By Abigail Johnson on
In this three part Look To The Stars special, the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand invited us to share the stories of three high school students from across New Zealand who were given the opportunity to attend Dr. Goodall’s events and interview her. Below is the third and final article, by Christchurch student, Abigail Johnson.
Going Ape for Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is known worldwide as an activist, conservationist, and renowned primatologist, but if you were to ask her how she considers herself, she would simply tell you “a lover of chimps”.
Jane was generous enough to share that love of animals and the environment with Christchurch on the 29th and 30th of May, through both a public speech at the town hall and a private meeting with some of the city’s most engaged young people.
It’s clear from the moment I hear her talk that Jane is unique. She forgoes much of the passionate and animated speeches typical of activists in favour of far gentler and more intimate storytelling in order to convey her points. In her public speech and interview with John Campbell the audience followed her story from pre-war London, to an outpost of the Tanzania wilderness, to the United Nations, and now to Aotearoa; authentically Jane with her inclusion of humorous animals’ antics and the odd chimpanzee impression. The 2,000 strong crowd loved it. Applause broke out unprompted, tears swelled throughout, and the intermission was bubbling with how moved and inspired everyone felt.
Jane’s humble and down-to-earth attitude felt identical both on stage and during an afternoon Roots & Shoots event at a local school. Roots & Shoots is Jane’s student-centred organization which engages young people across 140 countries to take action on conservation, animal welfare, and human rights. Here, Jane enlisted the assistance of her various stuffed animal companions to answer questions from young change-makers; including the coordinators of Schools Strike for Climate, youth members of Enviroschools, and a Generation Zero ambassador.
The students were engrossed with Jane’s tales of her own animal-loving youth, as well as her indisputable certainty that it is their futures which will feel the impact of climate change the most.
“Everyone says we inherit the world from our parents, but they’re wrong. What we are doing is stealing the future from our children.” Jane makes no bones about the daunting realities facing young generations who will live to see the drastic effects of environmental change. Her stance is clear to young and old alike; the time to act is now.
Jane is a no-nonsense woman. After nearly six decades of interviews, speeches, and press conferences it’s easy to see why. For a woman who considers her home to be in the depths of an African National Park it’s no wonder she feels a little unenthusiastic about meet-and- greets filled with flashing cameras and a never-ending demand for signatures.
Nevertheless, I was all too keen to hear Jane’s perspective on the role of indigenous and local people in conservation efforts. In her typical fashion she told me stories of projects in Kigoma which represent the potential for economic development and environmental preservation to occur simultaneously; as complements rather than compromises.
Her work with villages in rural Tanzania has developed many small and family run farms in beekeeping, cocoa growing, and fruit trees. The ecologists on her team work to find creative horticultural practices which do not require deforestation or animal mistreatment. These methods of agriculture benefit the natural environment whilst providing sustainable sources of income for locals, which promotes growth and higher standards of living.
Handling the threat of overpopulation, or “population optimization”, is a relatively unique view held by Jane. She is quick to point out others reluctance to address the issue given its sensitive nature, but believes it must be dealt with – consensually – in order to preserve the Earth’s finite resources.
“They don’t need more children. The children move to the cities to look for jobs, most don’t find them, and then they move back to this patch of land which cannot sustain them,” she explains of rural villages.
Her time in Tanzania led her to believe the key to curbing population growth is in family planning; providing education and contraceptives to women in the highest growth regions of Asia and Africa. These community-oriented projects have been adopted by families to limit the number of children they have to that which can be supported by the land.
The discussion around sustainable agriculture inevitably brings us to New Zealand, a nation whose economy is built upon the backs of millions of cows. The impact Jane has had as an individual means she adamantly makes no excuses for NZ on the basis of its size.
“Don’t listen to the politicians paid out by oil companies” she warns in reference to NZ moving away from dairy, “people can change, cultures change.”
As for supporting the country’s many farmers, Jane suggests an alternative in a contemporary fibre; hemp. She claims it’s highly versatile for creating clothing, packaging, and fuel -production industries which are currently considered environmentally harmful. While 12 varieties of the plant are presently grown legally in NZ there is no large-scale production for it as of yet.
When it comes to change there is no doubting the impact new generations will make. Jane acknowledged the significance of School Strikes for Climate over the past couple months; in which thousands of Kiwi students walked out of school to march in support of the Zero Carbon Act. Her message to the protestors was to be careful of simply “shaking fists” at the Government, and to not neglect the power they each have in their own lives.
“Think [about] what you buy, was it made sustainably…is it cheap because of child labour.” However, her focus on conscious consumerism was primarily an optimistic one, “I speak to young people these days and they know so much, they do so much, it’s amazing” she said in response to a junior student’s explanation of her school’s sustainability policy.
After learning so much in such a short span of time – whereby my questions were no means exhausted – my precious few minutes with the acclaimed activist were up. It was just then that I saw her passion creep out, as she pointed to me, finger outstretched, “Don’t ever forget that an individual can make a difference” her voice raised, “don’t you forget!”
I won’t forget, Dr Jane. I couldn’t if I tried.
Look To The Stars would like to thank Dr. Goodall and the Jane Goodall Institute New Zealand for their tireless efforts during this tour, and for sharing their inspirational stories and actions with us.
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