What is a mensch?

David Attenborough, biodiversity and our planet’s (and Nairn’s) future

As a child growing up in the seventies my mother was always busy writing letters, cooking, cleaning, gardening. She almost never rested.


The only programmes she would always find time to watch were nature programmes featuring David Attenborough, who was no less present on our TV screens then as now. When the programme finished she would usually sigh with satisfaction and say, ‘Ah, what a mensch!’ Mensch? What did that mean? I should explain that my mother was a refugee, a Jew who had escaped Nazi Germany on the last boat to leave Hamburg before war broke out in 1939. I looked it up.


Mensch, noun: Human being. An upstanding, honourable, worthy person of either sex.


And here we are, fifty years on, David Attenborough still being a mensch. In his recent programmes, A Life on Our Planet (Netflix) and Extinction: The Facts (BBC) he warns us, in that very human, humane way of his, that we humans have pushed ourselves to the very brink of extinction. And the great irony is that we have done it by not caring enough about all the other species on the planet, plant and animal.

His conclusion is that biodiversity is what keeps the planet healthy and that sustains the human race.


We humans have taken more and more of the resources of planet Earth for our own needs; we have squeezed out the other species to make room for ourselves, and it turns out that while we have been doing that we have been making it more and more likely that the planet will no longer be able to find room for us.


So far, for all of human existence, our planet has been kind enough to provide a climate in which we can survive (since the end of the last ice age, at least), soil fertile enough to grow our food and seas rich enough to provide us with fish.


It is now beyond obvious that we’ve messed it up, mainly through over-consumption, particularly in the rich nations of the world (not that everyone in those nations is rich, just that enough are to gobble-up more than their fair share).


Sir David Attenborough’s message is both a warning and a plea: we can do something about the mess we humans have made. We can all do our bit by e