Irish Times view on David Attenborough’s stark, eloquent climate change message

Individual action to tackle this existential crisis must be linked to collective actvity and political leadership

'Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don't take action the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon… Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of our civilisations and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands."

David Attenborough's speech to the COP24 climate change conference in the Polish city of Katowice this week starkly and eloquently dramatises the challenge facing humanity from climate change. It falls to this generation and its leaders to take the necessary action to mitigate and reverse the damage already done. We must also find new ways to care for the natural world and humanity's place in it. Unless this message gets through to ordinary people and leaders alike we face breakdown in our ways of living, according to the best scientific research and advice available to this United Nations gathering and the global process it represents.

For progress to be made these threats must be communicated accurately and repeatedly to bring them into popular consciousness and prepare for the radical action required. Attenborough spoke on behalf of the public in Katowice as part of an agreed programme to include civil society in the UN process. He publicised the new online ActNow.Bot urging individual action to reduce our carbon footprint, such as taking public transport and eating less meat. Many people feel overwhelmed and immobilised by the scale of the challenge. That is why it is so important that individual action to tackle it be linked to collective action and political leadership. It needs a message of hope and enablement that it can be overcome. We have the technology and knowledge to make that transition but lack the political will and public support to take the action needed.

If that will and support are to be found individuals and peoples must be assured the transition to a carbon-free world will be just and fair. Those most vulnerable are among the poorest and most marginal communities and states in the world who are least responsible for producing greenhouse gases. Responsibility rests overwhelmingly with the richest and most privileged minorities in the world – within and between all the states party to the UN climate change process. The rejection of fuel-price increases by the gilets jaunes movement in France dramatises fairness in tackling this question and has implications throughout the world.


Attenborough should be thanked for putting the existential challenge facing humanity so simply and well. We need many more such warnings if we are to find the will and resources to prevent our civilisations collapsing and our natural world being destroyed by the breakdown of our climate.