Jane Goodall no longer spends her days crouched on the floor of a rainforest studying chimpanzees making tools, raising their young or folding branch over branch to make nests in which to sleep high in the trees.
The 80-year-old scientist now spends 300 days a year standing at podiums, sitting in boardrooms, and addressing groups of people, young and old, about the importance of doing everything we can every day to preserve and save the earth.
In two weeks, she will be in Tampa. Goodall will bring the wisdom she gained studying primates for 40 years and having empathy for all living things over a lifetime to the University of South Florida's Sun Dome on Sept. 9.
She recently carved out a half-hour for the Tampa Bay Times to answer questions about herself, her mission and her upcoming speaking engagement, "Sowing the Seeds of Hope." She spoke to us by phone from her childhood home in Bournemouth, England, which she calls the Birches and where she lives with her sister, Judy, and a rescued greyhound and whippet (she recently lost a beloved boxer mix). It's a place where, she said, she can look around and see the books she read as a child or look outdoors and see the trees she used to climb.
Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
What are you going to talk about when you come to Tampa?
The same thing I talk about everywhere I go. The world is rapidly becoming destroyed by us — climate change, shrinking water supplies. … People feel helpless to do anything, so they do nothing. But every day a person lives, they can make some sort of an impact.
What can we do as individuals in our daily lives to help?
Wasting is one terrible thing we do. Food, water; we leave the car running; we take the car when we can take a bike or public transportation. We need to think about what we eat, what we buy, what we wear and ask ourselves if people or animals suffered so that we can have it.
Eating fish and meat is causing devastation of the planet. (She eats neither.) If you don't stop eating them, eat less. And don't eat meat from those intensive farms where the animals are raised on antibiotics that are a risk to human health. We recently found a lack of hygiene on chicken farms. Animals produce methane gas that is a lot worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
How do we know what we shouldn't buy? Are there countries or goods to avoid?
There are lists out there. I can't tell you where they are, but generally if you are getting something very cheap — clothes or food — that's almost certainly proof that people weren't paid the way they should be paid for it.
If you had three wishes, what would they be?
Do you mean realistic wishes or dreams? My realistic wishes are:
1. Alleviate poverty. It's the driver of huge environmental destruction.
2. Reduce the unsustainable lifestyle — that which places demands on the environment and the rest of society — of so many people who have money. I don't mean just rich people. A working woman who doesn't make a lot of money can still go out a buy a new dress for every date she has when she could be buying a good one more cheaply from a resale shop. The resources of the planet will end. We're wasting at a faster rate than the forests can replenish.
3. Reduce the population. There's just too many of us.
These problems seem unsolvable, but we have to make an attempt.
We are doing poverty-alleviating programs in Africa. There is micro-credit in which people take out tiny loans for their own environmental projects like starting a little coffee farm in a way that's sustainable, or planting seedlings to replenish forests.
We have to keep improving education, keeping girls in school.
Is getting individuals involved more important than legislating change to preserve the earth?
You'll never get governments to legislate against big business; that's who keeps them in office. It's an individual thing. Consumers will change the market. People are thinking more about the ecological footprints they are leaving. Many people live to make money, which is okay if you do the right thing with the money.
Last year, the world was captivated by photos of the spontaneous hug you got from Wounda, the chimpanzee found near death and nursed back to health at the chimpanzee rehabilitation center you founded, as she was being released onto an island sanctuary. Can you describe the feelings you had when you got that hug?
It was amazing. I had never met her until that day. I thought, "How does she know that lady's responsible for this?" She must have felt a strong signal of empathy coming from me.
How's she doing?
She's doing absolutely splendid. There are many more chimpanzees on that island now. (Wounda was released on Tchindzoulou Island in the Kouilou River, one of three island sanctuary sites that are part of the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo, according to a Jane Goodall spokesman. She and the 154 other chimpanzees at Tchimpounga receive daily care from the staff. The hope is to someday release them back into the wild.)
How would you like to be remembered years from now when people look back at your work?
That I had respect for other people and other living things. That I was somebody who cared and worked really hard to make a difference.
I'll probably be remembered for Roots & Shoots (the youth-led community action and learning program of the Jane Goodall Institute) or chimpanzees, but what I was making people realize is we are part of the animal kingdom, not separated by it. They have emotions and feelings as we do. They feel pain. They have brains.
Each day what people do actually does make a difference. If billions make the right choices, the cumulative effect will be huge.
Contact Patti Ewald at [email protected]