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Sir David Attenborough to 60 Minutes on climate change: "A crime has been committed"

Sir David Attenborough's optimism
Where Sir David Attenborough draws his optimism 05:21

Sir David Attenborough was 28-years-old when he convinced his bosses at the BBC to let him travel the world and document his explorations. He has perpetually been on the road ever since. 

For nearly 70 years, the knighted Briton and his teams of filmmakers have traveled to some of the most remote places on earth to explore the natural world.

"I want [people] to know…not the human story particularly, but the story of life on this earth, how it how it developed," Attenborough told 60 Minutes.

David Attenborough with orang utan and her baby at London Zoo
Attenborough with Orangutans  Getty Images

Now 94, Attenborough has witnessed the evolution of the natural world more closely than most.

Attenborough studied geology and zoology before embarking on a career in television and film. Ever since, he has been an animal advocate, conservationist, and serves as an ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund. 

For much of his career, Attenborough chose not to preach conservation in his films. In 2002, the naturalist told 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley in an interview that his role was to show an "objective depiction of the natural world."

Attenborough with Ed Bradley

"The most important job is persuading people that the natural world is complex and wonderful and one of the most precious things we have," Attenborough said to 60 Minutes in 2002. "And if you're going to do that, then every time you do it, you show the facts, you end up by saying, 'And it's all disappearing and it's all your fault,' people will stop viewing."

Until recently, Attenborough's films shied away from making sweeping declarations about the planet's changing climate. 

That stance has changed. 

Attenborough's latest project includes a book and film both titled, "A Life on Our Planet." The documentary premiers on Netflix on October 4. He calls this latest project his "witness statement," and on 60 Minutes told correspondent Anderson Cooper "a crime has been committed" against the planet.

"We're both in broadcasting, if you're going be telling something as though it's true, you better be sure it's true," Attenborough said to Cooper. "So I didn't say anything much about the world being in ecological peril until I was absolutely sure that what I was talking about was correct."

Attenborough during the shoot for this week's 60 Minutes story

Attenborough no longer minces words nor leaves his viewers wondering where he stands on the issue of climate change. In the new film, he laments Earth's decline and states emphatically, "Our planet is headed for disaster."  

Despite his stark warning about the planet's peril, Attenborough told Cooper it is not too late to salvage it, if countries work together and societies alter their behavior. The nonagenarian remains hopeful for the future. 

"There's a huge movement around the world of people from all nations, young people who can see what is happening to the world, and demanding that their government should take action," Attenborough said. "And that's the best hope that I have."

The video above was produced by Keith Zubrow and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.  

Photos and video courtesy of Silverback Films, WWF and Getty Images.

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