In this final part of 3, Attenborough, and some footage from Vox news, explain how the pandemics and extinction events are linked together. He’ll also explain how green economies are possible and the enormous hope and possibilities still available to the world if people act now. With an inspiring example from one of David’s first nature broadcasts with mountain gorillas in Rwanda.
In this final part of 3, Attenborough, supported by some footage from Vox News help to explain how global pandemics and mass extinction are linked together. First David and the team of experts will explain how Covid-19 were identified and linked to wet markets in Wuhan, and how human activity in the region has resulted in the virus transferring from animals to people in the way it did. For the last 25-30 years, biodiversity has been lost and encroachment into natural habitats have occurred due to human interference/activity.
Despite the Earth Summit in 1992 where governments committed to 20 targets to protect biodiversity, the majority of the targets are unlikely to be met. The private sector and governments could have achieved more, and as a result, many species have been lost or now face the threat of mass extinction. However, there is still massive hope, the work required to replant trees, retrofit buildings and the work involved to clean up cities offering massive economic opportunities. If governments worked with business, we could use the opportunity to fuel a strong, climate-friendly, economic recovery.
Individuals play as much a part, with over 40% of the food we produce being thrown away. The team then tells how in the 1980s, scientists figured out the damage that CFC’s were doing to the O-Zone layer, the chemicals found commonly in aerosol sprays or used in refrigerators. So, nations got together, banned the chemicals, and industry responded to find alternatives. It was a massive success, which could be repeated again to solve the climate crisis if the political and societal will is there to do so. If many individuals were to eat less overall dairy and meat, and if how it was sourced were more sustainable, again this would make a massive contribution to the climate crisis.
David then tells the story of his time in Rwanda over 50 years ago, when the mountain gorilla population remaining was just 250, the animal facing extinction. Despite the region being poor, local government and community worked together to generate income from tourism and stopped poaching. As of 2005, over 200 rangers protect the area with the population now exceeding 1000. A small but very relevant example of how people can come together to safeguard our planet’s ecosystems. One that can be repeated many times over. What happens next is up to every one of us . . .
In this final part of 3, Attenborough, supported by some footage from Vox News help to explain how global pandemics and mass extinction are linked together.
It was figured out quickly that it was a coronavirus. Those are known to reside in various kinds of animals, and so people started looking for the animal from which that coronavirus would have jumped into people.
We found the closest relative to the virus in bats, in rural south China, in Yunnan Province. It’s really well known for its biodiversity of plants and of animals, including bats, and they live in these incredibly complex colonies. One part of the colony is a nursery where all the kids live and the parents fly out every night to get food. But Yunnan has been under incredible change for the past few decades.
High-speed rail links have gone in there, roads have been built into remote areas. And so we think Covid-19 maybe even started there. And either somebody got infected and travelled to Wuhan themselves or sent animals that they were shipping into the wildlife trade into those wet markets and then the virus exploded from there.
We don’t know exactly what happened yet, but it’s my view that it’s our relationship with nature and the way we interact with it that drove the emergence of the global pandemic.
If we continue on our current pathway, then what we’ve experienced this year might not be a one-off event.
We estimate there are going to be five new emerging diseases affecting people every year. We cannot live with that. And the rate at which they’re increasing and crushing our economies, if we have one of these every decade, we cannot persist with that level.
We face a frightening future. So how has it come to this? Why haven’t we acted sooner to address these issues and stem the loss of biodiversity? Many scientists, including myself, have been saying for the last 25 to 30 years that biodiversity is being lost due to human action.
Part of the problem is that we don’t have really good environmental laws that are global. Also, unfortunately, many in the private sector make a huge profit at the expense of our natural world. They want the status quo to exist. The reality is our world is based on economic growth, grabbing more and more.
We’ve wasted 20 to 30 years when the governments of the world, working with the private sector, could have done a much better job conserving biodiversity. If we had acted more seriously, many species could have been saved and we would not be facing such serious threats as we’re seeing today.
This year has shown the vulnerability of our societies. Will we take the opportunity, finally, to change our course? What can governments, industries and we as individuals do to slow this decline of the natural world?
The world has been on pause during the pandemic, and as we begin to move forward, we have a moment, we can change the way we’re running our world and make it better. This is that moment.
Governments are recognising that they have to invest to drive out of it. And I’ve been involved in a study with the finance ministries and the central bank governors of the world in thinking through what the best ways out of this crisis are. And we’ve found that those investments which are good for the environment are very powerful ways out of the depression that we find ourselves in. So, for example, we could begin work on restoring degraded land.
We can plant trees, we can start retrofitting buildings so they’re much more efficient, make our cities much cleaner. All those examples can be done quickly, they are labour intensive and are strong economic multipliers. So exactly the kind of things you need for a strong recovery. There are all these things we know we have to do for biodiversity and for the climate, so let’s bring them forward to this period of unemployment. And then, going forwards, we need to dramatically change the damage that we do from producing and consuming. That’s the big prize.
At the moment, nature is coming as a free good. We use rivers and estuaries as sinks for the pollution we create from the industry. Who’s paying for that? Large chunks of the rainforests have been converted at prices which are astonishingly low given the cost to the rest of the world. As an economist, I think it’s right that people who extract from nature pay the due price.
We have to recognise that nature has true value that is taken into consideration in national accounts. We also need to start producing affordable food without expanding any further into the forest. This is indeed quite possible. One of the biggest problems is incredible. We actually waste about 40% of the food that is produced. If a farmer can’t produce stuff in exactly the right form, he has to throw it away. And of course, we throw it away from the plate.
If we could reduce that food waste, it would go a long, long way to making a more sustainable agricultural system. And also, we need to reduce the number of chemicals, we’ve got to make sure we’re not degrading our soils. We need the best of the private sector to show the others they can make a profit and still conserve nature.
Lots of people don’t like government regulation, but there are some tremendous success stories of international legal cooperation. Back in the 1980s, scientists figured out chemicals used in aerosol spray or used in refrigerants were actually eating the ozone layer.
The nations of the world got together and they banned these chemicals, and the problem was solved because once the manufacturing companies started looking for alternatives, they found them quite quickly.
So we shouldn’t be demoralised, because we know how to do this stuff. It’s a question of finding the political will to do it. We shape the future of the planet irretrievably by the decisions we take in this next few years. And indeed, in the months now, as we come out of the Covid crisis.
For those of us who care about the future of our planet, you know, we have to look at our lifestyles and we can’t look away from our own behaviours.
That’s not to say that none of us should ever eat meat or should cut all dairy out of our diets. But we have to demand that they are produced sustainably. Increasingly, I feel it’s not just about our current lifestyle, but about the education of our children on the way nature works. There’s a wave of revolution going around, especially with young people. We are waking up. We are realising that the planet is an integral part of our existence.
If we don’t act now, the youth of today and the youth of tomorrow are going to look back on this generation with absolute horror. “What were you thinking?!” I want to tell our youth we have taken the lessons, that we will not allow any other species to walk this tragic road of extinction.
One thing we do know is that if nature is given the chance, it can bounce back. 40 years ago, I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was in the Virunga Mountains, which straddle the borders of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. And there I met some of the few remaining mountain gorillas, including a mischievous youngster called Poppy.
Footage – “As I sit here, there’s more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know”.
As I was preparing to talk to the camera, Poppy was at my feet, trying to take off my shoes. It was an experience that has stayed with me, but it was tinged with sadness as I thought I might be seeing some of the last of their kind.
This part of Rwanda was one of the poorest and most densely populated in the country. And the expansion of agriculture was the only way for most people to survive.
Coexistence of humans and mountain gorillas really wasn’t a reality that many people saw. But over the next few decades, the situation would start to change. The government in all three countries, conservation organisations and local communities started to work together with an emphasis not just on the gorillas, but on the people that live with them.
Their numbers have just reached and exceeded 1,000. This change has not happened overnight, but if it can be achieved here, where human population pressure is so high, where the politics can be very complicated, especially among different states, I believe it can be achieved elsewhere as well. Poppy grew up and actually was a very long-lived mountain gorilla and had many offspring.
To see Poppy’s daughter and granddaughter thriving is thrilling. It just shows what we can achieve when we put our minds to it. I do truly believe that together we can create a better future. I might not be here to see it, but if we make the right decisions at this critical moment, we can safeguard our planet’s ecosystems, its extraordinary biodiversity and all its inhabitants. What happens next is up to every one of us. . .
There are many ways to deal with what needs to happen next. We at One Tribe will do our part by protecting and conserving all of the large rainforests that exist around the world. We have started with the biggest, the amazon rainforest, starting in the Peruvian part of it. We believe that by working with non-profits we can support them to purchase and hold in trust large parts of the forest, making it available to local indigenous whilst managing the conservation and legally protecting the forest from commercial and national interests. By so doing, we protect a valuable and important natural resource for Latin Americans and for the world. Find out more and start protecting the lungs of our planet using the link below.
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