AS PROF. LUKE O’NEILL SAYS “NEVER MIND THE B#LL*CKS HERE’S THE SCIENCE”
In 1998 my breath was taken away by a documentary from China, showing little girls in orphanages chained to cots and potties for hours on end. Abuse on a grand scale, it triggered women in Ireland to act and many of us did.
Stored in the back of my brain were the horrors of the Romanian children’s plight with similar abuses. Despicable humans “caring” for the unwanted, supported by their governments.
A group of us became involved in a Chernobyl project following these stories and finally began our own charity, mobilised a team to go to Russia to an orphanage and the rest is history (I might add at this point that I have never witnessed anything like the abuse mentioned above, smashed hearts, misery and loneliness, enough to keep myself and our team there to this day).
I sat down during the week to watch David Attenborough’s new Netflix programme on his witness statement of his life and his vision for our future… it is called A Life On Our Planet. If you do nothing else in your life for the next few months, try and find the time to watch this brilliant man and what he has decided to share with us.
Because I work with very needy children, I have never really engaged with other stuff. Our arms are full, are heads are full, are hearts are always on overload. I avoid climate change, I avoid Irish homeless, as I know so many are helping. I avoid the tragedy in Greece and the abuse of refugees. I do not let my head think about the fact that millions are kept in concentration camps in China and we buy the products that these poor humans are forced to make under duress to feed our greed.
I have always stayed focused on our programme. I was taught many years ago about the value of focus and how easy it is to lose it.
That all changed this week.
David Attenborough took my breath away, which happens to me very rarely. His documentary left me as breathless as the little girl that I held in my arms in Romania who was 15 years old but had never grown after the trauma of having her eyes removed for a donor who was richer than her. She was the size of a 5-year-old. She curled into me like a small puppy, two indented hollows for eyes. She lived in a cot beside another tiny teenager with no skin on his face, as he tore it off daily, the blood everywhere.
We became used to situations like this over our years in different places, broken limbs, broken children, but we stayed focused on our project, no matter what. Our job was to change children’s lives and we were and are good at it.
Now my sand has shifted for the first time in 22 years and I genuinely feel that although abandoned and unloved children are the most important thing on earth, we have no choice to but to focus on something bigger. Bigger than everything else.
David Attenborough’s programme ‘A Life on Our Planet” should be shown by every channel, every teacher, every government, and every parent. It is breath-taking. “We have destroyed our planet” as he says. We have sent our biosphere into decline, a nearly irreversible decline. David is blunt, sad, horrified, but he does give hope and exact steps to be done to turn it, not to save the planet as he says, but to save ourselves.
My journey in Russia began with a Chernobyl story, as does this documentary. David is in Chernobyl examining the disaster there, one of the most dangerous of all times, and looking at the fact that people could no longer survive there. He compares it to our earth which is heading the same way. Soon there will be no us here, but nature will survive.
He begins his story in 1956 when there were 2.5 billion people on earth and 64% wilderness.
He goes on to talk about the idea then that the Serengeti went on for ever, as did the oceans, the wilderness, the forests, we now know that was not true, he discusses how finite the earth is, he shows the destruction of the forests, our very lungs, the fossil fuel greed, the raping of our seas and oceans.
He gets to 1974 with 4.3 billion people on earth and wilderness reducing to 53%.
He discusses the last 10,000 years of slow change and stable temperature, the paradise we lived in, the respect for nature by tribes living sustainably, as we got greedier, richer, wanting more and more. The paradise was real, but we have crushed it for massive farms, a massive meat-eating obsession, production of every kind. He suggests we should be plant-based eaters, eating meat very irregularly, as the planet cannot give enough space over to the billions of herds needed to fill our bellies with beef etc.
He does say we are the most intelligent species ever. I do not agree, but I will not argue with him as who am I? But he admits we do not use wisdom, and this is our downfall.
He uses the Netherlands as the perfect example of food production, the second biggest exporter of food on earth. He shows the tragedy of Costa Rico losing ¾ of its magnificent and essential rain forest, which locked away so much carbon dioxide in the past 80 years, but they are now trying to salvage that and a government programme has gotten it back to half what it was.
He explains how nature is our biggest ally and how a species, including ourselves, can only thrive when everything else thrives. He tells us that if we take care of nature, she will take care of us.
He shows tragic videos of spectacular animals harpooned, slaughtered, poisoned by toxins, nowhere to hunt, their wilderness gone, seas emptying from overfishing, pangolins, sloths, elephants, orangutans, killed, starved, nearly extinct now, and we never realized how much we need them to survive ourselves. If the hosts die, their viruses jump ship from them to us.
10,000 years ago, people on earth lived sustainably. Until recently, the tribes in the rain used nature to protect and feed them, but we are no longer sustainable as a race. Greed took over, meat took on an importance that was so damaging to the planet. If you watch ‘Kiss the Ground’ with Woody Harrelson, he is of the same message saying that, unless we change how we use soil, we have 70 harvests left. He doesn’t actually say it, the scientists do. Think about that. Our precious grandchildren may die in their lifetime because of how we live our lives.
Steak dinners, multiple cars, ships, cruise liners, endless superlative shopping, flying on a whim, men running up our driveways delivering a mascara in a plastic package. Amazon and ASOS can’t count the profits fast enough, meanwhile burning holes in our skies, our delicate blue planet diminishing with every unnecessary purchase.
I would question David on our intelligence. The birds with a bird brain know how to live in a cleverer way. The frogs in the pond, the bees in the fields know how to live cleverer lives than us, how to live to survive. We are “heading towards disaster” says David and we must change fast.
He repeats how much we need nature to thrive beside us and he repeats that we need the planet to survive, not for nature, but for ourselves, as nature will look after herself and take over if we are gone, just like she has in Chernobyl. There are no people there now, just towering apartment blocks being enveloped by forests and new animals roaming. Nature has survived there, humans have not.
Only today, I read about the Sea life in Kamchatka, I am not sure if it was fake or real news, but in one area of this magnificent place, a toxic spill, they think, has wiped away 95% of the sea life, dead octopus, crabs and fish piling onto the beaches.
What are we doing? What will further generations think about us? They will look back in horror at what we did to our planet. If we keep doing what we are doing, we will keep getting what we have, and what we have is a “disaster” if you believe this 94-year-old scientist.
It is now 2020 with 7.8 billion people and 35% wilderness left.
I wasn’t really tuned into Greta, as I felt she was put out there by activists, but her words were right, no matter who wrote them, we need to treat this as though our homes are on fire. Because they will be soon. This is not fake news. David Attenborough is not a Tok-tok brainwasher, Facebook liar or highly paid Fox or CNN biased news giver. The saddest clip in his film is not the starving walruses tumbling to their deaths, it is one scene where he looks utterly broken-hearted himself. He hangs his head in shame about what we have done and what we continue to do to this Garden of Eden that nature has entrusted us with. He took my breath away.
We may continue to help all our own causes and we will, homeless, abuse, whatever it is that you support, but if we do not all prioritise the planet, we can forget the rest. There will be no abused women to worry about, no abandoned children to mind.
Please take the time to watch this magnificent man and listen to his wise words. Please sit with your children and listen. Please tell everyone you know to watch it. The end of humanity as we know it, is now in sight. If we do not make huge changes in our households, businesses and habits, this world will crash to a halt for humans in our own children’s lifetime.
I too hang my head in shame. But I will pledge to do all I can to listen to his advice. If we act now, we can save ourselves.