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  • Tanya Maddiss

Attenborough and population

Before we start, I have to say that I greatly respect and admire Sir David Attenborough. I see him as a kind and friendly grandfather figure, a good man who has known and seen a vastly different world to the one I see. He has spent his life showing us the natural world, a privilege. A privilege he says he is lucky to have had, and as a child I wanted nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. I spent much of my childhood, inspired by his shows, pushing my way through bushes and climbing trees, imagining I was the first to explore an untouched corner of the globe. I would imagine I was in the jungle about to come face to face with a gorilla, or a black panther while being cautious of potentially poisonous frogs underfoot! If I saw a blackbird taking flight at my antics, I pretended that I had disturbed a vibrant blue and yellow macaw. He shaped my imagination, and my view of the world. However, in the years since my intrepid exploration of the banks of the river Nene, the world has gotten smaller, the wilderness is not so wild, and it is confined to approximately 35% of the planet.

David’s more recent documentaries have taught us more about ourselves and our impact on the natural world than they have about the inhabitants of that world. We have seen sea mammals with plastic wrapped round their fins or stuck in their mouths, we’ve been shown sea birds feeding plastic to their chicks, deforestation in Madagascar and the same in Borneo where Orangutans have been pushed out of their homes. The cause of all this is undeniably human, but it is not simple.

Back in 2013, Jennifer Lawrence (Love her!) won Best Actress, Game of Thrones shocked everyone (except book readers) with the red wedding and the world lost Paul Walker, as well as some contentious political figures. In September that year David Attenborough also became a controversial figure after sharing some unpopular opinions. The catchiest and most enduring phrase being that ‘we are a plague on the earth’ meaning humans, and a warning against large families. Being a tireless devil’s advocate, I am going to say that he is right, stay with me here. When David started travelling the world filming nature shows in the 1950’s the world population was 2.5 billion, in 2020 we are estimated to number just under 7.8 billion. Also, since the mid 1990’s we have become increasingly aware of the damage we are doing to the planet. The correlation between these two things is hard to deny, but it is lazy to simply say that the rapid increase in population is the cause of the climate crisis and destruction of the planet’s biodiversity. It would be easy to take offence to that and many people did, condemning the man who has shown us so much for saying something that cuts so close to the bone for so many people.

I no longer imagine stomping my way through the rainforest in search of some majestic creature, now I dream of an untouched wilderness with no humans in it, animals able to roam freely with all the room they need, rather than having to cross roads or lose their homes and food sources to plantations and climate change. I imagine that we have worked together to make that happen, that we are all making sustainable choices every time we can, that we use sustainable energy, that we love our clothes and make them last, that we educate each other, that we act with compassion and that we do this everyday of our lives. It’s not an easy task to reverse the damage we have done in a really short space of time, we don’t have long to fix it; but I have decided I’m going to try.


"I wish the ring had never come to me; I wish none of this had happened." – Frodo Baggins

"So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide, is what to do with the time that is given to you." – Gandalf the Grey