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Reasons for Hope – Jane Goodall’s Orkney lecture with global message

Howie Firth March 15, 2013 Global Issues
Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall’s lecture in St Magnus Cathedral is now online. The lecture, given in the 2012 Orkney International Science Festival, was the Grimond Lecture, which annually highlights issues of global and local significance.

The title of the talk was Reasons for Hope – reasons why despite the starkness of the challenges faced by humanity, Jane Goodall believes we have together the ability to come through. Her belief in the power of individuals and communities to make a difference is what lies behind her original decision to leave her internationally-recognised study of chimpanzees in Gombe in Tanzania and to travel the world to raise awareness of the importance of conservation.

She carries out her work through the Jane Goodall Institute and through Roots & Shoots, which provides young people with the knowledge and inspiration to improve the environment and quality of life of people and animals.

She has written of the scale of the problems of today:

It is easy to be overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness as we look around the world. We are losing species at a terrible rate, the balance of nature is disturbed, and we are destroying our beautiful planet. We have fear about water supplies, where future energy will come from – and most recently the developed world has been mired in an economic crisis. But in spite of all this I do have hope.”

Her reasons for hope include the ability of the human brain to come up with solutions:

We have at last begun to understand and face up to the problems that threaten us and the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Millions of people worldwide are beginning to realize that each of us has a responsibility to the environment and our descendants. Everywhere I go, I see people making wiser choices, and more responsible ones.”

There is also, she writes, the indomitable human spirit:

There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow. As I travel around the world I meet so many incredible and amazing human beings. They inspire me. They inspire those around them.”

A third factor is the resilience of nature:

I have visited Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb that ended World War II. Scientists had predicted that nothing could grow there for at least 30 years. But, amazingly, greenery grew very quickly. One sapling actually managed to survive the bombing, and today it is a large tree, with great cracks and fissures, all black inside; but that tree still produces leaves. I carry one of those leaves with me as a powerful symbol of hope. I have seen such renewals time and again, including animal species brought back from the brink of extinction.”

And finally, she says, there is the determination of young people. She has written:

My final reason for hope lies in the tremendous energy, enthusiasm and commitment of young people around the world. As they find out about the environmental and social problems that are now part of their heritage, they want to right the wrongs. Of course they do – they have a vested interest in this, for it will be their world tomorrow. They will be moving into leadership positions, into the workforce, becoming parents themselves. Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world. We should never underestimate the power of determined young people.

“Whether it’s something simple like recycling or collecting trash, something that requires a lot of effort, like restoring a wetland or a prairie, or whether it’s raising money for the local dog shelter, they are a continual source of inspiration. My greatest reason for hope is the spirit and determination of young people, once they know what the problems are and have the tools to take action.

“So let’s move forward in this new millennium with hope, for without it all we can do is eat and drink the last of our resources as we watch our planet slowly die. Let’s have faith in ourselves, in our intellect, in our staunch spirit and in our young people. And let’s do the work that needs to be done, with love and compassion.”

Her talk in the Cathedral covered the various issues, beginning with the story of her work at Gombe, where her studies of the chimpanzees have continued for over 50 years. She spoke about her arrival and the long time it took them to accept her, and then after a year the first breakthrough, when one chimpanzee, David Greybeard, started to accept bananas from her hand.

She went on to talk about the destruction of the rainforest and the killing of chimpanzees of food, and how she realised that the underlying forces driving these processes were economic, and that the only way to a solution of the problems in Africa was to go to the countries where the key global economic decisions were made. Then began a new life, travelling the world for 300 days a year to carry the message of conservation and the call to action. To everyone she says: you can make a difference.

The 12th-century cathedral, itself an achievement of vision and determination, was an appropriate setting for the talk, which attracted a packed audience. It was introduced by Orkney International Science Festival chairman Eoin Scott.

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About The Author

Howie Firth

Dr Howie Firth is a writer and physicist from Orkney, with a deep interest in history and philosophy. He is director of Orkney International Science Festival.