‘We live our lives in a way that impoverishes the natural world’

TV naturalist Gordon Buchanan’s series Equator From The Air gave him a bird’s eye view of the places most affected by the climate crisis. Things are dire, he says, but all is not lost yet

Breaking down the problem

There is not a single eco-system that isn’t adversely affected by climate change. Nowhere is immune. We have to take things in bitesize pieces because if you just dumped all the problems in the natural world it would be very easy to despair and think, what the hell can we do?

Reaching tipping points

In [Norwegian archipelago] Svalbard there has been a lot of rainfall coming into winter. It shouldn’t rain, it should snow, and that rain falls and freezes the ground. Reindeer are designed to scrape through the snow, but they hit that frozen surface and can’t get to the food, so there’s been a massive die-off. At the other end of the planet in Antarctica, warmer oceans mean less fertile oceans and penguins are struggling to find enough to food to feed themselves and bring back to their chicks. Lack of rain in a forest habitat that used to be drenched in water means things dry out. A forest that would never have been combustible gets tinder-dry and starts to burn. Namibia is experiencing the worst drought on record. Animals have evolved over millions of years to cope with drought periods but if you have subsequent years where there’s no rain – last year they had no rain whatsoever – it pushes them closer to the edge.

Listening to people on the frontline

Tribal people are living with a lot more knowledge of the natural world because they are part of it. We live our lives in double-glazed, centrally heated houses – we don’t have that natural relationship. We’re not in tune. The one argument deniers stick with is that the world has gone through warming and cooling periods. But it is undisputed that we are accelerating that heating process. You couldn’t go to a Namibian farmer losing their entire livelihoods because they can’t keep their cattle alive and convince them that the climate is not changing.

My biggest worry

All the issues come from us and the more people there are on the planet the bigger the problem becomes. My biggest worry is population growth. This taps into our primitive brain. As human beings were spreading around the world 40,000 years ago, we were able to do that because the world kept giving what we needed – plenty of space, plenty of food. We’ve reached the point now where we’re running out of resources on a finite planet. Jump forward 50 years, there will have been wars because of food shortages. We’re so detached. That’s what I get most dismayed by – how some people don’t view it as their problem. We have to face up to the fact we live our lives in a way that impoverishes the natural world. Everything we do – from the shoes we wear to the cars we drive and the food we eat – it’s all having a negative effect on the natural world.

What we can do

You have to do everything you can to lessen your impact on the planet, whether it’s recycling or not driving your car if you don’t need to. Don’t let perfection be the enemy. Don’t strive to be perfect because we’re never going to achieve that. Perfection would be human beings ceasing to exist. That’s what would solve the problems the natural world faces.

The future’s bright

It is a time of great hope, particularly with everything that’s happened in the last year with the climate strike and how people are getting really focused on the environment. I grew up in the Seventies and Eighties and the thing we would worry about was nuclear holocaust. It felt inevitable. Kids now, the thing they worry about most is the planet and the environment. It will be ingrained in young people’s minds and time passes quickly. These teens in a few years will be running things – businesses, corporations, the country. To bring about change a generation has to be skipped. Hope comes also from how resourceful human beings are and what we’re capable of. We’re compassionate creatures that have done incredible things throughout history. It’s mindblowing, even in my lifetime, what has been done with medicine and technology, and technology is probably going to be our salvation. Human beings are responsible for climate change but ultimately we are going to be the species that is going to solve those problems.

Animal Families and Me with Gordon Buchanan is touring theatres across the country. For information and tickets: josarsby.com/jsmlive

Image: Anwar Mamon