Sir David Attenborough said yesterday, at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, “I feel better than ever about life on Earth.”
His optimism about the future of the planet because of a shift in attitudes to conservation is encouraging, particularly on a day when we learn about the devastating clearing of Amazonian rainforest in Brazil for mining, and the proposed destruction of ancient woodland in Surrey to ease traffic flows.
There are counter-arguments for almost all environmental losses such as these, but they are often ignored by decision-makers who are thinking about jobs and profits, and what is quick and easy. The cause is human nature and human frailty, and it shows how much we have yet to learn on the human path to enlightenment.
It is easy to judge each sad announcement from a short term perspective and a place of bias: I know that for me it is hard not to feel indignation or horror when I hear about rhino killing in Africa for a horn or, closer to home, the careless blocking of swifts’ nest access holes with their young left to die, but as I regret the slaughter of the innocent, I know that there are good reasons to have hope in a world that seems not to care.
Earth has seen many changes in her lifetime, some of them massive, some minor, some from within, some from without, some man-made, some not. Where I live in the Cambrian Mountains has been covered by sea and glaciers, forest and oases; volcanoes have spewed their lava here while mammoths and rhino have roamed these lands among many other species that have disappeared from Britain and sometimes the world. Man has changed too just as the environment has, and it may be, one day, the human species that, now, destroys so much will itself become extinct too.
As species have come and gone, new ones have taken their place or, occasionally, “ghost” survivors in a far away place are discovered and with the help of man and science their race is enabled to thrive again. Great efforts are being made to conserve the seeds of all the plants in the world, and the DNA of all other wildlife, to maintain the possibility of regeneration one day if needed.
Besides understanding the inevitability of change and of scientific protection for our environment for the future, my third reason for hope lies in the planet herself, and in her ability to heal even after severe wounding. If allowed, the rainforest will regrow as it has done before, and the scars will be obliterated, for nature is stronger than we are.
So, for different reasons from David Attenborough, I too believe the future of life on Earth is not bleak. The knowledge helps my observations, but does not stop me caring.