SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH warned that “the Garden of Eden is no more” as he spoke about the human impact on the environment at the 2019 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week. The 92-year-old naturalist was being interviewed by the Duke of Cambridge at the summit, which attracts leaders from the worlds of business, economics, and politics.
Before the meeting, climate-change-related concerns topped a survey of more than 1000 experts who were asked about the main risks affecting the world in 2019 and beyond.
Sir David said: “I am quite literally from another age. I was born during the Holocene: the 12,000-year period of climatic stability that allowed humans to settle, farm, and create civilisations.” But, he said, “The Garden of Eden is no more. We have changed the world so much that scientists say we are in a new geological age: the Anthropocene — the age of humans.” Echoing his remarks, Prince William said: “Work to save the planet is probably going to largely happen on our watch”.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who made history last year by giving birth to her first child while holding office, talked about her country’s new “well-being budget”, which takes a more holistic approach to measuring national performance than conventional economic methods such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). She said: “GDP may say your country is thriving, but it’s not thriving if it’s also degrading the environment and contributing to CO2 emissions.”
The subject of climate change was not confined to the conference halls of Davos, but spilled out into the streets of the Swiss town in the form of a school strike, led by Greta Thunberg, from Sweden. The 16-year-old, who has sat outside the Swedish Parliament every Friday instead of being at school, said: “There have been climate strikes, involving students and also adults, on every continent except Antarctica. It has involved tens of thousands of children.” Twenty thousand children skipped school in protests in Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland last week. A mass strike in the UK is being planned for 15 February.
Among the other issues discussed at the summit was the danger of nuclear war, something described as sinful by the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. In an article published ahead of his arrival at the meeting, he wrote: “It is time to call it a sin, both using and having nuclear weapons.”
He went on: “Unfortunately, churches and Christians have also been among those providing tacit or explicit support for the maintenance of nuclear arsenals. We have ourselves taken shelter under the dark umbrella of ‘nuclear deterrence’. But nuclear deterrence depends upon the willingness to actually use these weapons . . . there is no moral ground on which we can keep them and threaten one another with them.”
Joe Ware is a journalist and writer for Christian Aid.