In the 1960s, Dr Jane Goodall upended the world’s understanding of chimpanzees by revealing that they are capable of making and using tools and engaging in complex social behaviours like kissing and tickling. Six decades later, the world-renowned primatologist, activist, author and humanitarian is not only still working, but reinventing herself with a new podcast called Hopecast, which offers reasons to be hopeful about the environment, wildlife and humans in 2021.
50 Reasons to Love the World – 2021
Why do you love the world?
“Because even as a child, I was utterly in love with the wonder of nature, the miracle of life, the infinite variety of species and the mystery of the universe.” – Jane Goodall, primatologist and humanitarian
We recently spoke with Goodall via Zoom from her childhood home in Bournemouth, UK, where she has been living with her younger sister and her sister’s family during the pandemic. During our talk, the British Dame and UN Messenger of Peace discussed the best days of her life, how storytelling is the best way to reach people’s hearts, and how each of us can help look after this wondrous world we all share.
Q: After all these years of studying primates, you broadened your focus to include humans. In doing so, you launched Hopecast, highlighting how we all can contribute to a more compassionate world. What inspired this?
The best days of my life were when I was out in Gombe, [Tanzania], with the chimps in nature, in the rainforest. And it was when I realised that right across Africa, forests were disappearing, chimpanzee numbers were dropping, [and] I had to try and do something to help. When I went to Africa to visit different chimp sites, I learned a lot about the problems for the wildlife but also about the problems faced by people and the crippling poverty, the lack of health and education.
And when I flew over the little tiny Gombe National Park in 1960, it was part of this great forest that stretched right across Africa. By 1990, it was a tiny little island of forests with more people than the land can support, who buy food from elsewhere and who are struggling to survive. And that was when I thought, “If we don’t do something to help the people find an alternative way of living without destroying the environment, then we can’t save chimps, forests or anything else.” So we began the Tacare programme.
In the villages that were around Gombe, [the programme] has improved lives, provided microcredit for women and scholarships to keep girls in school and ways of restoring fertility to the land without chemicals. Tacare is now throughout the chimp range in Tanzania at four villages and in six other African countries, and the people have learned to use smartphones to monitor their own environment. They’ve realised that saving the forests is for their own future, not just the chimpanzees’.
[I began] raising money for all of this [because] I wanted to raise awareness about Africa’s problems. So I was travelling further and further around the world and learning more about what we’re doing to harm this beautiful planet, and meeting young people who seemed to have lost hope. [They] told me that they’d given up because we’d compromised their future [and] there was nothing they could do about it.
Q: Did you sense that there was not enough hope or that young people, and people in general, needed hope?
People do need hope, because if you don’t have hope then you become apathetic. I mean, why would you bother to do anything to help the environment, people or animals if you didn’t think it was going to work? You need to hope that what you do is going to make a difference. Without hope, then you fall into apathy and do nothing.
If everybody feels they’ve made ethical choices, then we move towards a better world
Q: What are a few ideas or developments inspiring your sense of hope now, and what can each of us do to make the world healthier for people, animals and the environment?
We can think about the little choices we make each day. What did we buy? Where did it come from? And, could you buy it from somewhere nearer that uses less air miles? Was [its manufacture] cruel to animals? Is it cheap because of child slave labour? If everybody feels they’ve made ethical choices, then we move towards a better world.
Q: You have travelled extensively. What has surprised you or challenged you on your journeys?
First of all, growing up in the UK was during World War Two, and so I learned a lot about taking nothing for granted. Food was rationed; clothes were rationed; people we knew were dying, were killed. The stories of the Holocaust came out, and it was shocking to me that people could treat other people that way. After the war, my wise mother let me go out to a German family who wanted an English person to teach their children good English, and the reason she let me go was because she wanted me to understand that the Nazis and Germans were not the same; that all Germans were not Nazis. Because in the war, the sound of a German voice sent shivers down your spine.
When I first went to Africa, there were no planes flying back and forth. There were a few, but they were very expensive. And the first place [where] I touched land in Africa was Cape Town, which is really beautiful and very exciting. But then I saw the backs of the seats and the doors to the hotels said “Slegs blankes“. I said to the two friends who were looking after me, “What do these words mean? “[They said], ‘It means white people only’.”. I didn’t grow up that way – my father was a congregational minister and we didn’t judge people by the colour of their skin, their culture or their religion. I couldn’t wait to leave South Africa.
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When I got to Kenya, where my friend was who’d invited me, it was much better. They were just on the brink of independence from British rule, and soon after I arrived in Tanzania, that country became independent too. But of course, the cultures are very different. I sort of grew up being told about different cultures – my great-great-grandfather had travelled all over the world and was very adventurous. So, [going to Africa] added to the knowledge that I had as a child, from reading and from stories.
Q: You are not only a scientist but an activist. Have you ever felt conflicted by the two hats you wear, or do they somehow complement each other?
I started off as a naturalist. I was only forced to become a scientist by [British paleoanthropologist] Dr Leakey, who told me he wasn’t always going to be around to get money for me for studying the chimps and I needed a degree and I had to get a PhD at Cambridge University. It was a very nerve-racking experience because I had never been to college and I was doing a PhD.
I did get the PhD and I was told I’d done everything wrong: I shouldn’t have given the chimps names; they should have had numbers; I couldn’t talk about personality, mind or emotions [as] those were unique to us. But I’d already been taught by my dog that that wasn’t true. So I just persevered, I got the degree, and gradually science changed. And now we know we’re not the only beings with personality, mind and emotion.
I was able to stick up for what I believed
After I left Gombe, I began travelling around and learning about the needs of the people and learning about the way animals were treated in Europe, in America, in medical research labs, the cruel training of circus animals. I decided I needed to become an advocate. And it’s never conflicted at all. I’ve never had any conflict between what I am doing now (we still have a research team at Gombe) and our method of research.
You know, the heart is involved, and empathy with the animal subjects is involved. So it’s not what some people would call “hard science”. It’s not all about facts and figures, although they have their place. When science says you have to be coldly objective [and] you can’t have empathy, they’re completely wrong. So I was able to stick up for what I believed, and if you have empathy with your subject you are more likely to understand complex behaviour.
Q: On Hopecast, you talk about your Welsh ancestry and how it’s benefited you as a storyteller. How has that gift benefited both the smaller communities that you’ve journeyed to and the larger global community?
Well, what we’re facing, we’ve got a pandemic. We’re realising that we brought it on ourselves through our disrespect of nature, our disrespect of animals. We have a climate crisis, and some people don’t believe it’s man-made.
The way to reach people is to reach the heart through stories. So I tell stories about going around the world, seeing the ice melting in Greenland, talking to Inuit elders who say that even in the height of summer the ice never used to melt. I met people who had to leave their island homes because of sea level rise. It’s telling stories like that that make people listen.
The way to reach people is to reach the heart through stories
When I was fighting the medical research labs, I didn’t attack the people in the labs. I didn’t point angry fingers at them and tell them they had to change their ways. I merely showed them and told them stories about the chimps at Gombe and what wonderful lives they led compared to these 5ftx5ft cages. And so I think people need to change from within for the most part, and hard facts and figures and arguments [aren’t] going to win the day; it’s not going to get to their hearts.
Q: In 1991 you founded Roots & Shoots a youth programme in 100 countries that fosters conservation leaders. What are the group’s greatest concerns and what are they doing about them?
It started because a group of high school students came to me concerned about different kinds of things, such as poaching in the national parks. Or why wasn’t somebody doing something about the street children with nowhere to go? Why was there cruelty to animals in the market and stray dogs and cats? Didn’t anybody care? And so right from the beginning, Roots & Shoots was about young people choosing projects to make the world better for animals, people and the environment.
The antidote to depression and lack of hope is taking action, because when you do something to help locally, then you realise you are making a difference. And when you hear, “think globally, act locally”, it should be the other way around. Act locally, see that you are making a difference, know that other people like you are making a difference in other places around the world and then you can think globally.
Q: You advocate for legislation around the globe that will protect wildlife and the environment. In the US, for example, you have supported protecting the Endangered Species Act. What are some other legislative efforts around the globe that you think are particularly crucial to helping the environment right now?
Well, we have to do things to mitigate climate change and that means one of the best things we can do is protect and restore forests because they trap carbon dioxide and also protect biodiversity.
We are part of the natural world – we depend on it
We are part of the natural world – we depend on it, and what we are depending on is healthy ecosystems. And an ecosystem is built up of interrelated plant and animal species. I learned in the rainforest that if one species disappears, it may not seem to matter. But maybe it was a main food source of another species, and you can get a ripple effect and the ecosystem [could] collapse. Forests are so important. The importance of preserving them is something that matters enormously, andcleaning up the ocean, because the ocean is the other great lung of the world. It breathes in CO2 and gives out oxygen. And as it gets more and more polluted and acidic, it can no longer do that. And of course, as the rainforests are being destroyed so fast, that means that they are no longer there to absorb the CO2.
Also, we have to fight the trafficking of animals, stop sending them and their body parts around the world. Because that’s what led to the pandemic, and it’s horribly cruel but it’s not just the wildlife markets. It’s the exotic pet trade that’s all over the world. This is another opportunity for a zoonotic disease and [is] cruel.
And we mustn’t forget our guilt with our factory farms. They, too, provide breeding grounds for new zoonotic diseases, viruses and bacteria that can jump from animal to person. Huge areas of habitat, including forests, are raised to grow the grain. Fossil fuel is used to get the grain to the animals, to bring meat to the table. Water is so precious in some places. Lots of water is wasted [in] these factory farms [too, which are] incredibly cruel.
Q: You talk about planting trees to offset one’s carbon footprint. As people return to the skies, seas and roads, how else can we limit our carbon footprint?
Well, [by] protecting forests. Planting trees is good, but it’s going to take a while for a tree to grow big enough to absorb the carbon dioxide. And it’s got to be looked after: you can’t just stick a tree in the ground and leave it, which is what people are doing.
Each one of us makes an impact every single day in the way that we live
Looking after trees [and] bringing trees into our urban areas is calming for people, they get less stressed and [suffer] less mental and physical disease. You talk to our Roots & Shoots kids and they’ve got so many ideas for mitigating climate change and it’s very inspiring when you talk to them.
Each one of us makes an impact every single day in the way that we live. That, collectively, makes us move in the right direction, and if we don’t get together now, then it will be too late. If we don’t do it soon, now, then it will be the end – not just of the environment, but us too, because we depend on the environment for our existence.
BBC Travel celebrates 50 Reasons to Love the World in 2021, through the inspiration of well-known voices as well as unsung heroes in local communities around the globe.
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www.bbc.com 2021-03-19 15:15:26