Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees in the wild always fascinated me because it seemed brave for a woman raised far from the African bush to adjust to living with the heat and the bugs so close to the soil where she had to sit for hours and hours among the chimpanzees in Gombé to get them to accept her as part of the landscape and eventually befriend her.
Jane Goodall tells us in The Book of Hope from the Global Icons Series, in conversation with the author Douglas Abrams, that she often got discouraged, suffered scratches and sores, and once had a near death experience when she fell down a hill in the company of an enormous rock which could have crushed her. Although she had worked with Louis Leakey on his digs in Africa looking for human bones and animal bones that might offer clues to evolution, she was often afraid that her grant money would run out. Interesting to note that as a woman could not venture out into the African forests by herself, Jane’s mother went with her in the early years and was a great help. But how did she continue to hope that one day she would be able to interact with the chimpanzees in their wild habitat? She is perhaps the perfect person to talk to us about hope in these times that seem hopeless.
The book is full of anecdotes which makes it very personal. Storytelling often spices up deep philosophical discussions and takes them from the realm of the sublime and esoteric to a level that makes the abstract real and comprehensible. As the local people started to challenge the ability of the chimpanzees at Gombé to survive, as locals began to cut down the forests that provided habitat for them, as they began to hunt them for food and capture baby chimps to sell as pets, the numbers of chimpanzees dwindled and extinction looked imminent. Rather than criticize the local residents, Jane tried to understand why this was happening. She came to an awareness that this was due to the poverty of the residents, and that unless the poverty was addressed the extinction trend would continue. Through an agency she and others founded, microloans offered to help residents buy farm animals or seeds, to help them accumulate wealth and build schools and maintain fresh water supplies. Once the standard of living rose nature was left alone to bring back the forests and bush lands that the chimpanzees needed to survive and thrive. She shows us how her intimate knowledge of the needs of the species allowed her to made decisions that were wise for both humans and animals, and incidentally for the environment.
Jane Goodall says that we must solve four great challenges and that working on solving these challenges will offer us hope for the future sustainability of all living things on this earth. Even plants are alive. All things on earth, under it, and above it are interconnected.
#1 First we must alleviate poverty. “If you are living in crippling poverty, you will cut down the last tree to grow food. Or fish the last fish because you’re so desperate to feed your family. In urban areas you will buy the cheapest food-you do not have the luxury of choosing a more ethically produced product.”
#2 We must reduce the unsustainable lifestyles of the affluent. Let’s face it, so many people have way more stuff than they need – or even want.
#3 We must eliminate corruption, for without good governance and honest leadership, we cannot work together to solve our enormous social and environmental challenges.
#4 We must face up to the problems caused by growing populations of humans and their livestock. There are over 7 billion of us today, and already, in many places, we have used up nature’s finite natural resources faster than nature can replenish them and by 2050 there will apparently be closer to ten billion of us. If we carry on with business as usual, that spells the end of earth as we know it. (pg. 59-60)
Jane Goodall tells us she was shy, and she describes the first speech she gave in public and says that now she speaks to people all around the world. She tells them and us, her readers, that these environmental and cultural challenges are not insurmountable. She blames our current dilemma on a “disconnect between clever brains and compassionate hearts.” “True wisdom requires both thinking with our head and understanding with our hearts.” We are left with the feeling that we could solve the problems facing us and wondering if we will find the wisdom to do it.