Primatologist Jane Goodall takes notes on a 1987 trip to Tanzania, a year after she organized a conference of chimpanzee researchers who confirmed that populations were shrinking around the globe due to hunting and habitat destruction. Photo: Penelope Breese/Liaison
Jane Goodall Says We Live in Dark Times. Here’s Why She Still Has Hope
In this excerpt from "The Book of Hope," the 87-year-old primatologist, environmentalist and UN messenger of peace explains why she believes humans can save the planet / BY Kim Honey / October 19th, 2021
As the twin scourges of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic wreak havoc on the planet, Jane Goodall is aware her message of hope may be met with incredulity.
In The Book of Hope, a series of conversations conducted mainly by video chat during the pandemic with Doug Abrams, the U.S. author of 2016’s The Book of Joy (with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu), Goodall, 87, counters the skepticism she has observed in her travels around the globe, especially from younger generations.
“Many people understand the dire state of the planet – but do nothing about it because they feel helpless and hopeless,” she writes in the introduction. “That is why this book is important, as it will, I hope (!), help people realize their actions, however small they may seem, will truly make a difference.”
The book is dedicated to her childhood dog, Rusty, who taught her about animal behaviour; her mentor, the late paleoanthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey, who raised the money for her to to study chimpanzee behaviour in Tanzania in 1960; and her mother, who accompanied her on the first trip because the sponsors insisted on a chaperone. She talks to Abrams first from her home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, before returning to The Birches, the home near Bournemouth that has been in her family for 75 years. She tells him about the disappointment and despair she faced on that first trip to Gombe, since she only had six months of funding and every time she got near the chimpanzees, they would flee.
The Book of Hope is also dedicated to David Greybeard – named for the white hairs on his chin – the first chimpanzee to trust Goodall, and the one she observed stripping leaves from a twig to make a tool to get termites out of a mound. Up to that point, making and using tools were considered to be human traits, and her revelatory findings launched her career.
When she started out, her research site was part of a huge forest that stretched across the equator; by 1990 it was “a tiny oasis of forest surrounded by completely bare hills.” For the past six decades she has dedicated herself to species conservation and environmental degradation.
The dialogue between Abrams and Goodall covers a lot of ground as Goodall uses examples from her life to illustrate her answers to his questions, but the crux of the book is Goodall’s four reasons to hope that humans can make the planet habitable for future generations.
In this excerpt, Goodall summarizes how these linchpins of hope can turn the world around:
“Now, as I approach my nineties, we must defeat two enemies, one against invisible, microscopic enemies; the other – our own stupidity, greed, and selfishness.
My message of hope is this: now that you have read the conversations in this little book, you realize that we can win these wars, that there is hope for our future – for the health of our planet, our societies, and our children. But only if we all get together and join forces. And I hope, too, that you understand the urgency of taking action, of each of us doing our bit. Please believe that, against all odds, we can win out, because if you don’t believe that, you will lose hope, sink into apathy and despair – and do nothing.
We can get through the pandemic. Thanks to our amazing human intellect scientists have produced vaccines at record speed.
And if we get together and use our intellect and play our part, each one of us, we can find ways to slow down climate change and species extinction. Remember that as individuals we make a difference every day, and millions of our individual ethical choices in how we behave will move us toward a more sustainable world. We should be so grateful for the incredible resilience of nature.
And we can help the environment heal not only by means of the big restoration projects but as a result of our own efforts as we choose how to live our lives and think about our own environmental footsteps.
There is great hope for the future in the actions, the determination and energy of young people around the world. And we can all do our best to encourage and support them as they stand up against climate change and social and environmental injustice.
Finally, remember that we have been gifted not only with a clever brain and well-developed capacity for love and compassion, but also with an indomitable spirit. We all have this fighting spirit – only some people don’t realize it. We can try to nurture it, give it a chance to spread its wings and fly out into the world giving other people hope and courage.
It’s no good denying that there are problems. It is no shame if you think about the harm we’ve inflicted on the world. But if you concentrate on doing the things you can do, and doing them well, it will make all the difference.”
Excerpted from The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. © 2021 by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. Used with permission of the publisher, Celadon Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. All rights reserved.