A Scots wildlife cameraman described by Sir David Attenborough as “the toughest in the business” has issued a warning on climate change based on what he has witnessed in the Antarctic and Arctic over four decades.
Doug Allan, whose work includes BBC series such as Ocean Giants and Human Planet and features close-up shots of killer whales hunting in Antarctica and polar bears fighting, said the developed world’s obsession with consumerism and air travel must be curbed to preserve the Earth’s remotest areas and its inhabitants from climate change.
Allan, from Dunfermline, is giving a series of talks across Scotland entitled “Oceans at the Crossroads” for the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Inspiring People programme, starting this week in Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
He will also talk about the stories behind his remarkable images, as well as the challenges of surviving in harsh sub-zero temperatures – from the need to be aware of the precise moment a shark is about to attack to having a snow mobile ready and waiting to drive at polar bears to scare them off.
Allan said the “one, overall arching challenge” facing the oceans is the damaging effects of ocean ossification – a process which he describes as climate change’s “evil twin” – which occurs when the carbon dioxide produced by climate change goes into the ocean, producing extra acid which affects sea creatures and thus the food chain.
He said: “I’m going to talk about what I’ve seen through my own eyes.
“I remember being in the Arctic around 1988 when climate change was just beginning to be noticed. When I spoke to the Inuit they knew when the ice would break up, its patterns and the three or four days when different stages would form or break up. But not now.
“It’s been nearly 30 years since then and it’s got earlier, definitely warmer and mostly very erratic.”
Working so closely with animals, Allan has also been able to observe how their food chain has been disrupted by climate change.
“Ocean ossification is tremendously worrying and invisible. The ocean and the land we live on are all interconnected and what is happening now is affecting the chemistry of the ocean. When the sea becomes more acidic, it affects the shells of crustaceans making their shells thinner and less healthy. These small crustaceans are eaten by fish and the fish are eaten by seals, but there is less sustenance around.”
Mike Robinson, RSGS chief executive, said Allan was one of the world’s leading cameramen.
Robinson said: “This talk is not just a chance to see and hear the stories behind so many of his wonderful images, but also to hear from him about his first-hand experience at the poles and the impact of climate change he has witnessed personally.
“As with all our talks I hope visitors will leave inspired to learn more and to perhaps make a small change to their own lifestyles, and in turn to the future of our planet.”