The encounter between President Obama and Sir David Attenborough, recorded in May, went live this weekend and is giving science-loving citizens of the Internet all the feels. In the interview, which aired Sunday on both BBC America and BBC One, Obama and Sir David discussed climate change, population growth, and renewable energy. What isn’t clear is who is interviewing who. Obama, who admits during their encounter to being a long-time Attenborough fanboy, asks as many questions as he answers.
Their conversation, bursting with mutual admiration, was pretty awesome.
Sir David Attenborough is a beloved British naturalist and broadcaster, famous for hosting BBC programs about the natural world such as Life On Earth, The Living Planet, and, more recently, Planet Earth and The Blue Planet. His career has spanned over 60 years. In their conversation, Obama describes how, as a young boy growing up in Hawaii, his appreciation for nature was enhanced by Attenborough’s work.
The interview starts off with Obama asking Attenborough what sparked his interest in the natural world, and the response he got is one only Sir David could give: “A five-year-old, turning over a stone and seeing a slug, says, ‘What a treasure! How does it live? What are those things on the front?’ Kids love it… so the question is: How did you lose it? How did anyone lose the interest in nature?”
The idea that future generations need to be instilled with a sense of stewardship and ownership over the natural world is a theme that they return to again in the interview. Acknowledging that 50 percent of the world’s population grows up surrounded by bricks and mortar rather than wildlife, Sir David advocates for using technology — especially social media — to bring nature to the city. “If they don’t understand the workings of the natural world,” he says of young urbanites, “they won’t take the trouble to protect it. That’s one of the roles the media should have.”
Turning their conversation turned to climate change, Obama asked, somewhat obliquely, whether the planet is already screwed. Attenborough emphasized that our potential for success in beating climate change lies in our ability to figure out how to generate renewable energy and, almost more importantly, store it.
Later in their conversation, Attenborough refers to the way, almost fifty years ago, America inspired Europe and the rest of the world by committing to sending a man to the moon. He prods Obama: Could America not do the same with climate change regulation?
Our survival, Attenborough insists, depends on reaching out to the public to give them an understanding — “a gut feeling” — that our planet is part of our inheritance. By watching this conversation, we’re off to a great start.