Sir David Attenborough has warned that humankind has the power to “wreck” the natural world without even noticing, during a candid chat with Prince William.
William and the beloved British broadcaster took to the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday to discuss the importance of protecting the environment.
The pair also talked about the urgent challenges that will face the next generation of environmental leaders.
Sir David, who has narrated dozens of nature and environmental documentaries throughout his career, urged those listening at the event to take action.
“We can wreck the natural world with ease. We can wreck the natural world without even noticing. But, in doing so, we wreck ourselves,” he said.
“I ask this room to care for the natural world. There is more power in this room than any gathering anywhere. The people here need to do something about the natural world.”
The 92-year-old said people must care and respect the natural world, adding: “When I started 60 years ago in the mid-50s, to be truthful, I don’t think there was anybody who thought that there was a danger that we might annihilate part of the natural world.”
The lengthy chat was also a chance for Prince William to sit in the driver’s seat in front of the world’s media, and quipped it was a nice change of pace to be the one asking the questions for once.
When asking why it had taken world leaders to act on environmental issues, William said: “Why do you think world leaders and those in key positions of leadership; why do think they’ve taken so long … there have been quite a few faltering steps to act on environmental challenges?”
The broadcaster added that it was “difficult to overstate” the urgency of the environmental crisis.
“We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all pervasive, the mechanisms we have for destruction are so wholesale and so frightening that we can exterminate whole ecosystems without even noticing it,” Sir David said.
“We have now to be really aware of the dangers that we are doing. And we already know that of course the plastics problem in the seas is wreaking appalling damage on marine life – the extent of which we don’t yet fully know.”
He stressed that the natural world “is not just a question of beauty, interest and wonder” but “it’s the essential ingredient, essential part of human life”.
“We are in the danger of wrecking that,” Sir David added.
In his early career, the wildlife presenter said it was relatively “easy” to impress Britons simply by televising a new animal.
Sir David told Prince William: “We can go everywhere, we can go into the bottom of the sea, we can go into space, we can use drones, we can use helicopters, we can use macro-worlds, we can speed things up, we can slow things down, we can film in the darkness — and so the natural world has never been exposed to this degree before.”
Attenborough has a long history of collaborating with the royal family. Aside from being knighted in 1985, he took part in an ITV documentary last year which looked at the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy project.
William and Attenborough have also crossed paths on several occasions. Most recently, they spoke at the premiere of Blue Planet II in 2017, and the prince presented Attenborough an award for his services to wildlife during the 2016 Tusk Conservation Awards.