Sir David Attenborough’s best-selling book Life On Earth was one of the defining books of the century. Many of us devoured it as young children and it taught us all about the wonders of nature. A Life On Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision of the Future followed and the new paperback edition acts as a “witness statement”, where the legendary presenter and author shares first-hand his concern for our planet due to the impact humans have had on nature and his hopes for the future.
Here is a serialisation of the Sunday Times bestseller A Life On Our Planet by Sir David Attenborough, published by Penguin Random House.
Since the 1950s, on average, wild animal populations have more than halved. When I look back at my earlier films now, I realise that, although I felt I was out there in the wild, wandering through a pristine natural world, that was an illusion. Those forests and plains and seas were already emptying. Many of the larger animals were already rare. A shifting baseline has distorted our perception of all life on Earth. We have forgotten that once there were temperate forests that would take days to traverse, herds of bison that would take four hours to pass, and flocks of birds so vast and dense that they darkened the skies. Those things were normal only a few lifetimes ago. Not any more. We have become accustomed to an impoverished planet.
We have replaced the wild with the tame. We regard the Earth as our planet, run by humankind for humankind. There is little left for the rest of the living world. The truly wild world – that non-human world – has gone. We have overrun the Earth.
I have spent the last few years speaking about this wherever I can – the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum, to financiers in London and the festival-goers in Glastonbury. I wish I wasn’t involved in this struggle, because I wish the struggle wasn’t necessary. But I’ve had unbelievable luck and good fortune in my life. I would certainly feel very guilty if, having realised what the dangers are, I decided to ignore them.
I have to remind myself of the dreadful things that humanity has done to the planet in my lifetime. After all, the Sun still comes up each morning, and the newspaper drops through the letterbox. But I think about it most days to some degree. Are we, like those poor people in Pripyat, sleepwalking into a catastrophe?
The new paper book version of A Life on Our Planet is published by Penguin Random House by David Attenborough. RRP $22.99.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is also a 2020 British documentary film narrated by David Attenborough and produced and directed by Jonnie Hughes. The film was nominated for five Emmy Awards in 2020. It was released by Netflix alongside a companion book of the same name.