The broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough has said that people in poorer countries are just as concerned about the environment as those in the developed world, arguing that “exporting environmentalism” isn’t necessarily an “uphill struggle”.
Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society on Tuesday, he said, “People who live close to the natural world don’t have romantic ideas about it, but they know about its welfare and care about its welfare, and will look after it given the chance.”
In his speech, Attenborough also reiterated his belief that humanity had to look at ways to control its rising global population: “We have a finite environment – the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.”
According to the UN, global population could increase up to 10 billion by 2050. This would pose serious challenges when it comes to access to natural resources and coexistence with other species.
Attenborough suggested that working to improve women’s rights in poorer countries might be one way to protect the environment. “Wherever women are literate and have political power, birth rates fall. That means those of us in developed countries should make sure those who don’t have those things get them.”
It is generally accepted that climate change will hit developing nations the hardest.
In a report released on Wednesday, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) warned that the increasing risk of natural disasters caused by climate change could nullify efforts to combat global poverty in poorer countries.
The report found that countries including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Kenya are particularly endangered by disasters that could set back improvements in impoverished areas by “a lifetime overnight”.
Tom Mitchell, ODI head of climate change and author of the report, said, “We know that disasters entrench poverty – they don’t just end lives, they destroy shops, roads, crops, houses and hospitals in places where there are no safety nets such as insurance or social security.
“Without meaningful change, talk of the end of extreme poverty is pie in the sky.”