Attenborough calls for the rewilding of Earth

Young David Attenborough: “I’ve always had a passion to explore, to have adventures.”

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.

David Attenborough walks through the deserted city of Chernobyl. Following an explosion at its nuclear power plant in 1986, 50,000 inhabitants were evacuated. The explosion was the result of human error – perhaps the most expensive one ever.

“But,” Attenborough says in his new film, “The true tragedy of our time is still unfolding... I’m talking about the loss of our planet’s wild places.”

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’s film outlines two possible scenarios for the future. The first is truly frightening.

In the 2030s, the Amazon rainforest becomes a dry savannah. In the 2040s, global warming accelerates as melting permafrost releases methane 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. The sea could be replenished by introducing no-fishing zones. Eating less meat would reduce the demand for farmland and make reforesting possible.

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.

Others argue that nobody deliberately sets out to destroy the natural world – we need to understand the problem. If we come together to voice our concerns, governments will have to address them.

You Decide

  1. What is the most effective way to make people change their habits and help the environment?

Activities

  1. Vast areas of rainforest, Attenborough tells us, have been cleared to make way for palm trees whose oil is used in food manufacturing. Design a poster encouraging people not to buy products containing palm oil.

Some People Say...

“Nature is our biggest ally and our greatest inspiration.”

David Attenborough (1926–), British broadcaster and environmentalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that there have been five mass extinctions in the history of life on Earth. The last one, which ended the age of the dinosaurs, wiped out 75% of the planet’s species. All involved a huge build-up of carbon in the atmosphere – and humans have produced as much in the last 200 years as earlier volcanic activity did in one million. Before the industrial revolution, global temperatures had hardly varied for 10,000 years; in Attenborough’s lifetime they have risen by 1°C.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether it is feasible to reduce intensive farming, which is encouraged by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Farm animals use up a huge proportion of Earth’s natural resources; half of the planet’s fertile ground is now farmland. Attenborough argues that we must rewild much of it in order to rebalance the environment, and many in the EU are keen to change the CAP. But they face opposition from member states in which the agricultural lobby is strong.

Word Watch

Film
A Life on Our Planet was released on Netflix.
Scenarios
A possible situation. It originally meant the outline of a play.
Savannah
A landscape containing only scattered trees.
Permafrost
Ground that has remained frozen for two years or more. Almost a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere contains it.
Methane
A type of gas that is harmful to the atmosphere. The worry is that it would be produced by rotting vegetation that had been frozen until that point.

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