All is quiet at Greta Thunberg's home on Kungsholmen in Stockholm. On this day one year ago she was at sea, on a catamaran in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Now she has just come home from school. Labrador Roxy is asleep on the couch, and Moses, the golden retriever, has crashed out on the floor. A thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle is spread out over the kitchen table on which Greta lays edge pieces while waiting for Sir David to appear on the computer monitor.
This fall, she is the main character in Nathan Grossman's feature film Greta. He has recently released the film and the book A Life on our Planet.
In the introduction to the film, Sir David says:
”The natural world is disappearing. The evidence is all around us, it is happened in my lifetime. I have seen it with my own eyes.”
The story starts in 1937, the year he turned 11.
Then: Wilderness on 66 percent of the Earth, a carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of 280 ppm.
And now? Wilderness on 35 percent of the Earth, a carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of 415 ppm.
Just like climate change and the ongoing pandemic, the loss of biodiversity is part of a major sustainability crisis caused by humans.
The computer pings, and Gretas kitchen is filled with a familiar voice coming from the speakers. A voice usually accompanied by pictures of vast savannas, colorful coral reefs and mighty animals cheerfully says:
DN's Head of Culture Björn Wiman leads the conversation by link from home.
Björn Wiman: ”Sir David, how is life for you during the pandemic?”
David Attenborough: ”Well, it is not so bad. I am lucky to have a garden. It is not a big garden, but it is a garden, and it has a pond. I get food delivered once a week. And I have a lot to do: I can write here and I record, doing my voiceovers while watching the programs on a screen. So I have been pretty active... I have not actually left the house in eight and a half months, which is extraordinary. But I cannot complain.”
”Greta, I know that films and documentaries like the ones Sir David has made were what got you interested in this subject from the start.”
Greta Thunberg: ”Yes, that is right. It was by watching documentaries and films that I was introduced to the climate crisis and the environmental crisis. That is how I learned and linked the facts to start with. It was a big eye-opener for me.”
”This conversation is about two parts of the same major crisis: Climate change and the mass extinction of other species on Earth. My impression is that the climate crisis sometimes takes up a disproportionate amount of space and that too little attention is focused on the interaction between these two crises. Do you agree?”
GT: ”These crises are interconnected. We cannot communicate one crisis without communicating the other. Unfortunately, the media today works in such a way that we want simple and click-friendly headlines. That can make it difficult to explain complex issues, and this is a very complicated issue. We need to connect the information: This is not one crisis, it is not two or three separate crises. This is a symptom of a much bigger issue.”
”Do you think, Greta, that there is too much focus on the ”nature side” of this issue – and too little on the consequences for human civilization and the future of humanity?”
GT: ”No, I do not think there is too much focus on nature. I think there is too little focus on nature.”
DA: ”Yes, that is right.”
GT: ”There is too little focus on all aspects of this crisis.”
”Does that also apply to the ”solution side” of this problem? You sometimes hear ‘the solution can be found in new technological systems’ or ‘the solution is that we change our way of life’.”
DA: ”There is not one single solution. There are a number of different solutions because there are a lot of problems. Fishing has a set of problems, carbon dioxide emissions have different problems, the way we treat agricultural land. The fuel and energy industries have their own challenges. So there is not just one miraculous action that allows us to say, ‘Right, bingo, there we have it! We have resolved the issue.’ It is not like that! There are millions of issues.”
GT: ”Exactly. Sometimes it feels like we are wasting the little time we have now by arguing about what solution is best. ‘We shouldn not be doing this because this is better.’ As if we had a choice! As if we can decide for ourselves what we need to do, and as if there is one magical solution that will fix everything. We need to get away from that narrative, we need to leave that idea behind us.”
DA: ”Yes, I agree. And at the end of the day, you know, it is a big world. The only thing we can do – what you, Greta, are particularly good at – is to ensure that people around the world see what the problem is. We have to be persistent, and we have to make sure there is a large democratic multitude of voices saying 'do something, do something, do something'. We have to keep that choir alive, or those with power will not react. But even when they do react, it is extremely difficult to reach agreement on how we should treat the oceans or the atmosphere.”
GT: ”Yes. For a crisis as complex as this one, which we do not fully understand – for there will always be things we are unaware of – we must bring together all the experts. We have to deal with the crisis as a crisis and work together from there. We cannot expect to have all the answers delivered to us, for someone to say, ‘This is what we need to do. This is going to solve the problem.’ We have to find the answers along the way.”
”In the communications industry, which you are both part of in some way, the balance between the message of 'apocalyptic' disaster and the constructive tone i often discussed. How do you view that conflict?”
GT: ”I think we simply need to tell the truth. We should be adult enough to handle the truth. And the truth can be quite frightening in some ways – but it is also hopeful. There is hope. And we should simply communicate the truth to get the whole picture.”
DA: ”Yes. And we cannot expect it to happen overnight, or in a year, or even in a decade. That we are going to solve all the problems. But there have been major changes already... I remember that ten years ago it was considered strange to invest in wind power and solar panels. But it actually happened! And veganism – you are a vegan, Greta – I mean: It has happened! So changes are happening, they are not sufficient, and they are not dramatic enough, but... We all move in our own circles, so it is hard to generalize. But in my circles I meet far more people who understand the problems now, far more people who do what they can in their own lives.”
”You both have experience of meeting world-leading politicians, those who are poised to lead the world's transformation. What is your impression of their general knowledge of the climate and sustainability crisis?”
DA: ”It is hard for me to say, because I am the one talking to them. They are not talking to me. It is a great privilege to speak with President Obama, for example, and those I have met have treated me very politely. But I cannot tell if they are knowledgeable or not. I mean, they say the right things. They say, ‘Yes, we agree’ and ‘We are going to do something’. But they are politicians, they are not going to commit to anything when they are being filmed. At least they have not done so in front of me. Maybe they have said something to Greta?”
GT: ”I have the same opinion as you...”
”Greta, when you spoke in the British Parliament, you used a rhetorical question. You said, ‘Is my microphone working?’. Why did you do that?”
GT: ”Because it feels like the message is not getting through. We say the same thing over and over again but it does not seem like anyone is listening. Nobody does anything. So that is why I asked the rhetorical question, is the microphone working, do you really hear us?’ Because it sometimes feels like we speak a completely different language.”
DA: ”Exactly. And in a way, maybe we do. Because the language we use is direct. And democracy is the lesser of the evils when it comes to ways of governing, but it is still pretty bad. I mean, how do you get 60 million people to agree on a specific action? It is very difficult. I think there are political leaders who understand very well what you and I are saying, but they don not know how to achieve it.”
GT: ”They lack pressure from the population. People are not informed about the crisis we are facing, and we are not dealing with the crisis as a crisis. That is why, of course, the public is not forming the opinion required to give politicians support for the necessary solutions.”
DA: ”I have high hopes for the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow toward the end of next year. That is where the executive power is. It is terrible that it is as late as it is, a year later than you and I were hoping for. Another year has passed, it is getting more and more urgent.”
”US President-elect Joe Biden recently appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry ‘climate czar’ to deal with the climate crisis as a crisis. What are your views on that?”
DA: ”That is good news. I do not know all that much about American politics. But still, it is something, hooray! We will see what happens.”
GT: There is not much to say about it yet, because we do not know what it will lead to. Even if we do not have much time, I guess we will have to wait and see what happens. All we can do is hope that things will be okay, and put pressure on those in power.”
DA: ”But you, Greta, have influenced the electorate, your voice and that of other young people. You get a lot of support, and in a democracy politics takes account of what the voters say. It is a very long-winded way of working, but it is the only way.
”I have a question about time regarding to the crisis. Sir David, do you consider the idea that ‘time is running out’ to be urgent in the same way as a person of Greta's generation?”
DA: ”I certainly will not be around to see what has happened in ten years' time. But that does not make me any less concerned. To look at this issue from a personal perspective is really to diminish its nature and gravity. It is a global problem and a universal problem, and we must tell the truth about it.”
GT: ”It should not be a personal issue, but, unfortunately, it is being treated that way by many people today. By people who do not think about the future, who do not think about anybody other than themselves. People who just ponder about what effects this is going to have on their own lives. And of course: If you exclude the time aspect and aspect of equiliy, then we can carry on as we do now, and perhaps there will be a magical solution in the future. But, unfortunately, we do not have that time, we cannot wait for any magical solution. We do not know whether it will come, and that is why we must act now.”
”Do you think that people's understanding of the time aspect changes as the crisis gets closer and becomes more and more impossible to ignore? I am thinking of the fires in California or Australia. Places in the world where civilization as we know it is under threat – now. Will people react differently when the crisis reaches the privileged groups in society?”
DA: ”You might think so. But the remarkable thing is that, as far as the Australian and Californian fires are concerned... the people there do not appear to have taken much notice of the crisis. There seems to be a very weak link between being affected, and understanding and acting on the crisis.”
GT: ”Yes, indeed. People in Australia did nothing to change their behavior after the fires. People in California did not change their behavior. So, of course, there is no natural or obvious link there. It is something else that is required. I think it is the way we deal with and see the crisis.
”Greta, you mentioned the aspect of equility, or climate justice. This is a key concept for you when you talk about the crisis. Can you tell me a little more about what it is and what you mean when you say it?”
GT: ”Yes. Climate justice is about ensuring living conditions that are equally good for everyone. Equal access to what the planet has to offer, you could say. And without focusing on climate justice, we will not be able to solve this crisis. Climate justice is at the very heart of the Paris Agreement. If we do not take account of the different resources of countries and their history – and also the conditions for different generations – then we will not be able to solve this.”
DA: ”The obvious example here is everything the developed world has taken from the undeveloped world, in economic terms. An investigation into this is currently underway in the UK, and led by the eminent economics professor Partha Dasgupta. They are trying to find a way to ’price’ different environmental values. I am very much looking forward to seeing their results.”
”Some say that the corona pandemic represents a unique opportunity for us to realize the danger we are in – and change the way we live. Do you agree with that?”
GT: ”It goes without saying that a pandemic should not be seen as an opportunity. It is a tragedy, nothing else. But we will inevitably have to get out of this somehow, and we will have to choose which door to open – how we want to move forward. I would not call it an opportunity, but it is a choice we have to make.”
DA: ”I totally agree. It now looks like a vaccine is coming soon, and when that happens the question is whether we say, ‘Okay, then. Let us go back to what we did before’? I hope not, I think we have lived extravagantly. But it is very difficult to legislate for such a change, it is about the will of people. Perhaps now we have found a way of living that we prefer? It remains to be seen.”
”Do you ever wish you were unaware of the severity of the climate and sustainability crisis? That you had lived a life, as many people do, without being conscious of the emergency?”
DA: ”You do not have a choice. If you see these things happening and you are in the ‘business’ that I am in, of course you have to... I mean, I cannot possibly refrain from doing something or saying something. I have been saying this for quite some time, I said it even before the science was as clear as it is now. But there are still people arguing about basic facts.”
”What do you say to them?”
DA: ”What Greta always says, over and over again: Look at the research! Look at the facts. You cannot expect to understand this complex problem in the context of your own personal experience. Get out, and experience a bit of this and a bit of that. You have to look at the science. It takes a large number of facts and experiences, and it extracts principles, that is what science does. And I think it does so rather successfully.”
”Greta, in the movie about you, you say at one point, ‘This is too much responsibility for me.’ Was that a feeling in the moment, or do you still feel that way?”
GT: ”I think all activists feel that way. We do not want to do this. You asked earlier if we wished we had remained unaware: No, we do not. But we wish the crisis did not existed. And we wish that more people would get involved so that less responsibility would fall on each individual. And especially on the children.”
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