A message of hope: In Conversation with Dr Jane Goodall, DBE

Jane Goodall and a chimp | Credit: Michael Neugebauer

Recently, I had the extraordinary privilege of interviewing Compassion in World Farming patron Dr Jane Goodall DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute (which has Institutes in 25 countries around the world, including the UK) & UN Messenger of Peace, about her new book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for an Endangered Planet.. 

One of the world’s foremost conservationists and a true living hero, Jane sat down with me to share her incredible life story, what hope means to her, and why she cares about ending factory farming. Here I share part of this inspirational conversation.

Phillip: Factory farming is not only the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet, it’s also a major driver of wildlife declines. This is something which is dear to your heart. How did this intense love of nature and of animals come about?

Jane: I think I popped out of the womb equipped with a love of animals. My mother describes when I was one and a half, she came to say goodnight and my bed was filled with earthworms. She said, “Jane, you were watching them so intently, you must have been wondering how they walked without legs!”  I was so lucky there was no TV. I did my learning outside, from nature. As I got older, I devoured every book about animals.

“Hope is not a passive thing – it’s action”

Phillip: The book that we’re focusing on tonight is The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for an Endangered Planet. What inspired you to write this book?

Jane: Hope is not a passive thing – it’s action. We humans are at the mouth of a long dark tunnel, and right at the end is a little star: that’s hope. It’s no good hoping the star will come. We have to crawl under, climb over, and work around all the obstacles, like climate change, loss of biodiversity, poverty, over-consumption and factory farming, that lie between us and the star. 

Philip: Real hope requires action and engagement and that is something which you’ve embodied your whole life. Where did that indomitable spirit come from?

Jane: Like my love of animals, I was partly born with it, but I did have a super supportive mother. Not only did she support my love of animals and earthworms, when I was 10 years old, I decided I’d go to Africa to live with wild animals and write books about them – and everybody laughed at me, but not mum. She said, “if you really want to do something like this, you’re going to have to work really hard and take advantage of every opportunity, and hopefully you’ll find a way”. That’s the supportive attitude that a child needs. 

Phillip: In the book, you tell of how at Cambridge, you were specifically told not to talk about chimpanzees having personalities, minds, or emotions, but you knew that the professors were wrong. How did you overcome that situation? 

Jane: I was nervous. All these erudite professors were telling me I’d done everything wrong. I just knew I was right, and so I just went on writing about it in the way I thought was right. And then the National Geographic sent Hugo van Lawick to film. His films of chimp behaviour began to be known and were corroborating everything I’d said. You can’t watch those films and not realise that these chimps have totally different personalities, just like we do. 

I’ve never been one to confront and get aggressive – just quietly persist, and if you’re right, it’ll come okay in the end. And it did! 

“Every factory farm animal is an individual”

Philip: Hats off to you because it’s changed the course of human perception of animals. To what extent do you think the way that we treat animals has really changed? Is change coming quick enough?

Jane: Is it coming quick enough? No. Is it changing? Yes. We know that every factory farm animal is an individual and they have their own personality and they can feel fear and distress and pain. The attitude towards farmed animals really has changed hugely. You think of the number of vegetarians, vegans and people who care; the organisations like yours that are working to try to make change – that’s all come up in my lifetime. 

Philip with Dr Jane Goodall

Philip: Two weeks ago, we were both speaking at a conference on the future of cultured meat – meat without animals. To what extent do these alternative proteins give you hope? 

Jane: I stopped eating meat because of ethical reasons. But now there are the billions of animals in these factory farms, and they all have to be fed. Huge areas are destroyed to grow the grain to feed them, which is using masses of fossil fuels. And all these animals are producing methane. So, I think they’re {alternative proteins} beneficial in two ways; it helps people who want meat and it helps the environment. 

Philip: Coming back to your book, you write of the threats that we’re now facing to our future like the climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity. In the face of what feels like an overwhelming threat, what keeps you going?

Jane: What gives me the most hope is our free programme for young people, Roots and Shoots, which began in Tanzania and is now in 65 countries including the UK. As we speak, in some parts of the world there will be Roots and Shoots groups out there planting mangroves, removing plastic and discussing what they can do for some of these global problems. When young people are empowered to take action, they become so passionate, dedicated and determined. That’s what keeps me going.

“We depend on nature for our very survival”

Philip: There does seem to be a feeling within society that humans are above nature. What’s nature ever done for us? Why should we care about it?

Jane: We depend on nature for our very survival. An ecosystem is made up of this magical interconnected mix of plant and animal life, and as one species disappears, it’s like pulling a thread from the tapestry. If enough threads are pulled, the ecosystem collapses. These are the stories we need our young people to be experiencing. Let them get out of the classroom, let them go into nature, let them see what it’s all about, and that we’re part of it. 

Philip: Coming back to The Book of Hope, when people close the final page, what is it that you want people to take away? 

Jane: Just remember, your life is important. What you do truly does make a difference, and every single day you can choose what kind of difference you make. 

Dr Jane Goodall’s book: The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for an Endangered Planet can be purchased here.

Watch an extract from the conversation between Philip and Jane here .

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