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'We can turn it around': Jane Goodall shares hope amid uncertainties

Wening Gitomartoyo
Wening Gitomartoyo

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, April 22, 2020  /  04:32 pm

On Wednesday, international television network National Geographic is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by presenting a range of documentaries on the environment. One notable film is Before the Flood (2016), produced and presented by Leonardo DiCaprio, which features the actor-cum-activist meeting scientists, activists and world leaders to discuss the grave effects of climate change.

Another special show is a new documentary Jane Goodall: The Hope, a 90-minute exploration of one of the world’s most renowned activists. Briton Jane Goodall has long been known as a primatologist who has championed environmental conservation for decades. Since going to the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania in 1960 to study chimpanzees in their natural habitat, she has been regarded as a pioneer in primate science for attaching emotions and personality to great apes.

Jane Goodall in the 1965 film 'Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees', National Geographic Society’s first documentary. Jane Goodall in the 1965 film 'Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees', National Geographic Society’s first documentary. (Courtesy of /CBS via Getty)

National Geographic reports that Goodall has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, she has authored dozens of books, mentored new generations of scientists, promoted conservation in the developing world and established several sanctuaries for chimps. She has also worked with young people all over the world through Roots & Shoots, a youth-empowering initiative founded in Tanzania in 1991.

Jane Goodall: The Hope offers eye-opening glimpses of the beloved activist’s life. With her dry humor and upfront demeanor, still very much intact in the 86-year-old, Goodall has persevered through decades of changes. At a time when most activists prefer to hold protests, at Jane's behest the oil company Conoco built the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre in Congo. Goodall talks with world leaders, representatives of youth and communities for the sake of all species on the planet, including humans. For a conservation project in Tanzania’s Kigalye Village, she worked with local communities, science and technology partners to create sustainable land-use plans to great success.

The message of the documentary is loud and clear: do not let hope die. In a recent conference call with several Southeast Asian journalists ahead of the broadcast, including The Jakarta Post, Goodall shared her reasoning. 

Read also: Humans to blame for spread of coronavirus and other 'zoonosis'

How do you view this pandemic?

Goodall: The sad thing about this pandemic is that we have brought it on ourselves. It has been predicted for years and years. We’ve had our epidemics, it all started from viruses crossing species, from an animal to us, and we haven’t learned from it. And the reason is we’re destroying their habitat. Some of them are coming into conflict and getting into contact with people because they’re moving out and we’re hunting them, eating their meat, trafficking them, selling them around the world as pets or to wet markets. So, it’s our fault that we’re getting this. We haven’t learned from previous epidemics and we go on disrespecting the environment and animals.

What are your views on some people viewing the pandemic as the extinction of our species?

Well, we are facing the sixth great extinction of life on the planet, and if we carry on with business as usual, if we carry on with this materialistic, greedy, money- and power-worshiping [attitude], then there is not much hope for us. However, what we can learn from this pandemic is many people have woken up. I heard again and again that it’s a wake-up call. Perhaps it’ll help us realize that we could do what we’ve been begging for, for years and years: respect the natural world, don’t put economic development ahead of protection of the environment, think about future generations and make ethical decisions in our choices.

If we all get together and start making little changes in the way we think about things, we can turn it around. Unfortunately, we have many political leaders around the world and I fear as soon as this pandemic is over, they will want to get back to business as usual as quickly as possible and the pollution will come back, the destruction of the natural world will come back. If we go on destroying the natural world without realizing that we are actually a part of it, that our lives depend on it—the food, clean water, clean air—and we go on damaging it, it will come to extinction in the end. So, we must change. That’s the hope, that people are beginning to wake up everywhere.

What would you say to people that might be feeling hopeless amid all of this?

One of my hopes is the power of youth. It’s growing all the time, in China, Tanzania, North America, Southern America, Europe and the Middle East. They are growing up with different values, and some of them are already in leadership positions. I’m sure they all retain those values and with amazing intellect they can start using it to put more effort into renewable energy and other ways that can go in harmony with the planet. Then we can find ways of doing better.

Another thing is the resilience of nature. We see how quickly the air has cleared and the pollution has gone away because they’re closing down industry due to the pandemic. And I think all around the world, given time and some help places that were totally destroyed are being restored and can support wildlife and nature again.

And finally, the indomitable human spirit. In the face of the impossible, we won’t give up. There is hope and we’ve got to do something about it. We can’t leave it to our political leaders.

What do you hope to emerge when the pandemic is over?

I hope we’ve learned a lesson and that we start treating nature more respectfully and stop eating animals, stop treating them as medicine and start treating them as intelligent, emotional creatures who feel pain and fear and distress and despair, just like us. We need to start treating animals differently. And I hope that this pandemic, which more and more people realize has come from contact with animals, will urge people to respect them more and realize that we’re not alone in having these emotions. They feel just like we do.

Jane Goodall: The Hope will have its world premiere on National Geographic (MNC Vision: CH 202 SD, CH 450 HD, First Media: CH 110 SD, CH 361 HD, Trans Vision: CH 250 HD, Indihome: CH 201 SD, CH 920 HD) on April 22 at 8 p.m.

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