In discussion with Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE

Exclusive interview

Saturday, Apr 01, 2023

Dr Jane Goodall, DBE, is a world-renowned ethologist and activist inspiring greater understanding and action on behalf of the natural world. The founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace led ground-breaking studies of wild chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania. Her work forever changed our relationship to the rest of the animal kingdom. The Jane Goodall Institute advances community-led conservation, animal welfare, science and youth empowerment through its Roots & Shoots programme. In 2021, Dr Goodall received the Templeton Prize and published ‘The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times’. She produces a regular podcast: ‘The Jane Goodall Hopecast’.

We had the opportunity to interview her for the 2023 Annual Conference and below is a summary of the conversation. 

You regularly point out we have lost touch with nature. Why has that happened and what are the consequences for our planet?

We’ve moved into a very materialistic society. Schools used to spend more time in nature study. Now they’re so busy preparing young people to find a place in this rat race, to make them prepared to find their way to make money, to achieve success. Success today is based on more power and more wealth accumulation.

It’s really sad we have become so disconnected from nature, partly because it is damaging nature and partly because it’s been proven we need time in nature for our physical and mental health.

How do we restore our connection to nature?

It’s about raising awareness. It’s terribly important people understand we depend on the natural world for food, air, water, everything. We depend on a healthy ecosystem which is made up of a complex mix of animals and plants and each one has a role to play. I like to see it as a living tapestry. Every time a species becomes extinct in that tapestry, it’s like pulling out a thread. If we pull out enough threads, the tapestry hangs in tatters and the ecosystem will collapse.

That’s what’s happening around the world. Ecosystems are collapsing. Perhaps with more education, more examples, we can start to change things.

Do you think the European Union has shown leadership with its Green Deal and is there more it needs to do?

If all the ambitious targets set out in the Green Deal were actually brought into law and implemented, the EU would be showing tremendous leadership. I also love the bill that means the EU cannot import products based on the destruction of forests – one of the great lungs of the world absorbing CO2 and giving out oxygen. This is a tremendous step forward.

What more can be done? Enforcing the legislation as it’s passed is one thing and following up on commitments made. I think a good deal could be done in the EU about improving the regulation of welfare of farmed animals. There’s now proof that animals are sentient beings. Every single farmed animal has a personality, is capable of feeling depression, fear and, of course, pain.

Could you please tell us about your Roots & Shoots programme?

It’s one of the main focuses of the rest of my life. It all began with 12 high school children in Tanzania. They were concerned about things happening in the environment. We got together and decided the main message for this programme, that came to be called Roots & Shoots, would be every individual matters, makes a difference, has a role to play every single day.

Because nature and societies have such interconnection, we would have every group doing three projects: one to help people, one to help animals, one to help the environment. They choose their projects. One thing they are doing is planting literally millions of trees around the world.

We now have members from kindergarten all the way through university. It’s in 67 countries and growing, hundreds and thousands of young people, all working to make the world a better place. Some of the early ones, back in the 1990s, are already in decision-making positions and truly making an impact on the world.

As they grow up, they seem to hang on to the main values that they acquire in Roots & Shoots, which basically is respect and compassion for each other, for animals and for the environment.

If we carry on with a growing population and have this crazy idea that there can be unlimited economic development on a planet with finite resources, we are doomed.

What are the most urgent items that need to be worked on and what action can the FFA’s stakeholder audience take?

One way is to move towards a plant-based diet. Another is to buy produce from farmers moving into more sustainable agriculture.

As individuals, what we choose to buy, who we are supporting, whether it’s food, other goods or politicians, in every one of these ways, individuals can make a difference, unless they are living in abject poverty.

You can watch the whole interview on our videos page.

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