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Attenborough’s grim vision of our future

David Attenborough  Papua New Guinea  1971
David Attenborough in Papua New Guinea, 1971


CLEVELAND, QLD - David Attenborough’s latest book ‘A Life on Our Planet’ sounds an ominous warning of what will happen in the future of Planet Earth based on what has happened in the recent past.

Attenborough suggests that the Holocene period that started with the end of the last Ice Age may well now be over.

He calls the period after the 1950s, the Anthropocene, since the human species is now largely determining what is happening to the world and what it’s future will be.

Attenborough describes what the future holds for our human race based on nine scientifically applied thresholds that are required to enable human life as we know it to continue to exist.

These nine planetary boundaries are ozone layer depletion, air pollution, biodiversity loss, land conversion, freshwater withdrawals, fertiliser use, chemical pollution, ocean acidification and climate change.

Many of these thresholds are approaching or have been already exceeded.

Extending his hypothesis, Attenborough predicts what is about to happen in the 2030s based on extrapolating current trends.

The Amazon rainforest will be reduced to 25% of its original size which will trigger an irreversible dieback of the whole forest impeding the rain cycle.

When this happens, there will be water shortages and severe climatic effects that will affect millions of people’s lives.

Are the people of Papua New Guinea listening to the great Attenborough?

The 2040s and 2050s will see dramatic changes to the world’s resources with the acidification of the world’s oceans and the serious effect this will have on the availability of fish and marine resources.

Huge numbers of the world’s peoples currently depend on these resources to survive.

Attenborough predicts that by the year 2100 there will be a worldwide humanitarian crisis and enforced human migration that will undoubtedly create conflict and disaster for billions of people.

The use of gross domestic product (an economic indicator) as a yardstick for progress is therefore flawed.

It is impossible to continually increase national productivity without driving environmental chaos.

The goal of constantly improving production is an impossible dream fantasised by those political and business leaders who can’t think of any other way of advancing the world’s peoples.

It is expected that the world’s population curve will flatten at somewhere between nine and 11 billion people as the limits of available fertile land, water and food production start to hit.

The question is whether there is any way this huge and worldwide catastrophe can be averted?

One of the major initiatives that seems to elude many world leaders is the dramatic effect of the empowerment of women on a nation’s birth rate.

Allowing women to determine their own lives has been proven to be an effective method of reducing population growth.

Initiatives like changes to the types and amount of food and how it is produced will probably be forced on populations by sheer necessity.

Papua New Guinea’s population has grown significantly since 1975.

From three million then it is estimated to be around eight million now.

Nearly half that number (46%) is under 19 years of age.

IndicatorsIn other words, young people who will soon have families and will be seeking to feed those families.

All this will happen in a very fragile world where existing resources are being destroyed and polluted past the point of no return.

Isn’t it now time to start thinking about the future rather than squabbling about who gets how much of the political pie?


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Vincent Sia

The human species evolved into a superior pest of destruction for all species, even of itself.

How can a few people with power based on greed dictate the destiny of the planet through their economic practices?

On the other hand, that is the price of consumerism and what it entails.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Clearly there are too many of us on the planet and we are using the planet's natural resources in the wrong way.

A simple example of the latter is that it takes seven kilograms of grain to produce just one kilogram of meat.

We should be eating the grain ourselves instead of feeding it to cattle in feedlots.

Another example is the way we are burning up the planet's resources making stupid stuff we don't need. We make this stuff to make money rather than for genuine necessity.

To turn things like this around would require a monumental effort, both in practical terms and in the way we think.

In the case of grain versus meat there would have to be a major shift in the world's diet.

In the case of making stupid stuff we would have to abandon the profit motive.

There isn't a snowball's chance in hell that either of those two examples can be achieved within the timeframe needed to tackle things like climate change.

For a start, the world in in denial about climate change and many of the other important thresholds that Attenborough lists.

This denial occurs because there appears to be no direct impact on individuals and because we've got the wrong sort of leaders in charge.

It's not now a case of doing something about these things, that point is well past. We are now firmly in crisis and there's nothing we can do about it.

Our grandchildren are going to suffer greatly for our greed and stupidity.

Unfortunately we have to accept that fact.

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