Stability of the last 10,000 years threatened, warns David Attenborough

Addressing COP26 meeting in Glasgow, the environmentalist and broadcaster stressed that the solution to changes in the climate lay in ensuring the decline of just one number, that of carbon in the air

Stability of the last 10,000 years threatened, warns David Attenborough
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In a passionate address to world leaders and delegates in Glasgow, naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough, dubbed People’s Advocate at COP26 and remarkably sprightly and lucid at 95, reminded them that global temperature had not wavered by more than one degree Celsius for the past 10,000 years—until now.

During the last 10,000 years, he said, concentration of carbon in the atmosphere had been relatively stable, ensuring predictable seasons and reliable weather. That is what made civilization possible, he said, and human beings had lost no time in taking advantage of it.

“Everything we've achieved in the last 10,000 years was enabled by the stability during this time,” he said, showing that the climate had not wavered by more than plus or minus one degree Celsius over the period.

But now, Attenborough stressed, conditions are changing rapidly thanks to human activity. “Our burning of fossil fuels, our destruction of nature, our approach to industry, construction and learning are releasing carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented pace and scale,” he said. “We are already in trouble. The stability we all depend on is breaking.”

‘Is this how our story is due to end? A tale of the smartest species doomed by that all-too-human characteristic of failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals.

Attenborough delivered his speech along with a film that illustrated 300,000 years of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, along with accompanying increases and decreases in average global temperatures.


Attenborough said the climate emergency “comes down to a single number: the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere.” Accompanied by footage showing the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide at its current level of 414 parts per million, Attenborough pointed out that of CO2 “greatly determines global temperature ... and the changes in that one number is the clearest way to chart our own story.”

Declaring that humanity was in “trouble” and the story was not merely one of instability, it was also about inequality, he pointed out “Those who’ve done the least to cause this problem are being the hardest hit,” he said.

Attenborough, who wrote and presented the award-winning Life series of nature documentaries, is one of the most respected voices in the environmental movement. He began work with the BBC in 1952 and continues to produce films, including A Life On Our Planet on Netflix, which focused on the environmental destruction he witnessed over the course of his life.

Making a passionate plea for world leaders to “rewrite our story,” he warned that those who could be impacted by catastrophic climate change were not “some imagined generation” but “young people alive today.”

“There was still time to turn “tragedy into triumph…We are, after all, the greatest problem-solvers to have ever existed on Earth. We now understand this problem, We know how to stop the number rising, and put it in reverse. We must halve carbon emissions this decade. We must recapture billions of tonnes of carbon from the air. We must fix our sights on keeping 1.5 degrees within reach”, he said.

The famous environmental activist and broadcaster said that if working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, working together, we are powerful enough to save it.

“In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a terrible decline," said the 95-year-old documentary maker, peering out at the crowd. "In yours, you could, and should, witness a wonderful recovery. That desperate hope — ladies and gentlemen, delegates, excellencies — is why the world is looking to you and why you are here.”

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