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Attenborough: Is There Still Hope on Climate?

06/12/2015 00:33 GMT | Updated 04/12/2016 10:12 GMT

As world leaders gather in Paris to try and limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees, we are left with the question 'Will this actually help or are we actually, very much, totally screwed?'

Through the first week of discussions, there appeared to be little agreement over a number of key points - low lying nations understandably dug in on 1.5 degrees but some larger developing nations threw this out. Debates went on into the night.

The fact remains that, whatever the warming, the consequences are game changing in their tragic scale, and we should know by the end of this week's talks just how bad it could become.

If we get to 2 degrees (a best case scenario for some!) then sea levels rise by over half a meter, 1.5 billion people experience increased water stress, ocean acidification kills off fish and coral and freak weather leads to many more millions of people exposed to flooding and heatwaves. Huge swathes of ecosystems change. The title of Naomi Klein's brilliant climate change book 'This Changes Everything' says it all.

Last week, I was privileged to attend a discussion at the RSA entitled 'Is there still hope on climate?' as Sir David Attenborough interviewed explorer and conservationist Tim Flannery about his new book, 'Atmosphere of Hope' in which Flannery outlines a number of solutions, which collectively still give us grounds to believe we can limit warming even below the 2 degrees.

The solutions are varied and some may seem like science fiction, but then all science was once precisely that. Flannery reminded us that as we look to 2050 for our warming cap, imagine how much could change by then. Compare the world in 1915 to 1950 - we go from a world of empire, a great war fought on horseback and foot to a nuclear world, the advance of communism and the approach of the space race.

Ideas in Flannery's book include using coffee grounds, carbon sucking concrete and vast seaweed farms - a desktop study suggests that if we planted 9% of our oceans with seaweed, it would remove all excess CO2. It would also provide enough protein from fish and crustaceans for ten billion people. Planting so much is hugely impractical but it gives you a scale for how much would need to change to address this. Look at the equivalent it would take on land - you would need to plant an area the size of Australia with trees to draw out just one tenth of the atmospheric CO2.

On the renewables side, patents are being filed to improve provision every day and it is becoming increasingly obvious that a joined up, multi pronged attack is the only way of challenging climate change.

But even if we get consensus next week, there is still a major job to convince businesses and individuals to do all that is required to get there, and that we all have a responsibility and role to play. That may end up being the greatest challenge of all.

Attenborough had the last and most prophetic word - he said that just 1/5000th of the sun's power hitting earth every day could power all human needs. But from a lifetime observing man's interaction with our planet, he said the risk would be that if we secured cheap renewable energy then humanity would continue to devastate earth as it has done. What we need is a major shift in our own humanity.

"It was once perfectly acceptable to the human race to think that one man could own another," he said. "And yet, half a century later slavery was something that was intolerable, that no human could even conceive. There was a huge change in the moral perspective of humanity. And it is my hope that somehow if we go on talking about this, about the evils, then somehow humanity will make another of those philosophical leaps and it will become intolerable, just as slavery became intolerable, that we should misuse the energies and the capacity of this wonderful world."