Sir David Attenborough has warned of society’s childlike dependence on mobile phones – and told how the devices make him feel less free.
The 93-year-old naturalist deplored the impact that modern technology has had on our sense of responsibility, saying it makes us less confident in our problem-solving abilities.
‘Before mobile phones, if you got into trouble there was only one person who could get you out of it, and that was you,’ he told Christopher Stevens in an exclusive interview in today’s Weekend magazine. ‘Now if I’m in trouble, I can just phone and ask for someone to come and rescue me.
‘That makes you take a different attitude, subconsciously changing decisions about where you go and how you behave. It’s safer but it’s much less liberating.’
Sir David, who is promoting his new film A Life On Our Planet, regretted that he can no longer live totally independently when travelling.
He said: ‘Until quite recently you were able to get away and leave everything behind, because you didn’t have phones.
‘In the rainforest, you were in the same situation as an indigenous hunter. You can’t sense that now, because if you’ve got a mobile phone you can speak to family and you’re probably getting news updates. It changes the way you behave, creating a sense of irresponsibility.’
David Attenborough is giving evidence. The man regarded by millions as the greatest broadcaster in television history, whose career as an explorer and naturalist stretches back almost 70 years, is speaking out to condemn what he regards as the greatest crime of his lifetime.
‘This is my witness statement,’ he says.
‘The natural world is fading. The evidence is all around. It’s happened in my lifetime, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. This is mankind’s greatest mistake but if we act now, we can put it right.’
Sir David is speaking with an intensity, a harnessed anger, that I have never seen in him before.
It’s a grey and chilly afternoon, and earlier in the day he joined the prime minister at the Science Museum in London to launch the UN climate summit.
Now we are talking in a back room at the Royal Albert Hall where, next month, his latest wildlife spectacular – A Life On Our Planet – will be presented to a live audience and simultaneously screened in cinemas globally before it is released on Netflix.
‘It is a polemic,’ he says, ‘and I have never done a polemic before. I am a public service broadcaster who joined the BBC in the 1940s at a time when it was a monopoly.
‘I began my career as a producer, enabling people to give their opinions – not mine. I still feel in my bones I ought to be impartial.
‘But if you have seen what I have, you cannot remain silent. You have to speak out, to bear witness.
‘What we have done to this planet during my lifetime is a crime, and future generations will view it as that.
‘Humanity is responsible for the destruction of the world’s wild places and all the biodiversity they sustain, because we don’t have the ability to control ourselves.
‘As a species, we don’t know how to handle the power of our hands or the intelligence of our brains.’
The 80-minute film begins in the deserted Ukrainian city of Pripyat, once home to thousands of workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power station.
In April 1986, within 36 hours of the plant’s atomic meltdown, the city was completely evacuated. No one has lived there since.
David walks through deserted rooms in family flats, the corridors decorated with Soviet-era murals. Pripyat is an empty mausoleum, a concrete tomb without a corpse, that stands as a monument to a colossal, man-made eco-catastrophe.
‘I hadn’t been to Chernobyl before,’ he tells me.
‘But it was featured in my Netflix series Our Planet last year, so of course I knew that large mammals are starting to live and breed there again.’
The film confirms it. A camera perched in a window in a tower block might see elk, foxes, wild horses and even wolves in these city streets, now overgrown with vegetation.
Nothing, not even nuclear meltdown, can hold back nature for long. But David is keen to emphasise that this is not a complete recovery.
Scientists do not yet know how the animals will be affected by residual levels of radiation, expected to be higher than normal for thousands of years to come.
‘A short trip doesn’t pose a risk to humans now,’ he says.
‘But I was aware there was no birdsong, and no insects. It hasn’t come back to life fully, as a total eco-system.
‘And it didn’t feel like a real wilderness, more of an eerie halfway world.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail, Christopher Stevens and Emma Powell