David Attenborough On Why We Can't Let the Coronavirus Obstruct Climate Action

We can't let one emergency make us forget about a larger one.

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Mar. 31 2020, Updated 1:23 p.m. ET

David Attenborough
Source: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Netflix

Over the past few weeks, many environmentalists have provided their hot takes on the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis. The latest climate activist to chime in on the topic is Sir David Attenborough, who explained why we can't let this new emergency make the world forget about our biggest emergency.

Article continues below advertisement

As the legendary historian told the Sunday Mirror in an interview this week, the novel coronavirus is a short-term problem — but the climate crisis isn't. “There’s always been plagues. There are diseases. That is part of the natural world and tightly packed as we are and travel as we do, it is hardly surprising it spreads," Attenborough told the Sunday Mirror

"We have a short-term problem with coronavirus so we quarantine and do this or that," Attenborough continued. “The consequence is, nobody takes any action on the climate at all if we are not careful."

Article continues below advertisement

Fighting the coronavirus pandemic is appropriately the No. 1 priority for people all around the world right now — but as Attenborough posits, we can already see the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. We're not sure exactly how long it will take to get to the end of that tunnel, but at some point in the near future, COVID-19 will no longer be an existential threat.

As for the climate crisis, we're not so much navigating a tunnel, but more so a long and winding pipeline (an oil pipeline, if you will). As Attenborough put it, "The environmental crisis is coming to a very critical point." The climate emergency is a long-term, existential breakdown, and we can't let fighting the coronavirus stall any efforts to fight the climate crisis or reel in global heating to the levels dictated by the Paris Agreement.

Article continues below advertisement

"We hope the film can be part of the public debate and show that when governments are bothered, they take action," Attenborough also told the Sunday Mirror, referring to his latest documentary, David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet. The documentary was scheduled to drop on Netflix and in movie theaters in April 2020 — but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the team postponed the release to later this year

Article continues below advertisement

The film, which is produced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is the newest installment of the Our Planet Netflix documentary series. In the upcoming iteration, Attenborough reflects on his life's most defining moments in relation to the environment, and on how he has seen the climate crisis get worse over his 93 yeas on Earth. 

Article continues below advertisement

"This film is my witness statement and my vision for the future. The story of how we came to make this our greatest mistake," Attenborough says in the trailer (the "this" being our treatment of the planet). "How, if we act now, we we can yet put it right. Our planet is headed for disaster. We need to learn how to work with nature, rather than against it. And I'm going to tell you how."

It's understandable that the film's premiere and theatrical release was delayed due to the coronavirus — but it's too bad that the film's Netflix drop was postponed as well. The good/bad news is, when the film does eventually come out, we'll still need Attenborough's advice on how to save the planet.

The best way to prevent contracting or spreading coronavirus is with thorough hand washing and social distancing. If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, which include persistent cough (usually dry), fever, shortness of breath, and fatigue, please call your doctor before going to get tested. For comprehensive resources and updates, visit the CDC website. If you are experiencing anxiety about the virus, seek out mental health support from your provider or visit NAMI.org.

More from Green Matters

Latest Climate Change News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2024 Green Matters. Green Matters is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.