21 October, 2019

David Attenborough slams Australian PM on climate record

Sir David Attenborough has slammed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s support for new coal mines and lack of action on climate change, in his most damning assessment yet of Australia’s environmental record.

In an interview with Hack, the world’s most renowned natural historian said previous governments had been “saying all the right things” but this had suddenly changed.

“You are the keepers of an extraordinary section of the surface of this planet, including the Barrier Reef, and what you say, what you do, really, really matters.”

“And then you suddenly say, ‘No it doesn’t matter … it doesn’t matter how much coal we burn … we don’t give a damn what it does to the rest of the world.'”

The veteran conservationist responded to Scott Morrison bringing a lump of coal into Question Time in February 2017, when he was Treasurer.

“I don’t think it was a joke,” he said.

If you weren’t opening a coal mine okay I would agree, it’s a joke. But you are opening a coal mine.

He also commented on the recent federal election, which Mr Morrison won with a platform of support for new coal mines, including the proposed large Adani mine in Queensland, as well as a less ambitious emissions reduction target than Labor.

Asked how politicians can carry the public with them on taking action on climate change, he said politicians had “to appeal to what people think is right.”

“Do you think it’s right that we go on destroying the natural world?” he said.

The Government’s own projections show Australia is not on track to meet its current Paris target.

The September 20 climate strike in Sydney.

Scott Morrison during Question Time on February 9, 2017.

ABC News: Nick Haggarty

But he also made an economic argument for action: “We have to convince bankers and big business that, in the end, the long-term future lies in having a healthy planet. And unless you do something about it … you’re going to lose your money.”

And one for basic self-preservation: “The world is going to be running short of food, seriously short of food.”

Tens of millions could be exposed to crop failure and famine in the next few decades due to climate change, according to the UN panel for assessing the science of climate change, the IPCC.

On the global climate strike and mass protest

Speaking to Hack ahead of last week’s global climate strike, the 93-year-old threw his support behind young people taking to the streets in protest.

“Young people see things very clearly. And they are speaking very clearly to politicians,” he said.

They [people under 18] may not have the vote … but it’s their world that’s coming along and they want to make it clear to the politicians that they know that.

Australian school students at the September 20 climate strikes.

ABC News: Brendan Esposito

A cardboard cutout of Sir David Attenborough with Extinction Rebellion flags in London.

ABC News: Brendan Esposito

On climate denialism: “The world is sick, we really have to do things about it. And there’s no more time for argument.”

On a sustainable diet: “Maybe everybody when they get into their 70s 80s or 90s loses their taste for meat. I’ve certainly lost mine.”

On population: “All the evidence is that wherever women are educated and literate, and have the vote, and are able to determine what they do, and when they have children, and they have medical advice to help them, then the birth rate falls.”

On plastic: “I can’t help feeling we invented the stuff; surely, for heavens, we are clever enough to think of a way of disposing of it.”

On his least favourite animal: “I don’t hate many things but I do hate rats.”

The BBC presenter, who regularly tops polls of Britain’s favourite people, recently narrated a documentary on climate change titled The Facts.

This, along with the Extinction Rebellion, which occupied parts of central London over two weeks in April, has been credited as the reason why the UK declared a climate emergency.

Sir David said he backed the strategy of non-violent direct action.

“If they just sit on the sidelines, and [debate] in a nice, reasonable way, you know, they’ll say, ‘oh kids’. But if they actually do something in the way that they have been doing in this era, then politicians have to sit up and take notice.”

“And you can say, ‘It gets you nowhere, just stopping the traffic’. But it gets you notice. People listen to what you say. And that you’re important.

“And they are important. They are the people who are going to inherit the mess that we’ve made.”

On the Great Barrier Reef

Sir David said his most vivid impression of climate change’s human impact was returning to the Great Barrier Reef, where he had first dived in the 1950s.

“A bleached reef is a tragic sight,” he said of his last dive there, 10 years ago.

“A desperately tragic sight, particularly if you’ve seen it before, and you know what it could have been like.

You just see acre after acre of deathly white coral.

A diver checks out coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in February 2016. 

Supplied: The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Since then, the reef has had at least two more severe coral bleaching events.

Sir David has previously said Australia will face some of the worst effects of climate change. He told Hack the country has been having “a really bad time”.

But the present impact of climate change paled in comparison to his description of the refugee crisis predicted to occur as the planet warms.

“The drought areas of this world, and you have more than your fair share, are due to spread, simply because of the rise in temperature.

“The front line is southern Europe.”

We’re talking about tens of thousands of people who suddenly won’t have a bit of land in which they can grow their food.

“And, poor souls, they want somewhere to live, and raise their kids. Now are you going to turn them away?

“And if you are going to turn them away where are you going to put them?”

On facing his own death

At 93, Sir David is working on a new BBC documentary for 2020. Extinction: The Facts looks at what mass animal and plant extinctions mean for humanity.

He says he feels blessed to be able to keep working, and to have lasted long enough to see a rising environmental consciousness.

Asked whether he was afraid of dying, he said he simply hoped it won’t be “tiresome for others”.

“I hope it won’t be painful,” he said.

On life after death, the great educator of natural selection said he remains agnostic.

“I am quite sure that the mechanism by which this world has become populated with all these different species of animals and plants we understand pretty well now,” he said.

“Whether you say that means that God doesn’t exist is another question.

“It may be that there is an overall creative spirit that we don’t know about. I have no idea. And whether it’s a life after death, I have no idea.”

Listen to Tom Tilley’s interview with Sir David Attenborough today on Hack at 5:30pm or watch on 7:30 tonight on ABC TV.

This content was originally published here.


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