By The SATimes News Service
By Mark Tully
Last week, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the renowned naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough “the voice of nature” while presenting him the Indira Gandhi Award for Peace, Disarmament and Development. The popularity and influence of Attenborough’s television series, films and books on the natural world, ranging from the life of insects to the life of mammals, from the life of birds to life under the sea, would in my view entitle him to be called Nature’s vishwaguru.
It was a pity that the award had to be presented to Attenborough virtually, but his passionate conviction was not diminished by having to give his acceptance speech to camera, rather than before an audience — his broadcasting skills saw to that.
Attenborough’s message for India and the world was stark. “Humans have overrun the planet,” he warned and pointed out that there are now three times as many people on earth as when he was born 93 years ago. The consequences for the natural world have been, he said, “devastating”. He listed some of those consequences. “Half the tropical forests have been felled, half the coral reefs, one of the richest environments in the sea and the nursery for oceanic fish, are dead. We have scoured the seas with such technical skills and ingenuity that we have annihilated entire fish populations.”
On land, Attenborough said that we had left little or no room for other mammals. Apparently 96% of the global mammal population now consists of humans and the animals we breed to feed ourselves, leaving just four per cent for every other species.
The terrifying consequence of all this, according to Attenborough, is that we are putting at risk the natural processes on which we depend for our very lives. So what should be done to avert this risk? Attenborough said, “We must change our ways and do so swiftly.”
However, he warned, “Success will only come if the nations of the world agree to act together and help one another. This will not be easy. We have to change to becoming internationalists, which will involve giving and taking.”
But the leader of the world’s richest and most powerful nation, President Donald Trump, is pulling the United States (US) out of the Paris agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions because he maintains “it will undermine America’s economy and put America at a permanent disadvantage”.
Attenborough said it was up to us, the voters, to make it clear that we want politicians to act to avoid the major crisis he fears we are heading for, a crisis he said “which is not national, not international, but global and which the nations of the world must face together”. It is up to us, according to Attenborough, because politicians will only accept the need to give as well as take if they have the support of those who put them in power.
The world’s voice of nature delivered a message relevant to India’s past, present and future. In the past, India contributed more than its fair share to the world being overrun by humans because of the failures of the family planning programme. At present, India has 15 out of 20 of the world’s most polluted cities and came below all other South Asian countries except Afghanistan in the latest Biennial Environment Performance Index published by Yale University. In the future, India is threatened by spreading deserts, rising sea levels and floods caused by deforestation and melting Himalayan glaciers.
But India cannot prevent these dangers on its own. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has acknowledged that. He told last year’s United Nations Climate Action Summit, “The world needs to act now.”
Attenborough says it’s up to the Indian voters to ensure that the current government and future governments are internationalist in their outlook when it comes to saving the planet.
(The opinion piece appeared in The HIndustan Times)