David Attenborough Says The “Garden of Eden” Is No More As We Wreck The Natural World

Sir David Attenborough, who gave a powerful speech about climate change, pictured here at the National Audubon Society Annual Gala. lev radin/shutterstock

“The Holocene has ended. The Garden of Eden is no more.”

These were the words of 92-year-old naturalist Sir David Attenborough at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. More than ever, he warned, we are out of touch with the natural world.

“I am quite literally from another age. I was born during the Holocene – the name given to the 12,000-year period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm, and create civilizations.”

For millennia, nature has largely been predictable and stable.

“Now in the space of one human lifetime – indeed in the space of my lifetime all that has changed.”

In an interview with the Duke of Cambridge, he said it is difficult to overstate the climate crisis we are in: "We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all pervasive, the mechanisms that we have for destruction are so wholesale and so frightening that we can exterminate whole ecosystems without even noticing it.”

The stark warning was layered with gentle yet firm encouragement to take action now to prevent the consequences of our unsustainable infrastructure.

“We have the power, we have the knowledge to live in harmony with nature,” said Attenborough. “We have to take the option of protecting the natural world. And we are discovering more ways in which we can do so.”

In particular, he mentioned harnessing the power of the Sun for solar energy as well as utilizing other renewables. In fact, new research recently suggested the world could limit the disastrous consequences of climate change if we phase out fossil fuels across all sectors and replace them with zero-carbon alternatives.

Yet that is a big "if".

To make this step, “we have to recognize that every breath of air we take, every mouthful of food we take, comes from the natural world. If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. We are one coherent ecosystem. It’s not just a question of beauty or interest or wonder, it’s the essential ingredient of human life – a healthy planet. We are in danger of wrecking that.”

In 2018, global leaders at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting agreed to keep temperatures below 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels, otherwise the fallout to our actions would be imminent. 

When asked by the Duke of Cambridge what his message is to the leaders in the room, he replied: “Care for the natural world. Not only care for the natural world but treat it with a degree of respect and reverence. 

“The natural world is the source of all wonder and our future is bound up together in it... We have never been more powerful. We can wreck it with ease."

The next couple of years will be a true test of our willpower to make change, or at least to support those who are endeavoring to do so.

"Over the next two years there will be United Nations decisions on climate change, sustainable development, and a new deal for nature. Together, these will form our species’ plan for a route through the Anthropocene," said Attenborough in his Davos speech

"What we do in the next few years will profoundly affect the next few thousand years."

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