Sitting next to a gas fireplace at London’s Idlewyld Inn, she was noticeably distracted by the ceiling fan whirring above. It’s wasting electricity and it’s not necessary, she said.
At that point, the world’s most renowned primatologist and conservationist got up, walked about the room, found the switch and turned the fan off.
“We’re horribly destructive,” Jane Goodall said with a sigh almost contained. “The most surprising thing I’ve learned is how slow people are to change what they think about.”
In the elegant, traditional room inside the hotel, Goodall lamented the ways in which humanity is wasteful and destructive. At the age of 80, she still travels 300 days a year, hoping to enlighten audiences of all ages and professions, in hopes of changing their perspective of the world we all share.
One of those audiences was at Western’s Alumni Hall last week. She was a guest of Docs4GreatApes, a Canadian charity founded by concerned health-care professionals determined to make a difference and save our closest living relatives.
“We see the results of climate change, all over now. I meet deniers everywhere. Some of them deny it because they don’t want to face the consequences. They don’t want to admit it, because that means they would have to change their behaviour and they don’t want to,” said Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace.
Most lives are needlessly luxurious and unsustainable, while others are impoverished. There’s too many of us, Goodall explained. We destroy the environment in an effort to live, yet we’re destroying the very thing that sustains life; natural resources are dwindling alongside harmonious, healthy lifestyles. And that reluctance to change and the slowness that tags along is widespread, she added. It’s what fuels extensive destruction and inhumanity an all fronts.
“How long has it taken people to understand that animals have feelings and emotions, personalities like us? Of course, some people know it, but it’s hard to get that through in science,” Goodall said.
“We subject billions of animals to tremendous suffering and abuse, even more in intensive farming all over the world, in hunting, in circuses and entertainment. A lot of pets, especially exotic pets, are horribly abused. And so it goes on – it’s everywhere,” she explained.
“But then, we have to remember – we’re animals too and we abuse each other. There’s an awful lot of suffering that humans are experiencing at the hands of other humans.”
In fact, Goodall explained, humans could take a few pointers from primates.
“For one, we could learn a little humility – that we’re not so different from the other animals,” she said.
“We can certainly learn from chimpanzees the importance of reconciliation – within the group, a squabble usually ends with appeasing and reassurance. And we can learn a lot about mothering – there are good mothers and bad mothers, just as there are in our society – and you can very clearly see the offspring of good mothers have a better chance of (survival).”
There’s still so much left to do to turn the tides, Goodall explained. It’s something her institute’s youth program, Roots & Shoots, now in 139 countries, is trying to address.
“It’s young people choosing for themselves, working on projects to make the world better, to help people, to help animals, to help the environment and also learning to live in peace and harmony with each other – people from different religions, cultures, backgrounds, nations and between us and the natural world,” Goodall said.
“My hope lies with the young people. It lies with the fact that nature’s very resilient. It lies with the fact that our brain is able to accomplish extraordinary things if we put it to the right purpose, and with the amazing people that I meet who seem to tackle seemingly impossible tasks and won’t give up.”
As bleak as things seem, there’s no reason to despair, she added. It’s not too late.
“People very often sink into apathy and do nothing – even if they’re really concerned. The main reason they do nothing is because they feel helpless. They feel there’s nothing they can do,” Goodall noted.
“All the little things we can do to save energy, to save water, to raise awareness among other people, people don’t do it as though it won’t make a difference. And it won’t if it’s just one person. But it’s not. We all make a difference, every day. We live and we have a choice – as to what kind of difference we’re going to make, that’s the most important thing.”