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sirDA Dialogue Corner
Read our interview with the naturalist star - Sir David Attenborough

UN Environment Europe: Dear Sir David, Perhaps I should start by telling you a little about World Environment Day, which gave us the idea of getting in touch. The Day is celebrated on 5 June each year and is our biggest awareness-raising event of the year. We organise conferences, green actions, film screenings and work with famous people and governments.

 

Every year we have a set theme for the Day, and this years’ is Connecting people to nature, imploring people to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate its beauty and importance.

 

Towards the end of the incredible Planet Earth 2 series, you say that many of our environmental problems stem from our relationship with nature breaking down. What happened, do you think, for this relationship to be damaged?

 

You would need a psychiatrist to answer that fully. I can only tell you why its profound.

 

I receive letters from many people following the television programmes I make and it’s clear that in times of trouble people find comfort in the natural world – even just by seeing it.

 

And you don't have to be out in the countryside. Even in towns, I’ve worked with a charity dedicated to persuading schools to swap tarmac for even a simple pond, and children draw enormous fascination from them. There isn’t a child that doesn't get filled with wonder by nature, even from a very early age.

 

If you lose passion for nature you’ve lost one of more precious things human beings have. It is the source of everything we find beautiful.

 

How can we connect people back with nature?

 

You only have to do even slightest thing and once the flame is lit it will keep on burning. Natural history is buried deep in our hearts in Britain for example. Yet it is only thanks to the Industrial Revolution and people losing nature that you begin to realise how precious it is.

 

So many people worldwide have come to ‘meet’ – if you like – fascinating creatures such as sloths and the snow leopard thanks to you. But to someone who grew up in an urban area, and maybe has only seen a few pigeons, ants and a couple of spiders during their lives and says ‘what has nature got to do with me,’ what would you say to them?

 

I would say you are a part of it. Every mouthful of food, every breath of air is owed to nature. We depend on it.

 

In the past, the natural world was seen as enemy. The US for example pushed nature back to found the country. We used to have a relationship of animosity with nature. Now the boot is on the other foot and we realise how much we need it.

 

You mentioned the US. The environment has barely featured in recent political elections. How can we get the topic higher up the political agenda?

 

It is not looking at all good in the US. There they have vast amounts of space such as in the Mid-West, whereas it is in Europe where the density of human beings is much higher that we realise how precious the natural world is.

 

Yet we owe the US the idea of national parks – President Wilson first set them up. Australia also has a very good record of setting up national parks.

 

How have you seen the world change during your amazing career?


The very simple answer is that since I started natural history programmes the world’s population has more than tripled. People need food, they need to move and all that requires space and natural resources.

 

Given this population change, are you optimistic about the future of our planet?

 

It is not surprising that we are having problems – people had never got together to agree on everything in the past.

The first time was with the Whaling Commission. Nations got together and agreed to stop hunting whales – it was never thought that it could be done.

 

It would be desperately sad if the US withdraws from the Paris Agreement – let’s hope they will stay in. Because the Paris Agreement shows we can get together and agree – if implemented we would stand a chance.

 

Do you feel that citizens and politicians have learned that we need to protect nature more compared to the past?

 

Many have, but some very powerful ones haven’t. China was seen to be a huge problem in terms of the environment and has an enormous population. Yet now it has seen the light.

 

So there are great dangers, but we’ve had successes.

 

 

Sir David Attenborough is an English naturalist and broadcaster that has brought flora and fauna to the homes of millions. He has produced and narrated some of the most popular nature documentaries in the world, including the Planet Earth and Blue Planet series. A new edition of Blue Planet will be on screens in 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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