The eighty-seven-year-old naturalist knocks around her home on the south coast of England and explains why, despite the floods and fires and melting ice caps, she’s still optimistic about planet Earth.
Before the pandemic, Jane Goodall travelled three hundred days a year to speak to audiences about the climate crisis. “I used to do, like, three days in the Netherlands, three days in Belgium, three days in France,” Goodall, who is eighty-seven, recalled recently. In China or Australia, “it would be, like, two weeks, where they’d spread me through their country.” Everywhere she went, she met young people who were “angry, depressed, or just apathetic, because, they’ve told me, we have compromised their future and they feel there is nothing they can do about it,” she writes in her twenty-first and most recent work, “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.” Amid flooding and wildfires, impassivity and eco-grief, the question she was asked most often was “Do you honestly believe there is hope for our world?”
She does, and she’ll tell you why. “The Book of Hope,” which she wrote with Douglas Abrams and Gail Hudson, is structured like a dialogue in which the naturalist (Ph.D., D.B.E., U.N. Messenger of Peace) plays whack-a-mole with the darkest fears we hold for our ailing planet. Stories of the human intellect and indomitable spirit abound. Also, the resilience of nature and the power of young people. Hope, she argues, is not merely “passive wishful thinking” but a “crucial survival trait.” She noted, “If you don’t have hope that your action is going to make a difference, why bother to do anything? You just become a zombie.”
Goodall was seated on a sofa in the drawing room of her childhood home, in Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. She had her hair in a ponytail and was wearing a Patagonia jacket with jeans, moccasins, and whale-print socks. Shuttered in the house since the outbreak began, Goodall has adopted a relentless schedule of online engagements, Zooming to multiple countries each day. “Virtual Jane has been busier than ever,” she said. “It’s hurting my voice, my eyes.” She has not taken a day off in a year and a half; she Zoomed twice on Christmas, launched a podcast called “The Hopecast,” and, in May, accepted the Templeton Prize (previous recipients include Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama). “But the pluses!” she said. “I’ve reached literally millions more people in many more countries. I was in Tanzania this morning, and then I was in the Netherlands for an interview. Or is it Belgium?”…
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