A Conversation with Jane Goodall



Jane Goodall is known worldwide for her animal rights and conservation efforts. In this exclusive conversation with Michael Charles Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison of Dancing Star Foundation for Eco News Network, Jane shares her passion and her views on critical human and animal conservation needs for a sustainable planet.


Michael Tobias/Jane Morrison (MT/JM): Jane, let us begin with more than just a question but a kind of modest little prelude. Jacques Cousteau brought to the public’s attention the magnificence, richness and vulnerability of the oceans at a time when the notion of the collapse of fisheries, the impact on the oceans of climate change, or the blanching of coral reefs, was hardly understood. Moreover, the ecological sobriety of his message was often superseded by the sheer joy and excitement he conveyed as the world’s foremost oceanic explorer. IMG00493_1_croppedYour own career, to date, in some respects reminds us of Cousteau’s; except, in our opinion, you may be even more prolific. And you have managed amazingly to be accessible to everyone through all of your work and the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) even while taking outspoken and courageous stands on issue after issue pertaining not only to biodiversity conservation and animal rights, but human animal rights, sustainability at every level, indeed, on the very fundaments of non-violence.


After all your time doing field research and global environmental outreach in virtually every form, what are your most urgent environmental concerns at this point?

Jane Goodall (JG): It is so difficult to single out the most urgent concerns since every thing is so interconnected.  Crippling poverty on the one hand (you cut down the last trees in a desperate effort to grow food for yourself and family, make charcoal to sell and so on) and the unsustainable life styles of most of the rest of us – nearly everyone has way more than they need, some people obscenely so. And, in an increasingly materialistic world, those undesirable human traits of selfishness, greed and cruelty are flourishing. Then there is the destruction of our forests, wetlands, grasslands and other habitats, and the loss (locally or totally) of so many species. Oceans are increasingly polluted and over-fished. Supplies of fresh water JGIare shrinking, while industrial, agricultural and household emissions and reckless burning of fossil fuels escalates, in addition to the increased meat eating globally that has led to the conversion of vast stretches of forest to pasture for livestock or to agricultural land for growing grain and (among many other problems!) the increased production of methane.

MT/JM: Which is, of course, one of the most aggressive greenhouse gasses, more so, even than carbon dioxide.

JG: And so much of the above is contributing to the already-happening changes in weather patterns. And finally, and perhaps this is the most urgent concern, there is the growth of our human populations.

MT/JM: Absolutely. And it is interesting you say “populations,” plural, since biologically speaking we know that some 13-to-15 million discrete populations of other organisms are going extinct every year, 40,000 per day, as pointed out by scientists like Paul R. Ehrlich, Norman C. Myers and Gretchen Daily.

When you first started studying fellow primates in East Africa, male-dominated science was also dominated by a distinct aversion to any form of emotion or sentiment getting in the way, so to speak, of objectivity, notwithstanding Albert Schweitzer’s own embrace of it. You courageously named chimpanzees, and embraced a new language of ethology, of interspecies communications – as both you and our close friend Dr. Marc Bekoff have so championed – and which has literally become a new science.

How huge has the paradigm shift really been, in terms of the scientific community and its acceptance of, and willingness to attribute to other species a whole new realm of understanding and feelings?

JG: The paradigm shift has affected science to the extent that animal intelligence is now an accepted area of study in major universities around the world, and it is acceptable to study animal emotions and even personality. But we have a long, long way to go before the recognition of the fact that animals are capable of emotions and, most importantly, suffering; which in turn leads to a real change of our attitude towards them. Apes

MT/JM: Not to mention our behavior towards them.

JG: The intensive farming of animals involves unspeakable cruelty to billions of sentient beings.  Millions more are still used in research of all kinds, often involving much stress and suffering.  The trade in wildlife and wildlife parts is flourishing.  There is cruel training of animals in show biz.  The pet trade treats animals as commodities. And so on. Of course none of this is at all surprising when we think of the way humans are treated by other humans, the horrendous images of torture, child soldiers, slavery, domestic violence, chemical warfare – the list goes on. As I say, we have a long way to go!  But there are many groups fighting to end the abuses.

MT/JM: Tens-of-thousands of dedicated NGOs; millions of individuals.

JG: Yes. Many of us are working to save endangered species and environments. All our efforts will be in vain if we are not successful in raising younger generations to be better stewards than we have been. The challenge is very poignant: So many of the young people who seem to have little hope for the future; many are apathetic, depressed or angry. They tell us their future has been compromised and there is nothing they can do about it.

MT/JM: Some have spoken of the crisis of ecological illiteracy; but even worse is the notion of the very “extinction of experience” for our youth.

jane and kidJG: We have indeed compromised their future. I feel angry when I hear people quote (Chief Seattle): “We have not inherited this planet from our parents: we have borrowed it from our children” – for it is not true. When you borrow there is the intention of paying back. We have been relentlessly stealing our children’s future. I have three grandchildren and when I think of the vast harm we have inflicted on Mother Nature since I was a child I feel a sense of desperation and anger. It is this that keeps me going, makes me determined to spread our program, Roots & Shoots, further and further around the world.  Because I have seen how it changes the lives of young people, gives them a sense of purpose, rekindles hope.

MT/JM: And without hope…. well…. there is no hope. It is not a good outlook, to be sure.

JG: The greatest danger to our planet is that we lose hope – especially if our youth loses hope. Because, if we have no hope, we give up and stop trying to do our bit to make a difference.

MT/JM: Tell us more about your program, Roots & Shoots?students

JG: Well, it is designed to provide an antidote to hopelessness and helplessness by encouraging young people to become involved in projects that have a positive impact on the world around them. Its most important message is that every individual matters and has a role to play – that each of us makes a difference every day. And, that the cumulative result of thousands and millions of even small efforts can result in major change.

MT/JM: How did it get started?

JG: The movement began in Tanzania when 12 students gathered to discuss some of the issues that concerned them – poaching, the illegal wildlife trade, stray dogs, street children and so on. How amazing that from such a simple beginning the program has now spread to 130 countries with some 15,000 active groups, involving young people from pre-school through university and beyond – there are even some senior citizens, prisoners and corporate staff involved.

MT/JM: And the nature of their gatherings, their discussions?

JforestG: Groups discuss local problems and decide what they can do to try to solve them. The projects they actually chose will vary depending not only on the nature of problems themselves, but also on the age of the members, their culture, socio-economic status, whether they are inner city or rural, which country they come from, and so on. Most importantly they work on projects about which individual group members feel passionate.

MT/JM: And the rationale for the name?

JG: The name is symbolic. Imagine a small seed that will grow into a mighty tree. Think of those first little roots and that first tiny shoot appearing. They look so fragile, yet there is so much energy, so much life force, in that seed that the roots can work their way through boulders to reach the water, and the shoot can push its way through the crevices in a brick wall to reach the sun. jane w groupAnd eventually the boulders and the wall will be pushed aside. If we think of the boulders and walls as symbolizing all the problems we humans have inflicted on this planet, environmental and social, resulting from our greed, cruelty and lack of understanding and respect, then Roots & Shoots offers a message of hope:  hundreds and thousands of young people – the roots and the shoots – can break through and, together, make this a better world.

MT/JM: You have repeatedly called for hope and optimism, which is certainly a rational response to so much widespread ecological doom and gloom in the media. Frankly, we see things continuing to deteriorate on all fronts.

What are your deepest fears in terms of the global environment, now that we are 18 months past the UN Rio+20 Summit and so many other conferences, and have some advantage of hindsight?

JG: My deepest fear is that we shall not rise to the challenge of restoring a sick planet. So many people either do not understand or do not care. And those that do so often feel hopeless and simply don’t believe that we can bring about change fast enough. And as climate change leads to crop failures and fo3.1 copyod prices are raised and people get poorer they will, of necessity, buy the cheapest products without regard for how they were produced. Worst of all, unless there truly is a paradigm shift in the way we think about our impact on planet earth and its long-term implications, it will be business as usual. The rich will get richer, the poor poorer, the planet increasingly depleted.

MT/JM: With rapid climate change, many are now suddenly waking up to the fact that the surpassing of not only 350 parts of CO2 per million, but 400 parts, on average, in the global atmosphere, it is not only real, but possibly too late to halt the vast Anthropocene, as it is now called, rather than the Holocene. We may simply have to learn collectively – rich or poor- to adapt. There has even been discussion of moving the boundary lines of entire parks to account for northerly migrating species seeking refuge from a planet quickly heating up. In just one shocking example, recently, in northeastern Mexico at a biological reserve, Cielo – the most northern tropical forest in all of the Western Hemisphere, it didn’t rain for nine months, killing off some 70% of at least two species of oak. Meanwhile, a garbage gyre, a dead zone the size of Texas, is growing even larger day by day across the planet’s largely marine surface.

So, in terms of habitat, populations and species protections, what are the priorities that you feel require the most urgent recognition, where smart proactive decision-making by any number of concerned constituencies (as anthropologist Margaret Mead once made so pithy and famous), may well prove the difference between success and failure of our humanity here on Earth?

JG: Using alternative, green energy that is not dependent on growing vast areas of crops for biofuel – such as that generated by sun, wind, tide and algae. Adopting a vegetarian diet, or one with only a little meat. Ending what we quaintly call “conventional” farming – monocultures, GMOs and agricultural chemicals – and a return to small family farms and eco agriculture.  Stamping out corruption. Electing governments that are not ‘owned’ by corporations. Small families.  And, perhaps most importantly, changed attitudes towards what is most important in life.  I love the happiness index of the King of Bhutan.  And the experiment that showed that as people in the US rose from poverty, their happiness index increased. But as they then worked to get more and more money, their happiness index began to drop.

MT/JM: Bhutan, like Suriname, Denmark, San Marino and a few other truly blessed nations, is certainly a great template for the human conscience at work. All of them, by the way, possessed of tiny populations, a reality first intoned by Aristotle as critical to human sustainability and one, as you know, that has largely characterized the size of primate communities,chimp namely, 150 individuals or less. That is certainly not the formula Homo sapiens have chosen, as we increase the number of cities exceeding ten million by leaps and bounds.

JG: But let me harp back again to the importance of realizing that as more and more individuals make the right choices in what they buy and how they behave, that will, cumulatively, make a huge difference. Especially when CEOs of giant global corporations begin to make decisions that take account of future generations – like Paul Pollman of Unilever.

MT/JM: Animal rights has most assuredly come of age, and you are one scientist who has truly helped make that a reality.

With respect to our more than 634 fellow known primate species, what can Wall Street bankers, investment firms, philanthropists, and individuals with any sized portfolio –minute or other – as well as students, their parents, their grandparents, their children – all of us – do to help you and your colleagues make the difference you see as critical?

JG: Michael, Jane – it is clearly critically important to fund responsible programs that help to conserve the forests where most of the primates live. Thus it is important to invest in the preservation of forests. Villagers and local and national governments should be able to profit from trees left standing; there should be payment for the services forests provide in sequestering CO2 and ensuring a supply of clean water. There should be widespread endorsement of responsible, sustainable logging and wood products certified to be from such operations. There needs to be funding for education programs for people living in poverty in and around forests, and to ensure that they have livelihoods that do not destroy the environment. It is also important to fund programs working to conserve endangered primates (most are endangered), including captive breeding.

MT/JM: And vegetarianism?

JG: We should eat less meat, or best, become vegetarian. We can try to leave the smallest possible ecological footprint, which means, among other things, planning for small families.

MT/JG: Thank you, Jane.

JG: And thank you, Jane and Michael!

-Michael Charles Tobias and Jane Gray Morrison, Dancing Star Foundation © 2013

All Photos are Copyrighted and provided courtesy of Jane Goodall Institute

About the Authors

michaelDr. Michael Charles Tobias (www.michaeltobias.org) is a global ecologist whose field research has taken him to over 90 countries. He has worked in ecological anthropology, bio-cultural ethics, and large-scale biodiversity conservation; eco-restoration, the saving of endangered species, animal rights, and has a particular focus upon the future prospects for biological evolution. His nearly 50 books (non-fiction as well as fiction) and more than 170 films have been read and broadcast throughout the world. Recipient of the “Courage of Conscience Prize” and a myriad of other awards and distinctions, Tobias has been a Professor at numerous universities and is the President of the Dancing Star Foundation.

JaneJane Gray Morrison is an author, ecologist and filmmaker who has done field work in dozens of countries, productions for many networks around the world, and written numerous books, including God’s Country: The New Zealand Factor, Donkey: The Mystique of Equus Asinus, and Sanctuary: Global Oases of Innocence (www.sanctuary-thebook.org). She has served as a Director on several arts organizations, and is the Executive Vice President of Dancing Star Foundation. Among her recent film productions are the PBS feature documentaries, No Vacancy, and Hotspots (www.hotspots-thefilm.org).

The authors are contributors to Eco News Network. The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the writers.

, , , , , ,