A Life On Our Planet - David Attenborough’s Witness Statement and Vision of the Future Part 2
In 1960, the world population was 3.0 billion. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere was 315 parts per million, and the percentage of the remaining wilderness was 62%.
David Attenborough visited East Africa in 1960. “The Maasai word Serengeti means endless plains. For those who live here it’s an apt description. You can be in one spot of the Serengeti, and the place is totally empty of animals, and then the next morning, one million wildebeest. A quarter of a million zebras. Half a million gazelle. A few days after that and they’re gone… over the horizon.” (A Life On Our Planet)
Bernhard Grzimek and his son used a plane to follow the herds over the horizon. They charted them as they moved. They discovered that the Serengeti herds required an enormous area of healthy grassland to function and without such an immense space, the herds would diminish and the entire ecosystem would come crashing down.
In 1978, the world population was 4.3 billion. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere was 335 parts per million, and the percentage of the remaining wilderness was 55%.
David Attenborough travelled one and a half million miles and noticed that some of the animals he had known were getting harder to find. At the time, there were only 300 mountain gorillas left in a remote jungle in Central Africa. Poachers were killing adults to get the baby gorillas. The only way to keep them alive was for rangers to be with them every day.
“The process of extinction that I’d seen as a boy… in the rocks, I now became aware was happening right there around me to animals with which I was familiar. Our closest relatives. And we were responsible. It revealed a cold reality. Once a species became our target, there was now nowhere on earth that it could hide.” Sir David Attenborough
Blue whales were slaughtered in the 1970’s. By then, they numbered only a few thousand and were virtually impossible to find. David Attenborough and his team found humpbacks off Hawaii by listening out for their calls. Their mournful songs were the key to transforming people’s opinions about them. They became personalities and the killing of whales turned from a harvest into a crime.
“We had broken loose. We were apart from the rest of life on Earth, living a different kind of life. Our predators had been eliminated. Most of our diseases were under control. We had worked out how to produce food to order. There was nothing left to restrict us. Nothing to stop us. Unless we stopped ourselves... We would keep consuming the Earth until we had used it up.” (A Life on Our Planet)
More than half of the species on land live in rainforests, this is one of the reasons why they are particularly precious habitats. And every single species has a critical role to play. For example, if orangutans wouldn’t be dispersing seeds, the future generations of many species would be at risk. And tree diversity is the key to a rainforest. And yet, we have been turning rainforests into a monoculture of oil palm. Half of the world's rainforests have already been cleared. This is, of course, unsustainable. And if we keep doing things that are unsustainable, the damage accumulates to a point where the whole system collapses. No ecosystem is secure. Even something as vast as the ocean.
In 1997, the world population was 5.9 billion. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere was 360 parts per million, and the percentage of the remaining wilderness was 46%.
It was only in the 1950’s that fleets first ventured out to international oceans. Yet, they have removed 90% of the large fish in the sea. Without large fish and other marine predators the oceanic nutrient cycle stutters and the ocean starts to die.
In 1998, coral reefs were turning white. The white colour is caused by corals expelling algae that lives symbiotically within their body. So the white corals are skeletons of living creators. In many cases when bleaching occurred, the ocean was warming.
In all five of mass extinctions, a marked change in atmospheric carbon was a feature.
The global air temperature had been relatively stable until the 90’s because the ocean was absorbing the excess heat, masking our impact. Arctic summers have been warming. The ocean has long since become unable to absorb all the excess heat caused by our activities. The average global temperature is one degree Celsius warmer than 90 years ago. A speed of change that exceeds any in the last 10,000 years. Summer sea ice in the Arctic has reduced by 40% in 40 years. Our imprint is now truly global.
“We have overfished 30% of fish stocks to critical levels. We cut down over 15 billion trees each year. By damming, polluting, and over-extracting rivers and lakes, we’ve reduced the size of freshwater populations by over 80%. We’re replacing the wild with the tame. Half of the fertile land on Earth is now farmland. 70% of the mass of birds on this planet are domestic birds. The vast majority, chickens. We account for over one-third of the weight of mammals on Earth. A further 60% are the animals we raise to eat. The rest, from mice to whales make up just 4%. This is now OUR planet, run by humankind FOR humankind. There is little left for the rest of the living world.” (A Life On Our Planet)