David Attenborough’s new book, A Life on Our Planet, should be on everyone’s Christmas gift list. Ask for it, or give it. If nothing else can persuade people of the urgency of tackling the climate and biodiversity emergencies, perhaps this will.
Even if you are already convinced, Attenborough’s Witness Statement delivers a powerful jolt. I watched the film of the same title (available on Netflix) and was horrified; reading the book reinforces that reaction as the facts are laid out on the page.
Luckily, the Witness Statement comes with a Vision for the Future. We can “once again become a species in harmony with nature” if we act now, says Attenborough. “All we require is the will.”
The positive message goes a long way to offset the appalling facts. I was particularly struck by this statistic: wild mammals account for just 4%, that’s four in 100, of the mass of all the mammals on Earth. Humans make up a third, with the remainder, more than 60%, being domestic mammals, mainly cows, pigs and sheep.
Most of the birds on our planet are chickens, insect numbers are in steep decline, and there is not a beach in the world unpolluted by our waste. That’s not to mention we are on course for 4C of global warming by 2100 as things stand. That’s more than double the 1.5C target we hope to stay within.
Attenborough’s primary solution to our problems is rewilding. This nature-based approach to capturing and storing carbon is by far the best. It’s what the world’s ecosystems had been doing effectively for thousands of years to maintain a stable climate before humans interfered on a massive scale. Such a project, undertaken alongside global cuts in carbon emissions, “would be the ultimate win-win – carbon storage and biodiversity gain all in one”, says Attenborough.
To move forward though, we will have to abandon our addiction to economic growth, at least as currently defined. A new model is needed to guide us to a more sustainable lifestyle; Attenborough suggests the Doughnut Model developed by Kate Raworth, an economist at the University of Oxford. This defines a safe space that takes account of the planetary boundaries we need to live within and of the need to share resources more evenly so no one is short of the necessities for human wellbeing.
Attenborough may not have all the answers, but he does have an influential voice. Let’s help people hear it.