Jane Goodall, eco-grief and the 'Book of Hope' The world-renowned primatologist explains how small acts to protect the planet can spiral upwards. She has a new book, co-authored by Douglas Abrams, called The Book of Hope.

As Jane Goodall grieves climate change, she finds hope in young people's advocacy

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1046952409/1046952410" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Jane Goodall's discoveries over 60 years ago may have changed science, but she's spending the pandemic, like many of us, hunkered down at her childhood home. Still, she says, she has never been more busy - giving talks, writing and thinking about the nature of hope. That is the topic of her new book, "The Book Of Hope," with co-author Douglas Abrams. Jane Goodall spoke to our co-host Rachel Martin.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Someone like yourself, who's spent a lifetime talking about the urgent need to protect our planet, natural habitats, build a better Earth - considering where we are at right now, no one would blame you if you weren't hopeful at all. And yet you are. Where does that come from?

JANE GOODALL: Well, let me back off a bit by saying that if we all lose hope, we're doomed. So I've found - I've met so many people who don't have hope, who say they feel helpless and hopeless. And I say to them, well, that's because we're always being told, think globally; act locally. But quite honestly, if you think globally, you - you're just so depressed. I mean, every day we're bombarded with bad news - socially, politically, environmentally.

But turn it the other way around. Something that you feel, I'd like to do something about this. And either you or hopefully you and some friends get together and start doing something. And you find you make a difference. And then you realize that, well, in other parts of the world, people are feeling like you and doing like you because they're being advised to take local action. And you've made a difference, so you want to do more. And that's inspiring other people. So it's an upward spiral like this of growing hope with action. So for me, hope isn't just something where you sit back and say, oh, I hope everything will be OK. No, I don't look at the world through rose-colored spectacles. We've got to work to make what we hope for happen.

MARTIN: The book divides your reflections on hope into four different categories, and human intellect is one. You say that our own human capacity to intellectualize through problems is a place where you find hope. Can you explain that?

GOODALL: Well, we differ mainly from other animals by this explosive development of the intellect. You know, chimpanzees and other animals are way, way, way more intelligent than we used to think. So how bizarre that the most intellectual creature that's ever lived is destroying its only home, our planet. That is crazy. So now science is beginning to come up with all kinds of innovative ways of coping with some of the, at least, environmental problems, like clean, green renewable energy, for example. So that's why the human intellect is one of my reasons for hope.

MARTIN: You were not a classically trained scientist.

GOODALL: Luckily.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Why do you say that? Do you think it gave you different eyes to look at the world?

GOODALL: Well, that's one of the reasons Leakey was so keen - Louis Leakey, paleontologist, anthropologist - was so keen for me to go and study chimps. He wanted - because at that time, the scientific attitude towards animals was so reductionist. You know, only humans had personalities, minds and emotions, and animals were not sentient beings at all. You shouldn't have empathy with them. Well, I didn't know any of that. I hadn't been told it. So you know - and because the chimps are genetically - we share 98.6% of our DNA with them. Scientists began to have to change. They had to.

MARTIN: During an event a couple of years ago - and this is laid out in the book - you were asked what your next great adventure would be. And you said death, which I have to assume probably caught some people off guard in the audience.

GOODALL: Oh, it did. They were - there was a gasp and some nervous titters.

MARTIN: Right (laughter).

GOODALL: There were about five to 10,000 people in a huge auditorium.

MARTIN: And explain that answer, how you have come to that perspective.

GOODALL: Well, when you die, there's either nothing - in which case, fine, you're gone, right? Nothing. Your mind, your consciousness, everything gone. Or, as I have come to believe through various experiences that I've had in my life, there's something. Don't know what it is quite. But if that's true, can you think of a greater adventure than finding out what is beyond death?

MARTIN: So as you think about where you have come and the next great adventure ahead, there are just generations of people whom you have inspired over your life. And young people in particular - you evoke something very special in them. And they really look to you as a guide in their work and advocacy on climate change and how to protect the planet. How do you talk to them about that?

GOODALL: It was because of that feeling that I met in so many young people - hopelessness, helplessness. That's why I started the Roots & Shoots program for youth that's now in over 60 countries. And when they came up to me, they all said more or less the same - this is in four continents - that we feel this way because you've compromised our future, older generations, and there's nothing we can do about it. Well, we have not just compromised the future of young people, we've been stealing it. We've been stealing it, stealing the natural resources that they will be relying on, many of which will now not be there. But is there nothing they can do? Is that true? No, there's always something to do.

So Roots & Shoots is based on the premise that a group will get together, and they'll be interested in different things. And because in the rainforest, I learned how everything is interconnected - talk to your friends, maybe a teacher, or get somebody in who's an expert. See if there's something you can do, then roll up your sleeves and do it.

GOODALL: "The Book Of Hope" by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. Dr. Goodall, it's been a privilege to talk to you. Thank you so much.

GOODALL: Well, thanks very much. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE SOUL'S RELEASE'S "A FLOOD OF EMOTION")

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.