5 October 2018

Sir David Attenborough: we must act on population

Population Matters patron Sir David Attenborough was interviewed on the BBC’s Newsnight this week, where he once again spoke out about our unsustainable population growth and the urgent need to address it.

After shutting down Evan Davis’s humorous “Did you watch Love Island?” opening question with a simple “No.“, Sir David talked about a variety of environmental issues and did not shy away from the issue of population.

The veteran naturalist broadcaster and widely proclaimed ‘national treasure’ expressed that the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 °C had reinstated his optimism as it “seemed at the time to be, at last, nations coming to their senses.” He stated that he believes President Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement would be overcome because “that attitude is outdated“.

Sir David also spoke about how he currently eats less meat than he used to, saying that biologically, we are “omnivores” but that we’ve reached “a stage in our own social evolution in which that [eating meat] is no longer practical.

More than the planet can bear

Turning to population, Sir David went on to say “in the long run, our population growth has to come to an end.” Attributing population growth partly to increases in life expectancy—”people like me are living longer than we did“, Sir David told the BBC that our rate of increase is “alarming”.

Crucially, he stated:  “Although people say ‘in the long run, we are going to stabilise’, they’re going to stabilise, as far as I can see, at a rather higher level than the Earth can accommodate.

United Nations projections show that stabilisation and reduction of population is possible within decades, although its principle projection does not foresee numbers flattening out until at least the end of this century.

Solving our problems

Population Matters’ fundamental message is the one previously articulated by Sir David:

“All of our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.”

The natural world which Sir David has spent a lifetime explaining and defending is under unbearable pressure from human population and activity and is now undergoing what scientists are calling the Sixth Mass Extinction.

The interview was held to mark the publication of Sir David’s new book Life On Earth.

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