huge amount of plastic in the oceans only became widely recognised a couple of years ago; as soon as it did, we set out to reduce it. If we come together to voice our concerns, governments will have to address them. KeywordsSavannah - A large flat area covered with glass and occasional trees.

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