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'You were saying the right things.' David Attenborough's searing condemnation of our government.

Sir David Attenborough has spent the better part of seven decades traversing the planet, documenting the intricacies and curiosities of the natural world. Through that, he’s witnessed the knock-on effects of collapsing ecosystems and environmental devastation wreaked by climate change; a scourge he’s described as “our greatest threat in thousands of years”.

According to the revered natural historian, there are few places on earth where that threat has been more evident to him than Australia. Yet our leaders, he argues, have remained dangerously apathetic.

Speaking to Triple J‘s Hack program on Tuesday afternoon, the 93-year-old BBC presenter said it seemed to him that previous Australian governments had simply been “saying all the right things” on the issue.

However, he pointed to the recent federal election in which Scott Morrison’s Liberal government won on a platform that included support for new coal mines, including the proposed Adani mine in central Queensland.

“You are the keepers of an extraordinary section of the surface of this planet, including the Barrier Reef, and what you say, what you do, really, really matters.

“And when you’ve been upstanding and talking what I see is the truth about what we’re doing to the natural world, and then you suddenly say, ‘No it doesn’t matter … it doesn’t matter how much coal we burn … we don’t give a damn what it does to the rest of the world.’ What do you say?”

Attenborough previously singled out Australia’s inaction on climate change during a July 2019 address to the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee in British parliament.

“I will never forget diving on the [Great Barrier] reef about 10 years ago and suddenly seeing that instead of this multitude of wonderful forms of life, that it was stark white, it had bleached white because of the rising temperatures and the increasing acidity of the sea,” he said.

While he argued that the “voice of disbelief” on climate change should not be stamped out altogether, he pointed to Australia and the US as places where climate change sceptics held positions of considerable power.

“Australia is already facing, having to deal with some of the most extreme manifestations of climate change,” he said.

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“But both Australia and America those voices are clearly heard.”

“Politicians have to sit up and take notice” of kids.

Attenborough’s latest comments add to what has already been a shameful week for Australia’s standing on the issue.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was among five leaders of coal-supporting nations barred from speaking at the UN Climate Summit in New York. Speaking slots were instead given only to nations who could demonstrate a clear plan to tackle emissions (the focus of the gathering was to develop strategies toward achieving zero net emissions by 2050).

Despite being in the United States to meet with President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Morrison dodged the summit altogether.

Those in attendance heard a blistering speech from 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who tore into leaders for their “empty words”. She pointed out that even the strictest emission cuts being proposed would only offer a 50 per cent chance of limiting future warming to 0.4C — odds, she argued, that should be far from acceptable.

“We will not let you get away with this,” she said. “Right now is where we draw the line.”

There was some hope back home in Australia, though.

On Friday September 20, hundreds of thousands of Aussies — many of them school children — participated in a global climate strike; a movement championed by Greta Thunberg. Pouring into city streets, they called for action from governments and business. Among their demands: no new coal, oil or gas projects; 100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030; and funding for “a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel industry workers and communities”.

According to Sir David Attenborough, it’s that kind of activism that can compel leaders to make change.

“If they just sit on the sidelines, and [debate] in a nice, reasonable way, you know, they’ll say, ‘Oh, kids’. But if they actually do something in the way that they have been doing in this era, then politicians have to sit up and take notice,” he told Hack.

“They are important. They are the people who are going to inherit the mess that we’ve made.”

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