Jane Goodall’s Hopeful Survival Guide for Humans

The 87-year-old conservationist, best known for her work with chimpanzees, has written a hopeful survival guide for Homo sapiens.,

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At a time when bad news — the pandemic, climate change, racial injustice — feels overwhelming, it can be surprising to hear from an optimist. Jane Goodall may be best known for her work studying the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, but her efforts to promote conservation through the Jane Goodall Institute also have focused on people, primarily through anti-poverty and youth education programs.

Her latest contribution toward helping humans avoid self-destruction is “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.” In her book, co-written with Douglas Abrams, Dr. Goodall outlines the four things that give her hope: human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people and the “indomitable” human spirit. But I haven’t spoiled the book for you. The reason to keep reading (or listening to Dr. Goodall narrate part of her audiobook, which I recommend) is that Dr. Goodall shares stories from her own life experiences and the people she has encountered to make her case for hope.

Recently I had the chance to speak with Dr. Goodall about why she remains an optimist, and what the rest of us can do to start feeling hopeful, too. Here’s part of our conversation.

TPP: Why did you decide to write a book about hope?

JG: You know, it’s really grim with climate change, loss of biodiversity, the pandemic, the autocratic regimes taking over in many parts of the world. And many people are losing hope. But if everybody loses hope, we’ve had it because, you know, without hope, we give up, become apathetic and do nothing.

But the key thing is that my definition of hope isn’t just sitting and saying, “Oh, I’m sure things will work out.” It’s like a very dark tunnel full of obstacles, but right at the end, there’s that little light gleaming. And in order to get to that little light, you’re just going to have to fight to get there. It wouldn’t just happen unless you make the effort.

TPP: With so much bad going on in the world, how can people stay hopeful?

JG: We’re always told, “Think globally, but act locally.” But if you think globally, you’re sort of filled with doom and gloom. You don’t have the energy to act. But think about where you are. Is there something you care about? Yeah. I care about the litter in the streets. OK, get together with your friends and start clearing up the litter and you’ll find that other people, once the litter is clear, they stop littering. You’ll see that you made a difference, and you’ll feel more hope. That’s contagious. Other people will want to do more, and the more other people do and the more hope you get, the more it keeps you encouraged to go on and it sort of spirals up.

Every person matters. Every person has a role to play in this crazy life. Every person makes an impact on the planet every day, and we get to choose what sort of impact we make.

TPP: Given our track record, why are you still hopeful about human intellect?

JG: It’s very peculiar that this most intellectual creature is destroying its only home. But finally, because we face a crisis, scientists are coming up with more and more and more innovative ways to tackle climate change, like renewable energy. Ordinary people are beginning to think with their brains about how they can leave a lighter ecological footprint, what they can do each day. So that’s my reason for thinking that human intellect is one thing that’s hopeful if we use it right.

TPP: As the mother of a college student, I can relate to feeling hopeful about the next generation. Why do young people give you hope?

JG: Because of what they’re doing. As we talk, there are groups around the world who are planting trees, they’re clearing trash, they’re raising money for quake victims or hurricane victims or for animal shelters or for some consequential project like saving koalas and looking after them after the fires.

These young people are my great reason for hope. They’re passionate. They’re not going to give up. They know there’s going to be a better future because they say, “By golly, we’re all going to make it so.”

TPP: In your book, you have a chapter called “Jane’s next great adventure.” What is it?

JG: Dying! When you die, there’s either nothing, in which case I’m finished, or there’s something. I happen to think that there’s something, from various experiences I’ve had. And if that’s so, then I can’t think of a greater adventure than finding out what’s there. What’s next?

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