Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough has made so many documentaries that many will recognize his voice out of thousands. He has brought the natural world into our homes and by doing so he has also inspired many to protect it. For more than 60 years he has been describing wildlife on all continents, but since the turn of the millennium he has also warned us about climate change. This change came about because at the start of his career, it was nearly inconceivable that the environment would be in such a state of crisis and even pockets of animal extinction seemed like the exception rather than the norm.
Sir David Frederick Attenborough was born in 1926 in London, England, and grew up in Leicester. David early developed a strong interest in natural history. He was educated at Clare College, Cambridge (M.A., 1947), and began work at an educational publishing house in 1949. In 1952 he completed a training program at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and became a television producer for the BBC. Attenborough was director of television programming of the BBC from 1968 to 1972, but he resigned to write and produce television series on a freelance basis. As a young man he was looking for new ways to make films and a life outside the television studio. The result was the hit series 'Zoo Quest,' which combined live studio presentation with footage shot on location for the first time. It brought rare animals - including chimpanzees, pythons and birds of paradise - into viewers' living rooms and proved wildlife programmes could attract big audiences.
“What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth”
He went on to write (and narrate) award-winning television programs on anthropology and natural history, most famous of which is the Life series: Life on Earth (1979), The Living Planet (1984), The Trials of Life (1990), Life in the Freezer(1993), The Private Life of Plants (1995), The Life of Birds (1998), The Life of Mammals (2002–03), Life in the Undergrowth (2005), and Life in Cold Blood (2008). His other TV credits included The Blue Planet (2001), an exploration of the world’s oceans, and State of the Planet (2000) and Are We Changing Planet Earth? (2006), both of which dealt heavily with environmental issues such as global warming. He narrated but did not write Blue Planet II (2017); for his narration, Attenborough earned an Emmy Award.
Attenborough’s latest project, an eight-part Netflix series called “Our Planet” is produced in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and reminds us about how climate change is threatening significant parts of the natural world. He also gives us hope that humans might find the collective willpower to avert the most catastrophic consequences. For Attenborough it is very important to show people how we are losing the natural world due to human causes and why it is important that we care. “We are totally dependent upon the natural world for every mouthful of food we eat and every lungful of air that we breathe. If we damage the natural world, we reduce that, so we damage ourselves. That’s the first. The second thing is that they should see — because the United Nations tell us that most people these days are urbanized, out of touch with the natural world, to some degree — that they should see the complexity, the beauty and the wonder of the natural world on which we depend. And finally, they should see that we have got to do something to look after it because the way things are going, we are running into serious trouble.” A healthy planet, Attenborough added, is an essential part of human life.
This year Sir David Attenborough has described plastic pollution as an “unfolding catastrophe” and has backed a report that warned of a public health emergency, claiming that between 400,000 and one million people die each year due to preventable diseases linked to mismanaged plastic waste in developing countries. These include diarrhoea, malaria and cancer, all of which researchers have linked to plastic waste building up up near people’s homes, or being burnt, which can result in damaging fumes. According to the United Nations, more than eight million tonnes of plastic is getting into the world’s oceans every year. This poses a major threat to marine animals who ingest plastics, but it can also lead to large amounts of waste washing up on shorelines, which can deter tourists from visiting and contributing to the economy in poorer countries. Attenborough: “It is high time we turn our attention fully to one of the most pressing problems of today – averting the plastic pollution crisis – not only for the health of our planet, but for the wellbeing of people around the world.” “We need leadership from those who are responsible for introducing plastic [such as Coca-Cola and Unilever] to countries where it cannot be adequately managed,” Attenborough continued, “and we need international action to support the communities and governments most acutely affected by this crisis.”
As for personal choices, Attenborough decided in 2017 to stop eating meat. He admitted that while his transition toward plant-based foods has been imperfect, it is important to make the change. “I haven’t been a doctrinaire vegetarian or vegan, but I no longer have the same appetite for meat. We need to start making serious changes in order to combat climate change”. The UN named meat “the world’s most urgent problem,” especially in the realms of climate change.
At Davos 2019 Attenborough warned that humankind has the power to exterminate whole ecosystems “without even noticing”, and urged world leaders to treat the natural world with respect. “Care for the natural world. Not only care for the natural world but treat it with a degree of respect and reverence,” Attenborough said.