A Candid Exchange with Dr Jane Goodall

Courtesy Jane Goodall Institute

Dr Jane Goodall gives numerous lectures, meets many reporters and federal government officials in her efforts to better the world. Dr Goodall was gracious in responding to some questions on her work and the environmental. The in-depth and candid answers drive the immediacy of the issues. Her work emphasizes the need for increased awareness, knowledge and desire for change. This work is increasingly supported by direct financial support from individuals through charity giving. The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada (janegoodall.ca) is a registered charity with CRA and has a registration number 140530916 RR 0001.

Q: How can we approach the overwhelming complexity of environmental issues in a world focused on short term goals?

A: I think the most important thing is to understand that everything is interconnected. Until one realises the implications of this it will be difficult to come to the correct way of dealing with the myriad of problems that must be solved.

But understanding and taking action are two different things. Now we know all the different factors which have led the climate crisis and have begun to understand how they are related.

We KNOW that:

  • the destruction of the forests, one of the great lungs of the planet, is limiting their ability to absorb CO2 and emit oxygen but still they are destroyed for short term profit.
  • the oceans are also becoming so polluted and super saturated with the CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel that they can no longer act as the second lungs of the world, yet we are not changing our behaviour so as to clean them.
  • as we destroy and pollute the environment this has led to the ongoing 6th great extinction of animal and plant species and that biodiversity is essential for a healthy ecosystem.
  • the poisonous chemicals that are liberally used to grow our food in what is called “conventional” agriculture is having negative effects on bees and that bees are essential for pollinating the plants that provide us with food – but the giant corporations suppress information about the harmful effects on our health of eg glyphosate because they want to continue using Roundup and make money.
  • the harmful waste from agriculture, industry and household is polluting the ground and much is washed into rivers and thus adds to the pollution of the oceans. But much too little is being done about containing this waste. And even when there are regulations to protect the environment, they are regularly ignored. And so on and so on.

So, to your question – finally! How to cope with the diversity of so many problems? Once we understand that solving one of these problems will possibly create another problem – ie using biofuel means huge areas set aside to grow the crops, possibly destroying important habitats and loss of biodiversity – because this is in addition to all the ground used to grow crops for people and livestock – we can work on finding better solutions.

In this case of energy from solar, wind and tide. When JGI began our Tacare project in Tanzania (our method of community based conservation) it was because I realized that when the people surrounding the Gombe National Park were struggling to survive (overused farmland that was becoming infertile; cutting trees on steep slopes leading to soil erosion and silting up of streams in order to grow food for their families; more people than the land could support) I realized that to save the chimps it was necessary to find alternative ways for people to make a living other than destroying their environment. In other words, no good just creating huge protected areas for the chimps and ignoring the people. After all, it is their land. Fortunately there are people working to solve the many problems we face – there should be more cooperation and collaboration between different sectors.

Finally, our Roots & Shoots program for young people (kindergarten through University and all in between) which is no in some 60 countries, is helping young people understand these interconnections and then choosing which projects they would like to work on and empowering them. But each group must choose THREE projects (or more) to help a) animals b) people and c) the environment.

Q: You always had a close connection to nature. What do you feel is our human responsibility towards our planet?

A: In the book of Genesis we are told that Man was given dominion over the birds and the beasts etc. But the original Hebrew word was mistranslated – it meant something more like stewardship which is very different. Our responsibility is to act as good stewards of the natural world – because we are part of it.

We rely on the forests to provide us with clean air and water, shade, medicinal plants and so on. Millions of people depend on creatures that live in the sea for their food and livelihoods. Being out in nature can provide us with a sense of well-being and is hugely beneficial to the psychological development of children.

We have destroyed so much – we must get together and work to protect and restore if we care about future generations. We must change mindsets. Ghandi said that the planet can provide for human need but not human greed.

We must do something about the unsustainable life style that so many people take for granted. We must be prepared, for example, to pay a bit more for organic food because we will value it more and waste less. And waste is a huge problem.

But first we must eliminate poverty, for the very poor must buy the cheapest food etc in order to survive.

And we must be prepared to discuss human population growth. There are an estimated 7.5 people on the planet today and already we have plundered Mother Nature’s finite resources more quickly than she can replenish them. In 2050 there will be an estimated 9.2 billion people on the planet. Along with their livestock. What will happen then?

Q: There are four societal forms; private industry, government, communities, and individuals. What do you believe are their individual responsibilities towards nature – through action or funding?

A: Private industry needs to factor in the REAL cost of the goods they produce. It is not acceptable to buy products really cheaply from people who are often not paid a living wage and sell at a big profit. And they must not lobby governments for favours that will cause individuals in power to vote for developments that mean destroying the environment. (i.e. we have to stamp out corruption!!!! Ha ha!)

Businesses must examine the consequences of clearing an area of natural habitat to build yet another shopping mall or condo or open up another area for extractive industries. (that also applies to Private Industry). Building a factory and allowing the waste to contaminate a river – that will eventually add to the pollution of the ocean. And harm human and animal health along the way. In other words consider the implications of their plans for development for immediate negative impact on nature, and the impact on future generations.

Governments should honour their commitment about reducing fossil fuel emissions and pass legislation to protect the natural world. Subsidise innovations that provide clean green energy, development of small family farms, strengthen laws regarding fossil fuel emissions and individuals in government should turn away from relying on funding from big business to line their pockets, fund election campaigns.

Communities should work together to fight developments that harm the environment and their children’s future. And they should not give up. In Tanzania, around the Gombe National Park, a group of forward thinking individuals persuaded small individual coffee farmers to join a cooperative. At first there was reluctance, but now there are 2,000 members, mostly having very small farms of an acre or so. The coffee is handed in after harvest, the farmer gets an IOU based on quality and quantity, and all the coffee, graded etc, is sold in the annual east African coffee auction. All is shade grown coffee and, per kilo, fetches a much higher price that when individuals sell small amounts – because they have not been able to afford the machinery necessary to grade the coffee. (This machine was purchased through a loan. They were given 5 years to repay but were able to do so after just two years)

Individuals must understand that the cumulative effect of millions of small individual choices – what you buy, eat or wear for example – is moving us to a better world. Should have the courage of their convictions. All movements were started by individuals, every individual has a role to play and makes a difference – and can choose what sort of difference to make.

Q: Many people are cynical that they, as an individual, cannot make a difference towards the huge issues in environmental sustainability. What is your message to them?

A: Indeed, this is a main reason why, although awareness of the problems we face has never been greater, people tend to feel helpless, hopeless. That is why I started Roots & Shoots in 1991 because so many young people told me we have compromised their future and there is nothing they can do about it.

We have compromised their future. We have been stealing it. But I believe we have a window of time when if we all get together we can start to heal some of the harm and at least slow down climate change.

The members of Roots & Shoots – hundreds of thousands of young people around the world – understand this, and many are now grown up and taking their place in the adult world. Many have become decision makers themselves. Others are teachers, parents, scientists, lawyers, politicians. Important to remember that children influence their parents and grandparents – who are sometimes powerful decision makers.


About Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall first set foot in what is now known as Gombe Stream National Park in 1960 when she launched her pioneering research with wild chimpanzees. She was only 26 years old. Her research project was unlike any other and has taught us so much about our closest cousins in the animal kingdom.

In 1977, Jane founded the Jane Goodall Institute, which continues to support the research at Gombe. With 31 offices around the world, Dr. Jane and the Institute are widely recognized for effective community-centered conservation and development programs in Africa and the protection of wild chimpanzees in Africa’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary. In 1991, after meeting with a group of Tanzanian teenagers to discuss community problems, Jane created Roots & Shoots. This program is dedicated to inspiring young people to take action in their communities and it has since grown to include approximately 150,000 individuals in more than 50 countries.

Jane continues her work today by travelling an average of 300 days per year speaking in packed auditoriums, school gymnasiums, and conference centres about the threats facing chimpanzees, other environmental crises, and her reasons for hope that we will ultimately solve the problems that we have imposed on the earth. Everywhere she goes, Jane urges audiences to recognize their personal power and responsibility to effect positive change through consumer action, lifestyle change and activism.

About Jane Goodall Institute of Canada

In Canada, the organization raised over $2.8 million in 2018 that is used for three programs. The results are:

Through the 2018 Roots & Shoots Program

6,945 young people across Canada led community action projects

46,661 youth were directly and indirectly reached either through a project or school-wide participation in Roots & Shoots initiatives

49,845 community members directly and indirectly benefited from community projects

12 high schools in the Greater Toronto Area joined JGI’s Cycle My Cell campaign, reaching 10,000 young Canadians to raise awareness about the benefits of recycling cell phones to reduce e-waste and the demand for conflict minerals in our mobile devices

At the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Sanctuary

138 chimpanzees are housed and cared for

70+ billboards have been placed in surrounding communities discouraging people from poaching great apes

Nearly 100 Tchimpounga chimps live on three islands that are part of the sanctuary where the habitat is most like living in the wild

213 rescued chimpanzees have been cared for at the sanctuary since it opened in 1992

Three years into the Delivering Healthy Futures Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

558 pregnant women have benefitted from access to prenatal care and new clinics

Nearly 6,000 infants have been vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, polio, tuberculosis, and tetanus

635 health care workers have received training on maternal health care

61% of women in the places where we work now receive prenatal care, up from 15% when the project began

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