Speaking at the World Economic Forum's summit in Davos, Switzerland, the iconic conservationist and documentary maker urged the audience to rethink its approach to the natural world.

“There’s never been a time when more people are out of touch with the natural world, and yet we have to recognise that every breath of air and every mouthful of food comes from the natural world,” Attenborough said.

“If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. It’s not just beauty and wonder: it is essential to human life. We are in the danger of wrecking that. We are destroying the natural world, and with it, ourselves.”

“The mechanisms we have for destruction are…so frightening”

Attenborough made the impassioned plea while being interviewed by Prince William. He outlined how there were more avenues than ever for people to explore the natural world and noted this also meant that more natural areas could be exploited and degraded.

“We can wreck it with ease,” he said of the natural world. “We can wreck it without even noticing.”

The veteran broadcaster also touched on the challenges of a rapidly expanding population. “We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all-pervasive, the mechanisms we have for destruction are so wholesale and so frightening that we can exterminate whole ecosystems without even noticing it.

“We have now to be really aware of the dangers that we are doing. We already know that of course the plastics problem in the seas is wreaking appalling damage on marine life – the extent of which we don’t yet fully know.”

“Work to save the planet is probably going to largely happen on our watch,” the prince told him.

Attenborough’s message was not totally gloomy, however, and said that people now had the knowledge to “live in harmony with nature” and a recent embrace of solar power and lower pollution industry gave him for a more environmentally conscious future.

He called on both business leaders and governments to implement solutions to mitigate damage to the environment.

The 92-year-old Attenborough still commands a massive audience

Attenborough’s latest work, Our Planet, will debut at the forum before heading to Netflix.

He marvelled that his latest feature could be seen by up to 150 million people and reflected that when he started making nature films back in 1956, the technology was primitive compared to that at his disposal today. Drones, deep-sea cameras and equipment capable of illuminating dark and remote spaces had completely changed the game, he explained.

Along with this new technology, Attenborough said our understanding of the impact of human activity on the natural world had grown exponentially. “When I started 60 years…the notion that human beings might exterminate whole species … seemed the exception. Now we are well aware that..we can do things to accidentally to destroy whole parts of the natural world and exterminate whole species.”

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Header image credit: World Economic Forum