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We talk to the Perfect Planet experts about their experiences, hopes and advice.
We caught up with Dr Asha de Vos (Marine Biologist) and Dr Niall McCann (Biologist), who provided their expertise to the A Perfect Planet series. They have both witnessed, first-hand, the myriad ways that humans have upset the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystems.
Asha is a world-renowned marine biologist, TED Senior Fellow and ocean educator. She’s a pioneer in the research of blue whales and an expert on the current state of our oceans. Niall is a biologist, explorer and conservationist. He’s conducted remote-area biological research all over the world, and is a jungle expert, as well as a specialist in endangered species research. We discussed their hopes for the future, and what they want the audience to take away from the programme.
Seeing the damage caused by climate change can be a very bleak experience, but that hasn’t dampened Niall’s outlook. “I feel very positive about the future,” he explains, “because I spend so much time talking with young people - our future leaders - about nature, the environment, and humankind’s place in the world. The ‘Greta generation’ care deeply about the environment and are rightly holding those in power to account for their poor stewardship of the planet.”
I feel that we are at a turning point and it truly is up to us to use our collective intelligence for good..."
Asha shares Niall’s view. “Some might say I am a hopeless optimist but that’s a necessary ingredient if one works in conservation. So, I do feel positive about the future – I feel that we are at a turning point and it truly is up to us to use our collective intelligence for good, for the sake of the planet and ultimately ourselves.”
When it comes to what practical steps viewers can take to tackle climate change, both experts have ideas.
“There are lots of little things we can all do to take care of our planet,” says Asha. “My favourite is a little unorthodox. I ask people to share the stories of our planet, and specifically our ocean. Oftentimes, inaction or negative action comes from a place of ignorance, so empowering more people with the stories of our ocean and our incredible planet will help us to drive change. After all, if 70% of our planet is ocean, shouldn’t we have at least 50% of the world working for it?”
“We are all accountable for our actions,” Niall adds. “Thankfully many of the actions that reduce our impact on the planet are also very good for our health. We should walk or cycle, instead of driving whenever possible; we should eat less meat and more fruit and veg; we should buy fresh, sustainable, locally-sourced produce. Those are three quick changes that are good for the planet and good for your health. Then there are some ‘bigger picture’ changes that are also very easy to make, which add up to making the world a better place. Bank with an ethical bank; take more local holidays; try to avoid single-use plastics; reduce, reuse and recycle; support organisations that protect the planet, and be confident when talking about these things with friends and family. Changing established habits is difficult for lots of people, but is made much easier when they know that others are also doing so."
Asha’s had plenty of opportunities to witness the environmental damage humans have caused. “I rescue turtles entangled in nets while out at sea, watch the giants of our ocean – blue whales – narrowly escape collisions with ships, watch plastics drift past my research boat, spot oil slicks as we cruise around.”
However, for her the story with most impact is the one she spent over a decade trying to resolve: that of the blue whale ship strike. “The photo of the blue whale wrapped around the bow of the container ship, with the Colombo (my home) skyline in the background is hard to erase from my mind. It’s a constant reminder that we need to do better, we need to find balance – balance between protecting a population of whales that inhabits our oceans and provides us with incredible services and the services that we have all come to depend on. After all, 90% of everything is shipped. I constantly ask myself, how do we and our needs live in harmony with nature? How do we remind ourselves that we are a part of nature and that by saving it, we are saving ourselves?”
Sudden, dramatic changes are what stick in the memory, and really emphasise what we have done to the planet..."
For Niall, returning to places he’s been before highlight changes that humans have played a part in. “I’m sure everyone can remember snowy winters when they were growing up, and the fact that there used to be so many more butterflies, swifts and hedgehogs only a few years ago, but changes like these take place over years and years, and it’s easy to forget these things and only miss them when they’re gone. Sudden, dramatic changes are what stick in the memory, and really emphasise what we have done to the planet and the problems we face because of it.”
“I’ve been unfortunate enough to witness many such drastic events,” he continues, “both at home and abroad. But for me, returning to the forest in Honduras, where I had spent four consecutive summers during my PhD, and finding huge portions of it clear-felled by illegal settlers, really hit home. That forest is home to Baird’s tapir - the species I was studying, jaguar, resplendent quetzals, and six species of amphibians that live nowhere else in the world but there; and yet almost overnight, massive tracts of this pristine forest were lost because of one man’s greed.”
On what he hopes viewers will take away from the episode, Niall says the future lies in our hands. “Each and every one of us has it within our power to turn the tide on climate change and biodiversity loss, through the decisions we make in our lives and the way we choose to interact with the world around us. As the Dalai Lama said, ‘if you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito’.”
Finally, Asha just wants viewers to remember that there is reason to hope. “And as long as there is reason to hope,” she says, “we must keep working.”
As long as there is reason to hope, we must keep working.”
Featured image © Bill Ross | Getty