A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Jane Goodall in Washington D.C. on her “Reasons for Hope” tour.
At this event, she spoke at length of her upbringing, her travels, and how she got to where she is. And it was during this 90 minute lecture that I realized how inspiring she has been to me and millions of people around the world.
In between the countless interruptions of clapping, “whoops” and laughs from the audience, Jane (can I call her Jane?) took the evening to explain how she got her spark of science — bringing in earth worms to her bed, hiding out in chicken coops to see how eggs are laid, and reading EVERY book imaginable on Africa because she had her mind set on going there.
She was from a family of little money, and grew up in Europe during World War II. She didn’t have the money to go to college, read expensive books, or receive extensive training on travel or science. Did she let any of this stop her? No.
After saving up money waitressing, she took a boat — the only means of transportation at the time — around the entire continent of Africa and eventually landed in Gombe, where she met Louis Leaky and found the money to study chimps in the wild. It was here that she made the first discovery of chimps using tools, thus changing the course of history and science forever.
While this is an amazing feat in itself — she did this without a college degree! Can you imagine someone in 2019 saying they want to research something without a degree, without money, and being taken seriously?? This is not what made me cry numerous times and not what sparked hope for me.
It was this that really struck me first:
“People have said ‘Oh you’re so brave going out into the mountains, into the forest.’ But that was my dream.”
It didn’t matter the obstacle — Jane was there to crush it — to “work hard, take advantage of every opportunity, and don’t give up.”
After pursuing her first dream, and after studying at Cambridge to get her PhD, she stumbled into activism. She attended a conference in the 1980’s about chimp conservation and her eyes were opened to the bush meat trade, habit degradation, animal trafficking, captivity, circuses, and medical research labs.
She says she went to that conference as a scientist and left as an activist — and that she didn’t know what to do next, but that decision was made for her.
Here’s another message I resonated with from Jane:
“If you don’t sit down and talk to people, how do you ever expect to change their minds?”
She took this approach in the 80’s when visiting medical research facilities that were testing on chimps, choosing compassion and education to speak to these people and places. She lost some animal rights activist friends who didn’t agree with her methods.
“We need people like this — with the courage of their conviction, and with the courage to stand up for what is right.”
There are parallels here with the climate movement. A lot of the time, we just blast our message and expect people to 1. know what we’re talking about and 2. care. Sometimes, it takes more than that to really reach people’s hearts. I think the whole movement can learn more from Jane here.
This approach lead to her outreach model with the Jane Goodall Institute. She knew that she needed to save and conserve chimps and their habitat, but also knew that community-based conservation was the best and most uplifting route.
In African communities that are surrounded in chimp habitat, JGI helps improve environmental degradation by planting trees, improving water management, and restoring safe agricultural practice. These efforts help save land for the chimps and create green corridors so they can roam more freely between forests.
They also provide micro-credit opportunities for sustainable projects for women in Gombe. JGI also provides opportunities to keep women and girls in school during puberty with hygienic and private latrines, as well as provides family planning resources and educational information to improve family size, which helps lower population to a more sustainable size.
Here’s where climate and the environment comes in a little bit, too — JGI notices and recognizes that we humans are using too many finite natural resources, and that by 2050 there will be over 9 billion mouths to feed on this planet. Helping with family planning (and eventually alleviating poverty) in these communities will help ease the burden on the Earth.
And as she has been traveling all this time, she is noticing everything we’re doing to the planet, which includes, but is not limited to: plastic in the ocean, the burning of forests, the effects of factory farming, etc.
Of course, she offers the usual personal solutions: eat less meat to help the climate, make a change to what we eat and wear, buy organic and stop wasting food. But it’s her reasons for hope that really apply to the climate movement and should move everyone to action.
“We have not been borrowing from our children’s future — we have been stealing it. But is it true that there is not something we can do about it? No.”
Jane has many reasons for hope, but the resilience of nature, the push for new technology, and the voracity of the human spirit will get all of this done.
Nature will be nature — no matter what we do to it. Sure, we are choking the oceans, burning the forests, and polluting every water way we have, but there are new technologies every day (and the potential for new technologies) that can help prevent and fix these problems.
And human beings, like chimps, are so damn stubborn — we will find the tools to fix these issues and use our human spirit to figure out how to tackle the climate crisis, because it needs to be done.
As Jane says: Together, we can save the world. Together, we WILL save the world.
Jane’s tour is over, but the National Geographic museum will have a Jane exhibit in D.C. starting in November! Details here.