Through nearly 60 years of groundbreaking work, Dr. Jane Goodall has not only shown us the urgent need to protect chimpanzees from extinction; she has also redefined species conservation to include the needs of local people and the environment.
What brings you to New Zealand this time around?
Well, I’m here for The Jane Goodall Institute in New Zealand, there are 34 around the world, and we’re about creating a better world for the future. The Roots & Shoots programme one of our main programmes which aims at getting the youth involved in issues of climate change. The programme began in 1991 in Tanzania. It’s now in 60 countries around the world, and it’s young people of all ages from preschool through university choosing projects to make the world a better place for people and for animals and for the environment. So that’s one of the main things which brought me to New Zealand.
What more can young people or should young people be doing to affect change?
What makes the institute different from other youth organisations is the fact that young people get to choose their projects. So their projects will depend on their passion. It will depend if they’re young or old. It will depend if they’re living in the city or in the country. And this is why each child can enter on – I mean, roll up their sleeves and get to work on a project that they feel passionate about. So here, a lot of the recruits are working on plastics, I mean, getting rid of plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. And also planting trees. They can learn how to lobby, how to write letters to legislators. They can take to the streets and march to draw attention to a particular cause like climate change. There’s no end to the things that the young people choose, but that’s one of my reason is to hope.
And what is your hope?
We’re surrounded by negativity every day. It seems we get some news about species that are becoming extinct or some terrible pollution or there is another shooting. I mean, the world is darker. And so sometimes you just have to stand back and say, “Look, I’m not going to let the dark forces defeat me.” It gets dark, so that means I need to fight harder. So my greatest hope for the future is these young people, because they’re so passionate once they’re empowered to take action, once they understand the problems. But this also opens up amazing intellect, and to see that the most intellectual species ever to walk on the planet is destroying its only home. But at the same time, now we’re becoming aware of the harm that we’ve inflicted, and coming up with technology like clean green energy.
We as individuals are understanding that we have a role to play and we can make choices in what we buy, ask ourselves what is the consequence of my buying this? And if it harm the environment. Was it cruel to animals? Is it cheap because of child slave labour? That we make ethical choices. When billions of people make ethical choices every day, that starts leading to a more hopeful world. And then there’s the resilience of nature. Destroy a place, give it time and perhaps some help, nature can come back again. Animals on the brink of extinction can be given another chance. This gives me hope.
What do you think animals such as chimpanzees can teach humans about the value and care of our environment?
Well, chimpanzees actually teach us what it is to be human. Chimpanzees have helped us understand that we’re part of and not separate from the natural world.
What are some of the other projects that you’re working on at the moment?
Obviously, climate change is something that’s occupying everybody’s mind today. But also, we’re trying to stop animal trafficking, and New Zealand has signed on – it bans the import of ivory, but it still allows ivory to be sold within the country which opens a loophole for the black market, of course. So other things we’re working on is the bad effect of industrial agriculture. The use of chemical pesticides and herbicides and how these are destroying the soil reaching down into the rivers and so eventually pollutes the ocean. How freshwater supplies are drying up. How intensive breeding of farm animals is producing a lot of methane which is another very virulent greenhouse gas. So we’re working on so many different things. And New Zealand plays a big role in this.
What more do you think needs to be done to speed up a change in mindset when it comes to the environment?
Well, first of all, there’s big corporations and they’re very often producing their products in an environmentally harmful way. So we need to try and change the mindset of the CEO. Sometimes you can do that through his children or grandchildren. But also, we the consumers have a role to play here. If we don’t like the way a product is made we must stop buying it. Like if you buy organic food it may cost a bit more, but that will help you appreciate it more and not waste. So much food is wasted.
How often do you get back to visiting with chimpanzees, spending time with them?
Well, I get to visit twice a year, but only for a few days at the time. I spend so many days a year on the road and it gets pretty exhausting. But I’m not going to give up without fighting for them. I don’t know how long my body will allow me to do this crazy travel. So I don’t get much chance to go back to Gombe. And when I do, there are also three chimpanzees left that I used to know really well. The last time I was there I met one chimp who I used to know really well, and she climbed down the tree when she finished feeding and walked straight up to me and paused, looked directly in my eyes as if to say, “Oh, hi, I know you.” And she walked on.