Words || Ursula Huxtable
It was my mother who first introduced me, quite literally, to Jane Goodall in 2006. I was in year five and The Roots & Shoots group Mum had started at my primary school in Newcastle had been given the opportunity to see Goodall speak at Taronga Zoo. We sat in front of the chimp enclosure and listened as she addressed the media and praised the zoo’s use of two-way glass which not only allowed us tourists to see the chimps, but also let them get a good look at us, allowing our two species to experience connection and enrichment from each other’s company.
After the media had packed up, our tiny group was ushered towards her. She asked us if we could name all the apes (hint: they don’t have tails), and we all clamoured to answer – chimps of course, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos. As the group pondered over the identity of the fifth great ape, I, being the smartass I’ve
apparently always been, smugly said “Us.” Goodall smiled and patted my shoulder in congratulations. Later that night, over dinner, I vowed that I would never wash
that shoulder again. Skip forward more than 10 years, and I’m battling traffic on the way from work to Macquarie University to hear Dr Goodall speak. I’m wearing a shirt I bought online from the Jane Goodall Institute – an image of Goodall surrounded by animals and the slogan: Girls Just Want to Do Science. I’ve worked myself nearly into a panic with nervous excitement.
The night begins with a few words from Deputy-Vice Chancellor Professor Sakkie
Pretorius. It’s hard to focus on his introduction because the woman herself is just a few rows in front of me, in a lecture theatre I’ve been in a hundred times, and I’m making a mental note to sit in that exact seat next time I have a class here.
When Goodall finally gets up to speak, she begins by thanking her mother, who always nurtured her love of nature and supported her dream of going to Africa to study animals, despite her family’s lack of money, the aftermath of the war, and the fact that she was a young woman aspiring to enter a field dominated by men.
I pull out the lecture desk and begin to demonstrate the most enthusiastic note-taking ever to grace the Macquarie theatre. I’ve heard her tell many of the stories before, but hearing them again is like returning to a beloved childhood storybook. She also provided her top reasons for staying optimistic despite the direness of the world, and here they are, summarised and numerated for your perusal.
Jane Goodall’s Five Reasons For Hope:
1. Young People
In the 90s, Goodall visited a disadvantaged school in the US to give a lecture on chimp behaviour. When she returned a year later, one little boy who had barely spoken before, got up and gave a presentation about how he had written to a cereal company about the smiling chimp in their advertisement. He had learned from Goodall’s lecture that when chimps smile they’re scared, not happy. He
proudly told everyone that the company had since removed the ad. He wasn’t the only one who had written to them, but that wasn’t the point – the feeling of having been listened to and having his actions matter was all it took to change
Children who are engaged and empowered take their enthusiasm back to their households, which changes their habits, and this exposes their parents and even grandparents to the power of collective action, which changes their habits too. When many individuals are empowered to recycle more, plant trees, use less plastics, and make ethical decisions when shopping, it all adds up.
Through programs like Roots & Shoots and work from the National Leadership Council, young people all around the world are learning that their actions matter, and when they band together, great things get done.
2. Human Intellect
Goodall speaks of the human brain with both disappointment and reverence. We are capable of great things, but so often we squander it. How can a species
that is so smart participate in the destruction of its only home? How can a population so keen on knowledge cast off the ancient wisdom of indigenous cultures which cared for our planet for thousands of years? But when we try, we can develop sustainable technologies which allow us to maintain our current lifestyles and look after the planet.
Smart technologies are currently being used by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in villages in Tanzania surrounding Gombe National Park. Local people are using smart devices to record sightings of animals and report poachers. The data is being collected in the cloud so that anyone with a device can see what is happening in the area, allowing the local people to participate in the conservation of their own land.
Goodall notes the importance of working with the people and using their knowledge of their own land to create change, not waltzing in with a white saviour complex and dictating solutions. The JGI formed in response to habitat loss and the bushmeat trade threatening her beloved Tanzanian chimps, and she quickly learned that when you help the people, you help the chimps.
3. Nature’s Resilience
Goodall believes that there is a window of time still open to fixing the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. Maybe we’re not going to reach the climate targets we’ve set, but we’re not completely screwed either. The thing about nature and living things is that they like to grow – they will grow wherever they can, whenever they can, because they can. Even if an ecosystem doesn’t regenerate the same as it was before, you can count on something coming back to live in it.
Many species have recovered from the brink of extinction thanks to conservation efforts. One example is the giant panda, who is no longer listed as endangered due to China’s efforts to restore and protect its habitat.
4. Social Media
There is a chuckle at this point. An octogenarian who’s lived in the rainforest likes social media? I hope the dark corners of Facebook that I’ve witnessed never crawl onto her feed, or this might be knocked off her list. While Goodall admits that social media can be used for evil, it can be an incredible force for good. Social media allows us to find people who care about the same things we do, and through that we can take action, sometimes with people all over the globe who we would otherwise never have met. She tells us to believe in the unification of so many voices, and that if there are enough people talking, eventually big business and governments will listen. At the very least, people can find comfort in knowing that other people are taking the same small actions that they are, so that together
the impact is large.
5. The Indomitable Human Spirit
Goodall tells us that we are all capable of overcoming incredible odds because we all have this spirit inside us, even if we don’t know it. And that we can push forward in the face of adversity because we must.
As young people, it’s so hard to feel like we have any control over the world we are living in when, as a demographic, we have less political sway (thanks ageing
population/voting age laws), and a planet that seems doomed to die in our lifetime. I am a far cry from the 11 year old with enough inspiration and courage to save the world,but hearing Jane Goodall speak may just have brought her back again.
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