WASHINGTON – The most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet is also the one destroying its only home, says Dr Jane Goodall on The Straits Times’ Conversations on the Future.
“We’ve lost wisdom,” she says. “We’ve lost the wisdom of the indigenous people who used to say, ‘How does the decision we make now, affect future generations?’”
But when global problems seem overwhelming, Dr Goodall advocates acting locally.
“You can’t deal with plastic all over the world, can you? But maybe where you live is a problem. Get together with some of your friends, talk about it, see what you can do about it.”
In July of 1960, Dr Goodall, then 26, travelled from England to Tanzania to study chimpanzees in the wild.
Her breakthrough field work would forever change humans’ perceptions of other species’ sentience – their capacity to feel emotions – and influenced generations of conservationists and wildlife biologists.
Today, at an indefatigable 88, Dr Goodall is, among other things, a United Nations Messenger of Peace, as well as the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), which works across 67 countries.
She spoke to Conversations on the Future by video link from her home in Bournemouth, England.
With the planet and human societies facing a plethora of interlinked problems – such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution, especially plastics – people with particular expertise in dealing with the various problems need to work “flat out” in their areas, and also collaborate to share ideas, she says.
“So often, you solve one problem without realising you may be causing problems elsewhere,” she explains.
”Like shutting down a coal mine; great, you’re stopping all those emissions adding to the greenhouse gases, but you may be causing massive loss of jobs, poverty, people destroying the environment because they’ve got to survive.”
Despite the multiple pressures and despite the damaged planet, Dr Goodall says she remains an optimist.
“I’ve been saying for years that one thing that makes us more different from the other animals – because we now know they’re sentient, they have personalities, minds and emotions – (is) the explosive development of our intellect,” she says.
“And I call it intellect rather than intelligence, because here we are, the most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet, destroying our only home.
“But we are beginning to use our intellects.”
She adds: “I just visited a mechanical tree. It goes gradually up to 30 feet (10m). And it’s made so that, as the wind blows through it, it captures the CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere. And then when it’s captured enough, it is... compressed into carbon, the stuff diamonds are made from.”
A similar optimism drives the JGI’s Roots and Shoots programme, which has reached hundreds of thousands of children and youth globally.
Dr Goodall compares the work of the programme to a tree.
“The analogy... was, take your favourite tree; it probably began from a little seed,” she says.
“But there’s a life force, a magic, I call it, in that little seed so that those little roots eventually reach the water and push apart the rocks.
“And that little shoot to reach the sun, which the plant will need, can work its way through brick walls,” she says.