At the age of 93, Sir David Attenborough has had, in his words, "the most extraordinary life." From spotting and filming endangered species in the wild to exploring the remotest corners of our planet, the iconic presenter has educated, inspired and opened our eyes with his programmes since 1952.
His new feature documentary, David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet, premiered in cinemas across the globe on 28th September, while his new book, A Life On Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future charts his observations of our natural world across his career, setting out the devastating decline of our planet’s biodiversity and suggesting what we can do to reverse the terrible damage.
The book is an autobiography, a manifesto and a warning. "We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited," he writes. "All we need is the will to do so."
In a GH exclusive, we put our questions to Sir David.
In the new book, you call for us to re-wild the world. How can the average person can play their part in this?
"It depends on what you have at your disposal, under your command, as it were. Have you got a window box? Well, you can put in flowers that attract butterflies. And if you've got a big garden, you can certainly do a lot of re-wilding.
"However, re-wilding is not just a question of attracting, say a particular species of bird. It’s really about trying to reconnect. You're trying to allow a complete ecosystem to develop, with insects, plants, butterflies, birds, mammals and so on, as much as would have been there if that environment was in the middle of the woods, or a meadow.
"That's more difficult to achieve, but I think what it really means is that we should allow nature to develop without putting on all the insecticides and various other things, without the curbs that we normally put on things, from the roadsides to bigger tracts of land. And re-wilding of course is an idea to be applied worldwide."
Thinking about your early travels, what sight has shocked or saddened you the most when it comes to the loss of our planet's biodiversity?
"There's nothing more depressing, startling and stark than going to a coral reef that you have known in the past as one of the most fertile and abundant and multifarious assemblages of species that you can possibly imagine – and finding it a deserted white sepulchre, just a cemetery.
"That's what has happened with global warming to a number of reefs on the barrier reef where there has been this this dying off, this killing of a reef.
"It can survive under some circumstances, every now and again. But if it happens frequently, then it can be permanent and the loss is not only of the reef, but also the reefs serve as nurseries for oceanic fish. And so the loss of coral reefs has huge effects oceanwide.
"To see that disappearance started where there once were quite literally hundreds of different species of organisms and to see nothing there at all now is really a deep shock."
In the book, you say "I have to remind myself of all of the dreadful things that humanity has done to the planet in my lifetime. After all, the sun still comes up each morning and the newspaper drops through my letterbox. But I think about it most days to some degree." What are the ways in which you have tried to change your own life or routine in recent years?
"Well, I have certainly changed my diet. Not in a great sort of dramatic way. But I don't think I've eaten red meat for months. I do eat cheese, I have to say, and I eat fish. But by and large I've become much more vegetarian over the past few years than I thought I would ever be."
What are your hopes for the future of our planet?
"That we actually manage to stop the discharge of greenhouse gases. It's causing so many problem in the world. I hope that we change and we move by shifting from burning fossil fuels, whether it's petrol or coal or whatever, into renewables.
"The bizarre thing about that is that all the technology is there, all the science is there. We know the engineering part of it, but it is putting it into action.
"I haven't travelled around the world for about six months or so now, but I suspect that when we do start to travel again - if we do - we will find that that whole areas will be devoted to renewable energy gathering. And that is very important."
You can find a full extract from Sir David Attenborough's A Life On Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future in Good Housekeeping's November issue, on shelves now!
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