Throughout 2020 and the pandemic, Sir David Attenborough has provided insights to help us understand the complex wider origins of covid-19. These include our relationships with animals and the environment and how they’re increasing mankind’s exposure to new and dangerous viruses. This has included a message of hope alongside an urgency to act, with steps that can still be taken to reduce the risk of this and future pandemics.
Link between the environment and covid-19
Because of the range of challenges that have emerged, the pandemic has dominated news coverage, leaving less room and opportunity to tackle and discuss long-standing issues.
In May 2020, Sir David said: “The science is telling us the destruction of nature, and encroachment of humans and industry into natural habitats, is making the emergence of new and dangerous viruses ever more likely.”
He noted that suspected origins of coronavirus could be traced to bats living in cave systems in Yunnan province in China. This highlighted the significance of what we buy and how we live with nature. China subsequently took steps to address its problem of wet markets.
Need for increased co-operation
While nations have always worked together to a varying extent, the scale of co-operation across nations has generally become stronger during the pandemic response.
Sir David notes the importance of this for responding to problems that ultimately affect everyone, wherever they live. He believes this needs to be extended beyond the pandemic response.
He said in May: “I’m beginning to get a feeling that for the first time the nations of the world are beginning to see survival depends on co-operation. If that happens, that’s going to be a first in human history.”
Need for reduced and responsible consumption
Sir David emphasises how high levels of consumption increase pressure on land use, and therefore the environment and our relationship with wildlife.
He said: “We must radically reduce the way we farm. We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters.” He added that yield could be increased through a more plant-based diet.
Sir David is vegetarian, although far from doctrinaire on this. He notes that reducing the consumption of meat even once or twice a week could have an important impact.
Similarly, these problems could be helped through a reduction in how frequently people use air travel and the benefits of increased home working, cycling and public transport.
Increased respect for nature
Sir David has highlighted the risks of a sixth mass extinction, which he fears could be hastened over the next 100 years if there isn’t significant change.
In Sunday’s documentary, Extinction, he also offered a note for hope. The mountain gorillas in Rwanda – watchable here if you manage to catch them – which he had feared would become extinct have not only survived but increased in numbers following dedicated conservation efforts.
He urges comparable efforts to protect other endangered species and habitats. For many of us, we have been watching Sir David Attenborough on the television our whole lives. Isn’t it about time we started listening to him?
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