I have always maintained that there is reason for hope if… And the ‘if’ is if we get together in time and start to heal the pain humans have inflicted on the world. The window of time in which we have the opportunity to change our destructive ways is closing.
One of the biggest obstacles standing in our way of making these necessary changes is money. The UN predicts that the world’s population will grow from 7.8 billion as it is now to 9.7 billion by 2050. Our planet can’t keep up, and it’s the richest 10 per cent who are causing half the damage. Think of all the people who, for the first time, have had the luxury of breathing clean air or looking up to see the stars at night instead of a haze of pollution in the past six months. If we go back to our pre-pandemic ways then we doom future generations. This is our wake-up call.
My ultimate hope is that we unite to create a green economy to reduce the likelihood of another pandemic. COVID-19 is a direct result of our disrespect for the environment and animals. Zoonotic diseases have been getting more frequent, and it’s not just a result of the wild animal markets in Asia and bushmeat markets in Africa, but the factory farms in Europe and America too.The need for a green economy
The global north has developed a materialistic culture and unfortunately, other parts of the world that had different ways of living want to catch up. Let’s create a different criteria of what success is rather than being intimately tied up with money and accumulating possessions and power. How about thinking of a successful life as having enough resources to live on and support your family; enough time to enjoy the beauty that’s still there? Studies prove that people benefit from being close to nature and that green spaces in urban areas have both mental and physical health benefits. We’ve got to safeguard what’s left and restore what’s been lost.
When I first arrived in Tanzania in 1960, what is now Gombe National Park was part of the great equatorial forest belt that stretched right across Africa. By 1990, it was a tiny island. Although I had originally gone to study chimpanzees, I realised that they were disappearing and it was necessary not only to study them, but also conserve them. And in order to conserve them, you have to help people living in and around chimp habitats to live in a way that doesn’t harm their environment. In 1994, through the Jane Goodall Institute, I established a community-centred conservation and development programme called TACARE (Tanganyika Catchment Reforestation and Education) to help people understand that protecting the environment isn’t just beneficial to wildlife, but to their own future.
People should feel empowered to make positive change. Muhammad Yunus [economist and Nobel Peace laureate] started the Grameen Bank because nobody would provide small loans to poor people that could help lift them out of poverty. Now, I’m no economist, and nor do I pretend to be, but what I do know is that in order to entice enough people to a greener way of living, they have to be provided with green jobs in areas such as renewable energy. Over the course of my career, I’ve gained courage from seeing an increasing number of people understanding and responding to the climate crisis. So why aren’t we doing more? Often it’s because people feel helpless; they think, ‘What I do won’t make a difference.’ It does.
Every single one of us makes an impact on the planet every day, and we get to choose what sort of impact we make. If enough people make ethical choices, if we can alleviate poverty, if we can reduce our unsustainable ways of living, if we can do something about the obscene wealth of some individuals—I mean, who needs three or four houses?—then we have hope. Harness your power as a consumer. Every time you buy something ask, ‘Did this product result in cruelty to animals? Is it cheap because of slave labour? Is it made using materials and practices that are particularly harmful to the environment?’ If the answers are yes, then walk away.
Dr. Jane Goodall and Goblin at Gombe National Park in Tanzania
© Courtesy Jane Goodall InstituteEverything is interrelated
From the beginning of my conservation career, I worked with the field biologist George Schaller. People often said that we had to have a focus, whether it be agriculture, health or cancer—that we couldn’t do it all. George and I saw things differently; everything is interrelated. If you’re going to set up education programmes for girls then you need to establish health facilities too in case they get sick. Collaboration is imperative. We have to get enough minds to work together to make the world well. If we don’t, we’ll lose out.
Some people say, ‘Well, we’re in the middle of the sixth great extinction, who cares if some animals and plants die out?’ As I learned in the rainforest, losing one small species may not seem to matter, but it may be the major food source of another species. And then you get a ripple effect that can lead to ecosystem collapse. We try to separate ourselves and live in a bubble, but whether we like it or not, humans are part of the natural world and depend on it.
In an attempt to burst that bubble, in 1991 I started Roots & Shoots, a programme to encourage young people to implement practical positive change for people, animals and the environment by providing teachers with free resources and activities. The secondary school students we had then have gone on to do great things—the ministers of environment in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania are alumni. Now we start working with children as young as kindergarten and our network spans 60 countries. We want to help create a groundswell of young people with the right values, and then we get our better world, our bright future, the shining star to aim for.
The big difference between us, chimps and other animals is this explosive development of the intellect. I was seven years old when the second world war broke out and there were no computers in our homes and few people had televisions—look how I’m communicating with you now, digitally—isn’t it incredible?
And so, how is it possible that we—the most intellectual creature that’s ever walked the planet— are destroying our only home? There certainly seems a disconnect between this clever brain and heart and our ability for love and compassion. We have an immense opportunity in front of us, but we’ll only attain our true human potential when head and heart work in harmony together.
As told to Liam FreemanAlso read:
“I hope we can come together—there cannot be seven billion ‘number ones’”: Cate Blanchett on uniting to affect real change
“My greatest hope is that people understand this is about healing and action”: Me Too founder Tarana Burke on the movement’s future