Jane Goodall, the primatologist, anthropologist and activist, chats with elDiario.es from her home in the south of England along with two photographs. One is that of her mother, known as “Vanne” and who in 1960 accompanied her to the Gombe Natural Park, in Tanzania, to study the animals in her environment. The other framed image is of one of her favorite primates, the first chimpanzee to lose her fear and whom she calls David Greybeard (he broke with the academic tradition of identifying animals with numbers).
Before the pandemic, Goodall, 88, used to travel the world to promote the work of her foundation, the Jane Goodall Institute, and now spends much of his time talking about conservation, the climate crisis and the mobilization of young people in online meetings. She calls herself “virtual Jane” and says she is surprised at the impact she can have with interviews like this to celebrate the tenth anniversary of elDiario.es.
It recounts the moment when she consciously became an activist. In 1986, during a conservation conference, she studied data on environmental damage in places she had been visiting for more than 20 years. “It was very shocking to see that the forests were disappearing and the number of chimpanzees was going down. I went to that congress as a scientist, but I left there as an activist. I did not make a decision, it was simply a change in my inner self, ”she explains. “Climate change is a clear existential threat as is the loss of biodiversity. We must realize that we are part of the environment and, in fact, dependent on it, even in the middle of a city. Every breath we take, every drink of water, every mile to eat… it comes from the natural environment.”
Goodall gives the example of the coronavirus pandemic and its relationship with the deterioration of the natural environment. “The pandemic, like climate change and the loss of biodiversity, we have caused ourselves. This time because of the completely disrespectful way we treat animals, intruding on their natural environment, forcing them into closer contact with people, hunting them, trafficking them around the world, selling them in wildlife markets.” He also warns of the danger of “factory farms, where billions of animals are trapped in appalling conditions to give people cheap meat.”
Despite his warnings about abuses against nature and the seriousness of the current climate crisis, his message is often positive. His latest book is called The Book of Hope and has an interview podcast called hope cast. In the conversation with elDiario.es, he says that he has hope for the struggle of younger people, technological innovation, the resistance of nature and individual awareness of the footprint of human action.
He appreciates the work of young people like Greta Thunberg, although he makes it clear that the tone of the Swedish activist is not his style. “I think that anger is fine, but we must channel that anger towards changing the world. I think we need people like Greta, but it’s not my style… I think people’s change must come from within. And being angry and blaming people isn’t necessarily going to change them on the inside,” she says. “But we are in such a dire situation that I think we probably need both styles. And there is no doubt that Greta has raised awareness.”
She is convinced that in order to change the policies of governments and the actions of companies that destroy the planet, people with power need to be truly convinced, not just out of fear or convenience. “The only way to reach them is to strike a chord with them, not to fight them, not to accuse them, but to try to find a story or stories that touch their hearts,” she says.
The experience of war
With the perspective of time and having suffered through World War II in bombed-out London, Goodall relies on the strength of the individual. She speaks of the war experience as an example of resistance: “I was used to not taking anything for granted. We had rationing, we couldn’t go out and go to a store and buy what we wanted, we didn’t have food on demand from anywhere in the world just like that. We could eat a tiny piece of meat once a week. I think it was one egg per person per week. Things like that… There are so many people today with unsustainable lifestyles… They have much, much, much more than they need. So if things get a little more expensive, maybe we’ll value them more and waste less.”
His advice for elDiario.es and the rest of the media that report on the climate crisis is to also report news of improvements in the environment. “We need the media to spend more time telling positive stories, because those are the ones that give people hope, and so they will say, ‘My goodness, they’ve got this area back, we can get this back too.'”