An online dialogue from Tanzania
By JANE AMMESON
Navigating the jungles of Tanzania for some 50 years, Dr. Jane Goodall has explored corners of Africa few have seen, usually in the name of breaking new ground in the study of chimpanzees. Now in her 70s, Goodall, though still tirelessly devoted to the chimps, has focused much of her attention on protecting the world from encroaching environmental horrors. Her most recent book, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating, was published at the end of last year. Chicago Life caught up with Goodall, a U.N. Messenger of Peace, while she was in Tanzania. There, she met with the president of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, and the U.S. ambassador in Dar es Salaam to help to launch the Greater Gombe Ecosystem Project.
Designed for school-age children, your Roots & Shoots program encourages young people to make a difference in this world. I understand that there is a big interest in Roots & Shoots in Chicago. Can you tell us about that? ?
There is a lot of interest in Roots & Shoots in Chicago. There are now 53 groups in the area that are actively?helping the community in various ways?raising money for injured animals,?visiting the elderly, educating other students about recycling, raising much-needed funds?for community food banks?all these and many more. These young people are so enthusiastic, and as the?network grows, so does the impact these groups are having. We are so excited by the groundswell of interest from old and new partners alike to support a larger Roots & Shoots presence in the Chicago area. I look forward to watching the program flourish there in years to come.
Are we making gains to preserve the environment?
In some areas, yes, but in other areas we are destroying the planet more and more every day. The gains that are being made today are the result of new technology and a growing awareness of the damage we are inflicting that is causing people to make changes in their personal lifestyles. Once we achieve a critical mass of people who do their bit each day we shall start to see real, tangible change in the world.
What environmental issues concern you most?
The destruction of the rainforest, global warming and the gradual decrease in the availability of fresh water around the world. The destruction of the forests in the tropics leads to soil erosion and desertification, global warming leads to a loss of biodiversity, and a lack of fresh water leads to starvation, sickness, misery and war. After all, we can survive without oil?we cannot survive without water. The first environmental refugees are the inhabitants of an island in the Pacific. Due to global warming and a rise in sea levels, their home is being swallowed up by the sea. They have already been relocated. These issues are reaching critical stages at alarming rates. We must do everything in our power to reverse these trends.
What can people do if they?re discouraged in that the obstacles seem insurmountable?
We must think of every day as our opportunity to make a difference. When we each act in a way to leave the lightest ecological footprint?and realize how many millions of people are doing the same?suddenly we realize we really are making a difference. I spend 300 days per year on the road and meet Roots & Shoots groups of all ages who are making a difference every single day and so many people tackling seemingly impossible tasks because of their indomitable spirit. Because they won?t give up, they are succeeding and inspiring those around them at the same time. We must, each one of us, do our part. For the sake of the children, we can?t give up.
Some people say that we may be past the tipping point regarding global warming. What are your views on that?
The world is getting warmer?we can?t deny that. Whether or not we have reached the ?tipping point,? I do not know. But clearly we must do everything in our power, as individuals, to prevent things [from] getting even worse. We must think about our use of fossil fuels. We must use all our powers of persuasion to convince our friends that their actions do indeed make a difference. Global temperatures will rise even faster if we just keep on doing what we are doing. Regardless of whether we have reached the tipping point, we must do everything to reverse the trend. I believe there is still hope if we act now.?
What prompted you to become involved in the African coffee industry?
There is a program that we are beginning in Tanzania where villagers in the hills around the Gombe National Park are being persuaded to leave 10-20 percent of their land uncultivated for the use of the chimpanzees. In return, the Jane Goodall Institute will help those farmers market their crops, especially coffee (which is the highest grade), and earn a fair price. Chimpanzees do not eat coffee, so this is the ideal crop to grow along the edge of forests so it can act as a buffer zone between the forest and the farm.
It?s estimated that by the year 2030, 90 percent of the great apes? habitat might be lost. What kind of progress is being made with your Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP)? ?
GRASP is definitely making progress in reaching African leaders. There is more awareness of the problems, and people are realizing that the bushmeat trade?the commercial hunting of wild animals for food?is unsustainable. More areas are being protected for the apes. At the same time, bushmeat hunting and logging continues. The great apes are still decreasing year by year. Our strategy is to work with villages around wilderness areas and improve their lives. This program, now in its 12th year, is known as TACARE (Take Care). Our plan to help the coffee farmers is but one example. Because of TACARE, the villagers are prepared to be our partners in preserving the environment and in restoring it. Even though the forests around the Gombe National Park have been almost entirely deforested, if people stop hacking away at the tree stumps for firewood, those seemingly dead stumps will be 30-foot trees after five years. Thus we hope to create leafy, green ?corridors? between the remaining wilderness areas. This will enable the Gombe chimpanzees, whose numbers have been declining, to move out of their tiny national park, interact with other remaining populations and thus increase genetic diversity. If this is unsuccessful, it seems unlikely the famous Gombe chimps can survive. Only by working with the local people as partners is there any hope of saving the great apes in the future.
With the environment in such a precarious position, with the animals you?ve studied for half a century so threatened, how do you remain hopeful?
The hope lies in our hands, in the collective power of ?we the people.? I have four reasons for hope: the energy, commitment, dedication and courage of young people all around the world; the extraordinary human brain, which is already coming to grips with ways of doing what we do but in a less damaging way to the environment; the amazing resilience of nature?poisoned rivers can be cleaned, wetlands can be restored, forests will grow back again as they do in Gombe, animal species on the brink of extinction can be given a second chance; and finally, the indomitable human spirit, people who tackle impossible tasks and won?t give up.
Published: April 01, 2006
Issue: Spring 2006