‘What Planet Are We On?’ is a new podcast from the BBC and Liz Bonnin that takes an in-depth look at climate change and the impact humanity is having on the planet. The first episode of which sees Sir David Attenborough discussing his new documentary – ‘David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet’. He is on searing form, more personal and blunt than we’re used to, aided by a clear rapport with Bonnin. She is also joined in the studio for commentary by the BBC correspondents Matt McGrath and Victoria Gill. The overall tone mixes the authoritative with the chatty to good effect using the time allowed by the podcast format to ‘go deeper’. It’s a great listen, wherever you are on the ‘Carbon Literacy spectrum’.
2020 was supposed to be a ‘banner year’ for climate change, especially with the UN Climate Change Summit (COP26) due to take place in Glasgow in November. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been pushed back to November 2021. With the continuing health crisis at the forefront of the global policy agenda, the big question is – what happens next for governments taking action on climate change?
Liz highlights the parallels between the COVID-19 health crisis and the climate crisis. Both crises are a result of human encroachment on the natural world, namely our use and abuse of its natural resources beyond the planet’s capacities. “We’re in conflict in nature”, explained one of the panellists, and this is what is resulting. Additionally, we had prewarning of both climate change and the potential for a new coronavirus, but due to an unwillingness to modify our behaviour, the warnings weren’t heeded, meaning we’re now left to deal with the consequences whilst working to prevent similar events, or, in the case of climate change, to mitigate and limit its effects.
How can we learn from the pandemic?
There were a lot of initial changes when the lockdown was enacted in the UK, some very noticeable, such as less traffic, with positive consequences of less air and noise pollution, meaning people could breathe better or hear birdsong. David Attenborough highlighted this, stating “you realise what is really important and our need to connect to nature is important.”
However, another less-beneficial outcome of the pandemic is that some of the pressure on leaders to act on climate change has lessened whilst they tackle the seemingly greater issue at hand. Attenborough asserts that, once everything has been taken into consideration, “the pandemic has been a disaster for action on climate change.”
That being said, “governments have realised that we’re all in it together” and the time for being selfish in the global policy arena is over. The importance of not reverting to a ‘business-as-usual’ approach after COVID-19 is vital if we are to make significant progress in the limited time we have left to act. Politicians can be short-sighted in what they think the public want and tend to set short-term goals linked with terms in office, which in turn has a big impact on the policies they implement. One of the problems in our capitalist economic system, according to Sir David is “profit over everything”. He goes on to explain, “in the short term it works but, in the end, it leads to disaster.” “The western living standard will have to take a pause and the excesses of capitalism will have to be curbed”. Individuals and businesses can help provide encouragement to governments to take action on climate change through petitioning and protesting, but also by taking action themselves. This is where initiatives such as The Carbon Literacy Project come in, helping to provide the foundation knowledge that individuals and organisations require to motivate them to take action, and thus lead the way to wider societal change.
When asked ‘what needs to happen in the near future?’, Sir David highlighted the importance of protecting the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. Economists are working with the Brazilian government to find a compromise that ensures the record-levels of illegal and legal logging are curtailed. He went on to detail the need for ocean protections against overfishing and pollution. One of the success stories, made reference to during the podcast, was in Costa Rica – where in the 1970s and 80s it had one of the highest deforestations rates in Latin America. However, due to government policy change, the reforestation and rewilding process has provided great results showing how we can both help nature and curtail carbon emissions simultaneously. This type of action, particularly in relation to government policy, should be understood and emulated across the world, a lesson in decisive action to protect our environment from our own destruction. As our society wakes up to the severity of the environmental destruction that has, in many places, helped to accelerate the climate crisis and resulting challenges we are now facing, we must demand more urgent action from our leaders and work together as a global community to achieve this. Education and individual action will always have a crucial role in this, to empower the population to take ownership of the direction we want to move in, and, as this episode is aptly named “we have to believe it’s possible“.
You can listen to the full podcast here