Attenborough’s life has been a lens on the fragile beauty of nature and the struggle to maintain biodiversity. As our population has grown from two billion to over seven billion, the planet’s wilderness acreage has shrunk from about 70% in the late 1950s, when Attenborough began exploring terra incognito, to 30% today. Over three trillion trees were logged or just destroyed. Along with fewer trees, the oceans can no longer absorb the tons of carbon dioxide we emit.
Old news does not mean irrelevant news. Old news means it’s more relevant than ever. If Earth were humanity's collective spouse, we would all be in prison for negligence and gross abuse. Escaping a death sentence means changing our behavior, our values, and our management of resources. We’ve already started. We should all feel proud. Now for the disappointing news—we have so, so far to go.
In fighting COVID-19, in learning how difficult a lifestyle change can be, most of us have come to believe in the efficacy of sacrifice. My wife tells me that repurposing the planet will require 7 billion heroes doing whatever they can. If we each choose to do just one thing consistently, like picking up trash on the roadside, eating way more plant-based foods, finding the money to back environmental initiatives, consuming food grown on a fraction of the land farms use today (re: study the Netherlands), and cutting our use of plastics and fossils fuels, we will start a tsunami of hope. Remember the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl in the 1980s, and then see aerial shots of the city today. Humans are still forbidden to come near, but animals, trees and plants flourish mightily like a window on the future.
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.