British naturalist Sir David Attenborough warned the World Economic Forum in Davos today that “we are destroying the natural world, and with it ourselves,” and chided participants to “don’t throw away food, or throw away power, just care for the natural world, of which we are a part.”
Attenborough was at the forum to receive an award for his work combating climate change, and was interviewed onstage by Prince William.
Attenborough noted that when launching his BBC show in the 1950s “the human population was only a third of the size of what it is today… you really did get the feeling of what it might have been like to be in the Garden of Eden” while in the natural world back then.
“If you lose that first wonder, you’ve lost one of the most greatest sources of delight and pleasure and beauty in the whole of the universe. Caring for that brings a joy and enlightenment which is irreplaceable. That is one of the great pleasures of life,” he said, marveling how modern technology brings the full scope of the natural world to viewers today: “We can now go everywhere. We can go to the bottom of the sea, we can go into space, we can use drones, we can use helicopters.”
“I don’t think there was anybody in the 1950s who thought that there was a danger that we might annihilate part of the natural world… the notion that human beings might exterminate a whole species was not something people thought about, and if it did occur… it seemed the exception,” Attenborough said. “Now, of course, we are only too aware that the whole of the natural world is at our disposal, that we can do things accidentally that exterminate a whole area of the natural world, and all the species that live within it.”
The naturalist told Prince William “it’s difficult to overstate” the urgency with climate change.
“We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all-pervasive, the mechanisms that we have for destruction are so wholesale and so frightening, that we can actually exterminate whole ecosystems without even noticing it,” Attenborough continued. “We have now to be really aware of the dangers of what we are doing. And we already know the plastic problems in the seas is wreaking appalling damage upon marine life. The extent of which we don’t yet fully know.”
He theorized that world leaders have been slow to respond to climate change “because the connection between the natural world and the urban world, the human society, since the Industrial Revolution, has been remote and widening.”
“The natural world, of which we are a part, is incredibly complex and it has connections all over the place,” Attenborough said. “If you damage one, you can never tell where the damage is going to end up, because of all the broken connections. And if you break all of them, then suddenly the whole fabric collapses and you get eco-disaster.”