David Attenborough: 'If you lose that joy in the natural world, you've lost a huge treasure'

The esteemed naturalist and documentary-maker speaks on his life, career, and the state of the environment in the first episode of WWF podcast 'Call of the Wild'
David Attenborough: 'If you lose that joy in the natural world, you've lost a huge treasure'

David Attenborough: the first guest on a new podcast about our role in averting climate disaster

It's a sobering thought - the fact that climate experts and scientists agree that we have a little over eight years to take action and reverse the immediate impact of the ongoing climate crisis. You could be forgiven for simply surrendering to the sheer scale of the issue, and trying not to think about it. 

But a new podcast, the World Wildlife Fund's 'Call of the Wild', seeks to lay out the small and simple everyday steps that people can take to play their part in averting climate disaster, talking with experts and people at the centre of the struggle for conservation.

Presenter Cel Spellman has lined up possibly the authoritative popular voice on the issue to lay the foundations for the podcast's mission in its first episode: veteran documentary-maker and revered naturalist David Attenborough.

Drawing on his decades of experience in the wild, Attenborough spoke frankly about the urgency of the crisis facing humanity, and our relationship to it, but also marvelled in nature's ability to replenish itself, and the wonders to be found in taking a second to slow down and take in your surroundings. 

On upsetting the balance of our relationship with nature:

"Human beings are all-pervasive, everywhere, that you can't get away from human beings anymore. There are oil slicks and bits of plastic floating in the remotest part of the oceans. We have destroyed nature. We've been so clever that we've found methods and ways and techniques of actually destroying nature in order to put in what we choose and that we've done it without thought over vast areas of the planet as though the planet belonged only to us. 

"We depend on the natural world, for interests, for everything that's beautiful and wonderful. But also we depend on it for every breath of air we take and on every mouthful of food we eat. And if we damage the natural world, we are damaging ourselves. And we have been doing that without care for decades."

On how we can repair that relationship:

'Well, one of the simplest things that you should do if you get the chance, when you get the chance, is just naturally to stop. Sit down. Don't move. Keep quiet. Wait 10 minutes, you'll be very surprised if something pretty interesting didn't happen within 10 minutes. Doing that in a woodland, if you haven't done it, is extraordinary. Don't get too impatient either. And then, speaking for myself, then you'll realise how ignorant you are, how you can't actually recognise what that birdcall is, which you ought to be able to, I certainly ought to be able to do. 

"Mind you, I can't hear either, my age, but nonetheless, there are things to see and there are wonderful things to see and extraordinary things happen. And I mean, of course, the real time when it really is exciting to do that is If you do it in a place where you don't know at all, I mean, you go into a jungle in the middle of Costa Rica or something, and then you suddenly see extraordinary things that you really don't know anything about."

On the most shocking moment in his body of work:

"I suppose the most obvious one that I remember particularly vividly, of course, is the first time when I went to a coral reef. 

"I thought I was going to dive in, in eastern Australia on the Barrier Reef, and start seeing the most marvellous, beautiful, extraordinary, wonderful wonderland. It was a cemetery. It was just white, that coral. And we were responsible."

David Attenborough: "The natural world is fantastic in its abilities to regenerate." Pic: John Stillwell/PA Wire
David Attenborough: "The natural world is fantastic in its abilities to regenerate." Pic: John Stillwell/PA Wire

On nature's ability to regenerate and restore itself:

"The natural world is fantastic in its abilities to regenerate. 40, 50 years ago there was a real chance that whales might be exterminated because we had such powerful ways of killing them, of finding the poor things and then shooting explosive harpoons into them and killing them. And we were doing it hand over fist. Nations were competing to see how many they killed until suddenly some, or a number of people, were saying 'if we don't stop this, there will be no more whales in the sea and then everybody would have lost everything'. 

"And they got the whaling nations of the world, the maritime nations of the world, together and got them to bang their heads together, well not bang their heads together. But they got them to agree that they would stop whaling. And now there are more whales that have been in the sea for a century."

On keeping that childhood grá for nature:

"I've never met a child older than three or four years who is not fascinated by the natural world. It's a thing that you and me and every other child, that you are amazed to see a slug suddenly move, in some miraculous way, over a stone with two little things sticking out at the front and finding its way on a bed of slime. 

"I remember taking a godchild of mine, actually when they were about four, and he turned over a stone in the meadow and he said, 'Oh, look at that, what a treasure. It's a slug!' And he was right. It's amazing. And of course, as you get older, you get interested in other things. You get cars and motorbikes and one thing and another. But if you lose that pleasure of finding joy in the natural world and wanting to know how it works, you've lost a huge treasure."

How young people can make a difference in the world:

"Do what interests you. Do what you think you're good at. And the odd thing is that nearly always what you're good at, is what you're interested in. And so follow that. Follow that star."

Listen to David Attenborough on Call of the Wild with Cel Spellman and WWF on Apple, Spotify and all podcast providers.

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