“On World Environment Day and I want us to reflect on this day – as indeed we should be reflecting on every day – that our disrespect of the environment has led to some major problems. First of all, it’s completely crazy to think that we can have unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources. Many of which already in some places are being used up more quickly than nature can replenish them.
“Our population is growing. It’s 7.2 billion roughly now. It’s predicted to be 9.4 billion in 2050 and how will the planet cope? I can’t answer that question, but we must think about it. And of course, we want everybody on the planet to have a good life, but we have to realize that there are three problems that we have to overcome.
“We must try and alleviate poverty because if you’re really poor you’re going to cut down the last trees in your effort to grow food to feed your family. You will fish the last fish for the same reason. We have to do something to reduce our unsustainable way of life. And we have to try and do something about corruption.
“We’ve been through a very extraordinary time – we’re still going through it – because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and nature’s had a chance in some cases to come back. The amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere have been reduced as factories closed, and as country after country has put people in lockdown, so they could no longer drive and pollute the air with fossil fuels or the burning of fossil fuels. There must be hundreds of thousands of people in the big cities, maybe for the first time ever, who have been able to breathe clean air. What a luxury for them. We take it for granted so many of us. And so now we also look up at the night sky and see the brightness of the stars shining up there. These people are not going to go back to business as usual.
“It’s our disrespect for the natural world that has brought this pandemic upon us. It’s our fault. We’ve done it because of our disrespect of nature and our disrespect of animals. How so? As we destroy forests, for example, the rich biodiversity of animal life is pushed closer together, giving opportunities for viruses and bacteria to jump over from animals to other animals. Then as animals are being pushed into closer contact with us, because of reduced food supplies in their own environment, this again creates a situation where bacteria or viruses can spillover from an animal to a person. And by combining with cells in the body produce sometimes a new disease like COVID-19.”