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Dr Jane Goodall - Inspiring

July 15, 2020 11:14 AM
By Roderic Parker

Jane Goodall (Stuart Clarke)Jane Goodall spoke at our Online Conference and Festival on the opening Sunday evening. What a way to close the first weekend!

Before she started we were told that she had just been awarded the 2020 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development, a very prestigious international award, given in recognition of "her ground-breaking discoveries in primatology ... and her lifelong, unparalleled dedication to the conservation of Earth environment". Her reputation as one of the most influential primatologists today, the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and through that a great educator, and as a UN Messenger of Peace, preceded her. We were not disappointed.

Jane told us how she started her studies on chimpanzees in Tanzania when she was in her mid twenties, and how that led to her going to Cambridge University to read for a PhD even though she didn't have a first degree. She told us of the opposition she received there, for example being sternly told to refer to her chimpanzees by number and not by name, and how she persevered. Over the years she has brought so many advances to our knowledge of chimpanzees. It was her studies that revealed that they have individual personalities, and that they can use simple tools, a concept totally alien to the scientific establishment at the time. Her influence helped to guide the U.S. National Institutes of Health to end invasive research on chimpanzees in all U.S. biomedical research: after all, they share over 98% of their DNA with us. Although she didn't say so, she is recognized as one of the greatest field scientists of the 20th century.

Later in her career Jane set up a research and educational centre in Tanzania, and became much more an environmental activist. She spoke at some length about the Roots and Shoots Programme which she has devised, which aims to make young people far more aware of the environment and to challenge them to make a real contribution to saving it. It now runs in over 65 countries.

She ended on a really positive note, saying that she has five reasons for hope. The human race is slowly waking up to the dangers which we are causing to the environment, young people especially are becoming active and refusing to accept the way things are, Nature itself is resilient, messages can easily and powerfully passed on through social media, and human beings themselves are tenacious and will continue to be so in combating the climate crisis.

She then answered 'questions from the floor' in a frank and positive way.

This was a truly inspiring talk, all the more so because even at the age of 86 she remains extremely active, committed, and an example to us all. She must have given this talk hundreds, even thousands, of times over the years but it came over just as fresh and inspiring as the first time. We have much to learn from her about the world around us, if only we don't destroy it first.

Thank you for asking her to talk to us.

Roderic Parker