Letter to the editor: Our dubious legacy

David Attenborough in Chernobyl, Ukraine, while recording his latest documentary. Photo: Silverback Films/Altitude Films

David Attenborough in Chernobyl, Ukraine, while recording his latest documentary. Photo: Silverback Films/Altitude Films

I was deeply affected by Sir David Attenborough's latest dire analysis of our global situation (A Life on Our Planet) which I viewed recently. His impeccable credentials in the field of biodiversity, a lifetime of experience recording the behaviour and relationships of species with each other and their environments, make him worth listening to,

He produces an irrefutable argument for radical change to our current environmental practices. Yet even as his predictions are being borne out, we as a species continue, like Nero in his burning empire, on a path that leads inevitably to destruction.

If there's one major conclusion the movie confirmed for me, it's that the vital instruments needed to bring about the changes required are public support and leadership, both qualities that are manifestly lacking at the moment among leaders on the global and national stages.

Greed unquestionably remains the primary driver of our day-to-day lives, but it's starting to lose a bit of its appeal. The cornerstone of maintaining the status quo is our need for financial security, and the level of material and social comfort provided, in First World nations at least, by our acquisitive lifestyle. The strategy of the current global power-brokers - the individuals and groups who have the means to do something effective to change things - is simple: keep the populace dumbed down and self-satisfied, convince them it's all going to be okay, and get back to business as usual. The spin, as we all know, is about "Jobs and Growth". But these are fundamentally independent concepts. What about "Jobs without Growth"? Now there's a thought!

As Sir David points out, the cost of damage to the environment, like the price of maintaining our current level of material comfort, is becoming increasingly prohibitive. The evidence that greed is failing is all around us: in the increasingly frenzied competition for resources and territory, in the increasingly untenable excuses of magnates and politicians for the damage and the cost. These are indicators that we need to act: to fix things now, once and for all.

The ability to mobilise popular support is an essential element of leading a widespread movement for change. Such people are likely to come 'outside the square': not from within the existing political or economic structure. They may or may not have a record of activism; but if they are to be successful, they will need to be able to articulate a credible rationale for change, and provide a clear strategic vision for how to get there. Leadership may come from an alliance of groups with strong environmental agendas, such as Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, which provide salutary examples of how a protest movement can effectively mobilise strong, committed support and have maximum public impact on those they target.

Despite his reservations, Mr Attenborough has not completely abandoned hope that we can alter our dismal destiny. By a rapid transition to renewables as a source of energy, by reducing the production of plastics and consumption of fossil-based fuels, by intervening immediately to halt the depletion of biodiversity, there may still be an opportunity to turn down the global thermometer and avoid what is commonly referred to as another 'extinction level event'.

But it's a narrow window; ignorance, indulgence and self-interest, coupled with the opposition of powerful vested interests, have created an inertia that works against the sense of urgency needed to make things happen. And the window is closing fast. So, for anyone who cares, maybe it's time to speak out, to demand change now and support those working to achieve it..

Maybe it's time to stand up and be counted.

Rob Simpson

Urunga