​Asking Millennials at London Zoo How They Feel About the Environment

To celebrate the launch of 'Planet Earth 2', we asked people in the zoo if they're worried about the future of the world.

by BBC Planet Earth
24 November 2016, 9:54am

A decade after the first series, the BBC has launched the even more spectacular Planet Earth 2, which airs Sundays at 8PM on BBC One, covering the world's changing habitats from deserts, islands, mountains, and jungles, through to more urban environments, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough. To celebrate this, we asked some young people at a zoo how they feel about the environment.

Whether it's the local boozer mutating into a chain sandwich shop overnight, being told by a phone company that – as of tomorrow - your headphones will be useless or that BHS branch you remember your nan taking you disappearing into oblivion, our world is in an accelerated state of change. As it's got to the point where it's not even worth taking the small bedroom from your house share off SpareRoom anymore, you've realised this, and it concerns you. And sure: these things are concerning - but as a timeline-refreshing, Tinder-swiping civilisation, we're so caught up in our sedentary lifestyles that we've become detached from more significant changes happening at hand: those to the natural world.

With global temperatures warming, sea levels rising and thousands of species being lost by the year, things are morphing so rapidly that we prefer to ignore them. But faced with jarring realities about the environment, how do the twenty-somethings of today feel about nature and our impact on it? What kind of connection do they have with wildlife? And have they adapted or would they be willing to adapt their lifestyles to make them more sustainable? Eager to learn, we headed to London's beating heart of diverse animal life - the Zoo – to put questions from large-to-small to them.


Thanks for talking to us, guys. Firstly, what is it you like about camels?
Richard: It's that they're grumpy, and not afraid to let you know about it by spitting and stamping on your toes.

How much do you think about the environment?
Emma: I think quite a lot about the environment. I'm a vegan, and I do that for ecological reasons.
R: I'm not a vegan or a veggie, but I think about it more now than I did before. We've been living on a boat in London, and that makes you think about the things like waste and saving water, as you have your own containers for it. Things like showering too much are out of the window. So you can see how easy it is for you to forget that stuff. Then recycling, waste disposal: living it makes it inescapable, and you certainly shake that 'all is disposable' attitude.

That's a good point. It is faceless. Things like the unnecessary use of plastic in packaging is mad.
E: It's crazy. Like when you go to the supermarket – does that bit of fruit need to be in a plastic bag? No. I'd much rather have something that hasn't been flown in. I try to shop more culpably in that regard, buying local stuff, but the price is just so high. Obviously, the stuff that's been flown in en masse that has a bigger environmental impact is going to be cheaper. It's hard to be ecologically sound if you're not well off.

R: I live with a guy who grows his own stuff now – vegetables, potatoes - and he's turned his whole garden into an allotment. I think people are moving towards this, especially in London.

In the bubble.
R: In the bubble. But people in the countryside are at least aware of what they're buying. There's a bigger culture of farm shops or organic farms there, so you're eating formerly happy animals at least.
E: I'm not against people eating meat, by the way. I think that people should just eat it more mindfully, basically not with every meal.

Well, a figure suggests that a third of worldwide carbon emissions is down to the meat industry. And, by 2020, that would be reduced by 60% if the world went vegetarian or 70% if it went vegan.
E: Wow, yeah.

But this is more about the change in climate that this is causing, isn't it? The fact that the hottest month ever recorded was in July '16; the fact they predict climate change will contribute to around 250,000 additional deaths between 2030-2050.
E: If people saw that direct link, it would bring it home a bit more. But 'climate change' is such an abstract concept.

Made even more difficult by the fact that the world's most powerful nation has just voted in a president who thinks it's a hoax.
E: Christ, yeah. You just want to put him in a room, spray a load of aerosol and say 'notice any difference?'
R: That's it. But beyond that with developing countries, it's so arrogant to tell them what they're doing is wrong. Especially when you consider it's us and the West who've caused the problems making money from it. It's a hard philosophical argument, isn't it?

It is indeed.
E: But one that we're not going to solve today, and it's my birthday.

In that case, we'll let you get on with it!


Hey guys. What do you get from walking around a zoo - do you feel closer to nature than in your day-to-day life? How does it make you feel?
Holly: Quite sad, actually. I don't really feel like zoos are adapted to the animals very well, to be honest. Despite all the beautiful creatures around, I still feel like I'm in the middle of London here. Like the people who live here, they don't seem to have enough space to live.
Charlie: I don't really get how it works with endangered animals. It's obviously safer here, but I wish we lived in a world where they remain in the wild.

And tigers are your favourite animals – what do you like about them?
C: I don't know really – they're just elegant, aren't they?
H: The way they move; the way they look. Jaguars, leopards, pumas: I've always loved big cats.

They're a pretty good example actually. After the species was devastated in numbers by us, there's been good signs in Nepal. Since 2009, they've recorded a 63% increase in the wild population - that's said to be enough for a species to bounce back without intervention.
H: That's great to hear. It gives you hope that we may not be buggering up the planet as much as we think!
C: It's good to know that some of the ticket here goes toward that conservation work too.

Is that something that you think about at all in your life, contributing?
C: Only when I'm walking around places like this really, mate.
H: It's not enough, is it? I feel guilty driving to work when I could probably get a bus or cycle. We think that we do enough, we act like we're high and mighty but – the truth is - our generation don't think about it enough.
C: And what impact can we have anyway?

Well, you know the 5p bag charge that came in about a year back that everybody tweeted angrily or sentimentally about?
C: Yes.

The disposal of plastic bags went down an estimated 83% last year because of it.
C: Really? That is shocking.
H: What else do they suggest then?

Well, would you consider cutting down on flights and holidaying to Scunthorpe instead of Barcelona?
H: It sounds selfish, but no! We're never going to be in a world that people don't fly.

Do you do recycling?
H: Yes.

Would you cut down on say, shower time?
H: Yes.
C: No, I can't cope without a long shower in the morning. I've stopped using plastic bottles though! I know how bad they are for the ocean, so I just keep on and reuse it.

Well, that's good then. Cheers for chatting, guys.


Afternoon! Do you think you crave nature?
Annie: Yeah, I think so. Sometimes I just have to get a train out of London, and find something out in nature to do. But I think I'm more comfortable in cities.

And are you concerned for it?
Nathan: I'm concerned with the environment; I'd say, I work for an energy company. My job sees a lot of searching for renewable sources; as much as I can get in there, really. I found the job because I was concerned about it – I was working in fraud and wanted something more meaningful; something I was more passionate about, and I was drawn to energy. It doesn't always work that way, because they're just shouting 'money, money, money' at you.

Do you believe in climate change then?
A: Yes.
N: Yeah, but it's something I've looked into myself, so I don't really have a broad view on it. There's always going to be a shift in climate. I'm sure if you looked at 2,000, 3,000-year view of it, it wouldn't look too alien. But saying that: I know we're having a massive, massive impact on the planet, and the pace things are occurring is mental.

Do we need to be doing more?
N: Well, yeah. But the people at the top need to set an example. If you're building a business and – aptly – your president doesn't give a shit about climate change. You're presented with an option to spend more money and help the environment, you're going to think 'Fuck that. If my country doesn't care, why should I?'
A: That's why I was a bit - you know for the Brexit vote – supported 'remain', because it's easier to have stricter regulations in Europe but, if we're out, then who's monitoring it? Who's monitoring the agreements? But I'm here today because I'm a primary school teacher, learning about animals and species.

Well, we'll let you get back to it. Thank you.


How much do you think about the environment and the changes to it in your day-to-day life?
Pride: Not much really. Living in Sheffield, in the city centre, when would you get chance to? You're too focused on what's around you.

So do you spend much time in nature then?
P: Weirdly enough, only when I'm on holiday. I don't know whether you know Sheffield, but it's not particularly green. I think most of the country is similar now to be honest.

You're right: almost 90% of the UK's population live in cities. However, only 2% of Britain is, in the words of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 'built on' – concreted essentially - does that surprise you?
P: That is surprising, actually. But I grew up not really coming into contact with nature, so what else would I think?

Do you reckon that we're taught enough about the environment at school?
P: Not enough, I don't think. It's just basic stuff. Kids nowadays just get told a little bit when they're young, then by the time they grow up they forget. I certainly didn't get taught enough. I had to watch documentaries and educate myself on the whole about changes in the environment. It doesn't make for pretty reading.

Would you be willing to make sacrifices to your life to combat something like climate change?
P: Yes.

How often do you eat meat?
P: About three times a week.

Well, the meat industry is said to be responsible for more than a quarter of worldwide greenhouse gases, and therefore is a major driver of climate change. Have you ever thought about cutting it out of your diet?
P: I have, actually, to be honest. I do sometimes. You know the Meat free Mondays thing? We do that. I started cutting dairy down a bit two years ago, worried about climate change.

What do you think about the fact the new President of the United States thinks it's a hoax?
P: The less said about him the better. He's a businessman, isn't he? So the fact that he doesn't believe in regulation, coal, offshore drilling and all that – is it surprising? Of course not. If he makes his money, he doesn't care about anything else.

Indeed. Have a nice day.


Do you think that – being still in your twenties and having a child of your own – you think about the world your little one will grow up in?
Kevin: Yeah, of course. He's going to miss out on a lot, my little one. But you can't make masses of people behave differently, it's too difficult.

Would you make sacrifices yourself to change habits?
K: I have, actually. I'm a scuba diver and, when I heard all about microbeads and micro plastics in soaps, I started checking all soaps and cleaning products, and stopped buying them. You aren't told how bad things are until they're too late.

Well yeah, the population of marine life has gone down by 36% since 1970.
K: I've seen it, spending time on Islands and hearing the locals say they've observed this themselves. I find it really sad, having to think that I got to have all these life changing encounters with nature and my son may not be able to have the same experiences as me.

Did you know that five Pacific islands disappeared under rising sea levels alone in 2015?
K: It's depressing. But we're heating up now. Whether we slow it down or not doesn't actually matter too much. Our generation will take this for granted. Going back a little bit though - I think it goes further than us as individuals: it would have to be industries, governments and nations that make significant moves. And when we're too busy ripping each other to shreds or fighting one another, there's no chance we can have a significant impact. It's simply not sustainable.


How close do you feel to nature in London?
Ellie: Not at all here.

Do you think that's impacting on our generations moods and outlooks on the universe?
E: I think so, yeah. It's claustrophobic here. And when you're on the tube – without even considering the fact we go out of our way not to talk to one another - you can actually see the thickness and lack of purity in the air. There's got to be something really unhealthy about that, physically and mentally. It's gross.

Do you think that – with almost 9 million living in the city - our lifestyle is sustainable in London?
Sam: As a city, no, and personally it's difficult too. Where I live, they don't even provide recycling or food waste – and this is supposed to be one of the most developed, sophisticated and progressive countries in the world.
E: It's kind of pathetic, really. And our attitudes are terrible as Western civilisation. I'm a vegetarian and even a lot of land in the world is used to grow food to feed the cows, and therefore fuel the meat industry. I think the fact is that, using that land, you could feed the whole world instead of feeding the cows to supply a privileged minority.

Are you at all concerned by the fact scientists say we're losing several thousands of species a year?
S: Kind of, but I feel like – at the same rate – we're also discovering quite a lot of new species.

Well, they say that there's been a 58% decline in wild vertebrates on planet earth since 1970.
S: It's strange. We're the only people who can take care of the issue, but we're the ones causing it. And it feels like our generation should be the ones who should be solving it.
E: At least people are acknowledging this is the thing. We have to be the ones to deal with it.
S: I'm hoping that, as we're 20 now, by the time that we get older – people like us will be in power and willing to change. But who knows – we're lazy.

That we are.

To learn more about how animals meet the challenges of surviving in today's world, watch Planet Earth 2 airing Sundays at 8PM on BBC One, or available now on BBC iPlayer