Sir David Attenborough has told MPs that polluting the oceans and atmosphere will soon provoke as much public abhorrence as slavery.

The naturalist and TV presenter said that the shift in how people viewed environmental damage was comparable to the transformation in morality that accompanied the abolition of slavery in the 19th century. “I suspect we are right now in the beginning of a big change. Young people are the stimulus bringing that about,” he said.

Giving evidence to the business, energy and industrial strategy committee, Sir David called for those who disputed global warming to be heard, saying that the “voice of disbelief should not be stamped on”. However, he warned that within 30 years climate change was destined to “cause great social unrest and cause great changes in what we eat and how we live”.

Sir David, 93, has described how witnessing the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef brought home to him the consequences of climate change. He told MPs that during the 1950s he had “the extraordinary experience of diving on the reef and suddenly seeing this multitude of fantastic, beautiful forms of life”. Half a century later, he returned to find a desolate habitat. “I will never forget diving on the reef about ten years ago now and instead of this multitude of wonderful forms of life it was stark white. It had been bleached white because of rising temperatures and the increasing acidity of the sea.”

Read more: The Times