Jane Goodall, Caring for the Earth – Reasons for Hope, 2016

Jane Goodall

Ethologist and Conservationist

When Jane Goodall was a little girl, she was fascinated by where eggs come from. One afternoon, she hid so long in a chicken coop, hoping to solve the mystery, that her parents called the police. When her mother found her, she did not scold her. Instead, she listened as her daughter described her findings with excitement: a budding scientist. All her life, Goodall has cherished her enthusiasm for animals and the natural world. In 1960, aged just twenty-six, and without a college degree, she packed her bags for Gombe National Park, Tanzania, to undertake the first phase of what would become an ongoing study into wild chimpanzees that has lasted nearly sixty years. Her groundbreaking findings include the discovery that chimpanzees, like humans, use tools to forage for food. Goodall’s early companion that made this pioneering trip possible? Her mother.

Since her first trip to Gombe, Goodall has accomplished an extraordinary amount as both a scientist and an activist. In 1965, she completed a PhD in Ethology, the study of animal behaviour, at the University of Cambridge (becoming one of the few people allowed to do so without an undergraduate degree). In 1977, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute, a global conservation organization, and, in 1991, she formed Roots & Shoots, empowering young people of all ages to become involved in projects to benefit their community, animals and the environment. Her determination to protect the environment was recognized in 2004, when she was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Ever the optimist, in 2016 she gave a lecture entitled ‘Caring for the Earth – Reasons for Hope’, in which she embodies a stunning answer to her own question: ‘I’m one person, what can I do?’

Caring for the Earth – Reasons for Hope 2016

Every single one of us, every single one of us makes impact on this planet every single day. We cannot live through a day without making some kind of impact.

And we have a choice. Certainly everybody in this room has a choice. Some people don’t have that much choice in their lives but we do. And if we start thinking about the consequences of the choices we make each day, the little things: what we buy, what we eat, what we wear, where did they come from, how was it made, did it result, the making of it, in cruelty to animals, was it child slave labour in a faraway place, did it harm the environment, that kind of thing, then we start making wiser choices. We can also ask ourselves do we really need it, is it necessary, do we have to buy this thing?

… If you think about everything, it’s daunting. And I’m one person, what can I do? There’s no point in doing anything because I’m helpless and hopeless. And so, people do nothing and they shut it all away, and they don’t even think about it. They don’t want to think about it because that would be depressing. So, it’s this apathy that has to be overcome and I found particularly with young people that when they start realising that yes, me alone, I can’t do anything but when there’s hundreds or thousands or millions or maybe eventually billions of people all making the right choices, all trying to leave a slightly lighter ecological footprint, then we begin moving to the kind of world that we can be happier to leave to our descendants.