David Attenborough: Climate change to cause great social unrest

The naturalist said manmade pollution will become as intolerable as slavery in the future

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Veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has said he believes that man-made climate change will become as intolerable in public perception in the future as human slavery is today, warning that unless action is taken soon environmental issues will become the source of “great social unrest”.

Giving evidence before British MPs on Tuesday, the 93-year-old natural historian said the international community “cannot be radical enough” when it comes to tackling the issue.

Sir David said he was “sorry” that politicians internationally, particularly in the United States and Australia, held the views they did on climate change.

“Australia is already facing having to deal with some of the most extreme manifestations of climate change,” he said.

"In both Australia and America those voices are clearly heard, and one hopes that the electorate will actually respond to this."

Donald Trump famously announced in 2017 that the US would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, which powerful countries signed up to in 2015 pledging to take action to deal with greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr Trump has previously expressed scepticism over global warming, branding it as a hoax created by the Chinese.

While Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison mocked climate change protesters in parliament in 2017 by brandishing a lump of coal in his hand and saying: "Don't be afraid. Don't be scared. It won't hurt you. It's coal."

Sir David, who has spent more than four decades making wildlife documentaries, predicted social unrest will be prevalent within 30 years as a result of problems sparked by climate change.

"I’m okay - you know, for the next decade - I’m okay. And all of us here are okay, because we won’t face the problems that are coming,” he said.

“But the problems in another 20, 30 years are really major problems that are going to cause great social unrest and great changes in the way we live.

“In what we eat, in how we live and so on. It’s going to happen.”

However, he said that young people’s attitudes to environmental issues gave him great hope for the years to come.

“There was a time in the 19th century when it was perfectly acceptable for civilised human beings to think that it was morally acceptable to actually own another human being for a slave. And somehow or other, in the space of 20 or 30 years, the public perception of that totally transformed,” he said.

“I suspect that we are right now in the beginning of a big change. Young people in particular are the stimulus that’s bringing it about.”

He added: “People are understanding that to chuck plastic into the ocean is an insult. To have the nerve to say: ‘This is our rubbish. We’ll give you money and you can spread it on your land instead of ours, in the far east,’ is intolerable. And for some reason or other young people understand that. And that’s a source of great hope to me.”

The naturalist made an unscheduled appearance at the UK’s Glastonbury festival last month, where he praised music lovers for cutting their plastic use.