Climate crisis: ‘Humans are intruders’ and the natural world is better off without us, says Sir David Attenborough

Legendary naturalist explores lockdown’s influence on the environment in new documentary

Joe Sommerlad@JoeSommerlad
Thursday 15 April 2021 11:07
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Sir David Attenborough: 'The natural world would do better if we weren't there at all'
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Sir David Attenborough has said that human beings have a duty to remember that we are “intruders” and “latecomers” to the planet when considering our environmental impact and that “the natural world, by-and-large, would do much better if we weren’t there at all”.

Speaking to the BBC’s science editor David Shukman ahead of the release of his new documentary The Year Earth Changed on Apple+, which concerns the effect 12 months of enforced lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic has had on our world, Sir David was frank about mankind’s negative influence.

“Human beings, even with the best will in the world, cannot but restrict the natural world,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re pushing it aside. Even the most considerate of us.

“That’s almost inevitable to some degree but let us realise that we are intruders, that we are latecomers and that the natural world, by-and-large, would do much better if we weren’t there at all.”

Asked about his hopes for this year’s UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow in November, Sir David said: “We have got to get together and the nations of the world have got to agree that it will mean some things people will have to give up, others will have to be understanding, all those problems have got to be sorted out.

“We haven’t done it before but we’ll have to do it now.”

On his own popularity, the 94-year-old, who has brought the joy of exotic wildlife to the attention of British television audiences since the mid-1950s over the course of an extraordinary career, was characteristically modest and quick to deflect praise.

“What it does to me is to remind me that the natural world, if it’s allowed to appear and as it were, speak to people, is full of drama,” he said. “The best thing I can do is to keep out of the way. The best thing I can do is keep quiet.

“People think that the credit in some way belongs to me. It doesn’t. It belongs to the natural world, the wonder, and to ... the connection which comes from the cameramen.

“That’s why the programmes are worth watching. Because the natural world is just full of spectacle and wonder.”

The Year Earth Changed airs on Friday 16 April on Apple TV+

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