Attenborough – The Pandemic and Extinction are Linked

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

Sir David Attenborough recieves Covid-19 jab - Hero image - Supports One Tribe story about pandemic and extinction links

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. 

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Attenborough – The pandemic and extinction links

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, as well as government and businesses, can be involved in sustainability 

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 . . . 

Key facts: 

  • For the last 25-30 years, biodiversity is being lost due to human action 
  • In 2010 governments came up with 20 targets to protect biodiversity
  • We probably will not meet any of the targets 
  • We’ve wasted 20 to 30 years -Governments / Private sector could have done a much better job 
  • We actually waste about 40% of the food that we produce 
  • In the 1980’s scientists also figured out how polluting CFC’s / Chemicals  were
  • They managed to resolve it, with industry adapting quickly
  • We can do so now if there is the political will to get it done 
  • We can safeguard our planet’s ecosystems
  • What happens next is up to every one of us 

Attenborough – The pandemic and extinction links 

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. 

 Part 3 of 3 

Since the first cases of Covid-19 took place in China, linked to a wet market in Wuhan, scientists around the world have been piecing together where and how the virus emerged. 

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.

The current pandemic disease is likely linked to wildlife trade in wet markets 

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. 

live animal markets and wildlife trade continue - The Independant

We’ve been changing biodiversity in really critical ways making this more likely to happen

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. 

  • News reports – Thousands arrive for the largest UN meeting ever held in an effort to prevent drastic and irreversible changes”… “I’m here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet. We’re a group of 12- and 13-year-olds come to tell you, adults, you must change your ways.” 
  • In 1992 at the Earth Summit, a convention was signed to protect biodiversity. It was recognised to be of critical importance to the future of Earth. 
  • News report – The bleak warning from scientists at a major UN conference in Japan. 
  • In 2010, governments came up with 20 targets to protect biodiversity. While we’re making some progress, to be quite candid, we probably will not meet any of the targets. 

We’ve wasted 20 to 30 years when the governments of the world, working with the private sector which could have done a much better job

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. 

  • News report – “Thank you for joining us to examine the extinction crisis”… “The evidence is unequivocal”…
  • Even today, there are people that will do anything in their power to make sure that the politicians do not act. 
  • News report – “I’m here to tell you that the three lead authors here from the UN are part of this con that the United Nations presents itself as the world’s expert on science”… 
  • At a recent Congressional testimony, two of the Republican witnesses argued that the loss of biodiversity was nowhere near as serious as what we were saying in the report. 
  • News report – “As with the manufactured climate crisis, they are using the spectre of mass extinction to scare the public into compliance”… 

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. 

palladium-climate-action-summit-un-crisis-finance private sector can address climate change - From One Tribe story about how the pandemic and extinction links

This global pandemic has put the world on pause 

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. 

Investing in green can act as an economic multiplier as well as tackling climate change 

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. 

We actually waste 40% of the food that we produce

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. 

We need the private sector to show others they can make a profit and conserve nature

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. 

  • Another possible solution is to make more rules. There does have to be some standard. 
  • We can’t simply depend upon people/institutions of goodwill to do what is needed to be done. 
  • If governments imposed legislation that says we will not be allowing the imports of products that are produced in an unsustainable way, then it levels the playing field. 

CFC’s and how we use chemicals to produce our food impact on our environment 

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. 

  • News report – “About a million tonnes of CFCs are produced every year”… 

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.

We need to think about what we’re consuming and when

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. 

  • 40 years ago, people consumed a good deal less in the United Kingdom, but there is no evidence that we were unhappier then than we are now. 
  • We can be more diligent about thinking about what we’re consuming and when. 
  • It’s really digging down, saying, what’s going on here? Where does that come from?
Meat production per region - UN Food and agriculture - From One Tribe story about how the pandemic and extinction links


We need to think about meat and dairy consumption if we are to end this extinction

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. 

In the 1970s mountain gorillas were on the brink 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. 

  • In the 1970s, this population of mountain gorillas was estimated to be around 250 individuals in this area.
  • They were on the brink of extinction. Their habitat was under very rapid conversion from forest to agricultural fields. 

There were tensions between the park and the communities

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. 

  • There were tensions between the park and the communities.
  • We had many poachers coming, setting snares, cutting bamboo.

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. 

Gorilla conservation in motion in the amazon - Full credit to The New York Times

But over the next few decades, that situation was about to change 

  • We have over 200 rangers, and their jobs are to see every gorilla and check on the habitat. And since 2005, the government set up a tourism revenue sharing scheme. 
  • A portion of the price that a tourist pays is actually reserved for those communities adjacent. The result is that the conversion of habitat for agricultural production actually ceased. And the population has recovered. 
  • 30 babies were born in this park last year, and we know that these gorillas are going to grow. No-one will be a victim of poachers. So, things have changed. 

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. 

  • Ururabyo is actually the daughter of Poppy. Ururabyo means flower. She is a shining flower in this park. Ururabyo also has a daughter, Prosperity. 
Image of David - Showing him sat with nature behind him

Together we can create a better future, ending this extinction event

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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