Chris Anderson: Dr. Jane Goodall, welcome.
Jane Goodall: Thank you, and I think, you know, we couldn't have a complete interview unless people know Mr. H is with me, because everybody knows Mr. H.
CA: Hello, Mr. H. In your TED Talk 17 years ago, you warned us about the dangers of humans crowding out the natural world. Is there any sense in which you feel that the current pandemic is kind of, nature striking back?
JG: It's very, very clear that these zoonotic diseases, like the corona and HIV/AIDS and all sorts of other diseases that we catch from animals, that's partly to do with destruction of the environment, which, as animals lose habitat, they get crowded together and sometimes that means that a virus from a reservoir species, where it's lived harmoniously for maybe hundreds of years, jumps into a new species, then you also get animals being pushed into closer contact with humans. And sometimes one of these animals that has caught a virus can — you know, provides the opportunity for that virus to jump into people and create a new disease, like COVID-19. And in addition to that, we are so disrespecting animals. We hunt them, we kill them, we eat them, we traffic them, we send them off to the wild-animal markets in Asia, where they're in terrible, cramped conditions, in tiny cages, with people being contaminated with blood and urine and feces, ideal conditions for a virus to spill from an animal to an animal, or an animal to a person.
CA: I'd love to just dip backwards in time for a bit, because your story is so extraordinary. I mean, despite the arguably even more sexist attitudes of the 1960s, somehow you were able to break through and become one of the world's leading scientists, discovering this astonishing series of facts about chimpanzees, such as their tool use and so much more. What was it about you, do you think, that allowed you to make such a breakthrough?
JG: Well, the thing is, I was born loving animals, and the most important thing was, I had a very supportive mother. She didn't get mad when she found earthworms in my bed, she just said they better be in the garden. And she didn't get mad when I disappeared for four hours and she called the police, and I was sitting in a hen house, because nobody would tell me where the hole was where the egg came out.
I had no dream of being a scientist, because women didn't do that sort of thing. In fact, there weren't any man doing it back then, either. And everybody laughed at me except Mom, who said, "If you really want this, you're going to have to work awfully hard, take advantage of every opportunity, if you don't give up, maybe you'll find a way."
CA: And somehow, you were able to kind of, earn the trust of chimpanzees in the way that no one else had. Looking back, what were the most exciting moments that you discovered or what is it that people still don't get about chimpanzees?
JG: Well, the thing is, you say, "See things nobody else had, get their trust." Nobody else had tried. Quite honestly. So, basically, I used the same techniques that I had to study the animals around my home when I was a child. Just sitting, patiently, not trying to get too close too quickly, but it was awful, because the money was only for six months. I mean, you can imagine how difficult to get money for a young girl with no degree, to go and do something as bizarre as sitting in a forest. And you know, finally, we got money for six months from an American philanthropist, and I knew with time I'd get the chimps' trust, but did I have time? And weeks became months and then finally, after about four months, one chimpanzee began to lose his fear, and it was he that on one occasion I saw — I still wasn't really close, but I had my binoculars — and I saw him using and making tools to fish for termites. And although I wasn't terribly surprised, because I've read about things captive chimps could do — but I knew that science believed that humans, and only humans, used and made tools. And I knew how excited [Dr. Louis] Leakey would be. And it was that observation that enabled him to go to the National Geographic, and they said, "OK, we'll continue to support the research," and they sent Hugo van Lawick, the photographer-filmmaker, to record what I was seeing. So a lot of scientists didn't want to believe the tool-using. In fact, one of them said I must have taught the chimps.
Since I couldn't get near them, it would have been a miracle. But anyway, once they saw Hugo's film and that with all my descriptions of their behavior, the scientists had to start changing their minds.
CA: And since then, numerous other discoveries that placed chimpanzees much closer to humans than people cared to believe. I think I saw you say at one point that they have a sense of humor. How have you seen that expressed?
JG: Well, you see it when they're playing games, and there's a bigger one playing with a little one, and he's trailing a vine around a tree. And every time the little one is about to catch it, the bigger one pulls it away, and the little one starts crying and the big one starts laughing. So, you know.
CA: And then, Jane, you observed something much more troubling, which was these instances of chimpanzee gangs, tribes, groups, being brutally violent to each other. I'm curious how you process that. And whether it made you, kind of, I don't know, depressed about us, we're close to them, did it make you feel that violence is irredeemably part of all the great apes, somehow?
JG: Well, it obviously is. And my first encounter with human, what I call evil, was the end of the war and the pictures from the Holocaust. And you know, that really shocked me. That changed who I was. I was 10, I think, at the time. And when the chimpanzees, when I realized they have this dark, brutal side, I thought they were like us but nicer. And then I realized they're even more like us than I had thought. And at that time, in the early '70s, it was very strange, aggression, there was a big thing about, is aggression innate or learned. And it became political. And it was, I don't know, it was a very strange time, and I was coming out, saying, "No, I think aggression is definitely part of our inherited repertoire of behaviors." And I asked a very respected scientist what he really thought, because he was coming out on the clean slate, aggression is learned, and he said, "Jane, I'd rather not talk about what I really think." That was a big shock as far as science was concerned for me.
CA: I was brought up to believe a world of all things bright and beautiful. You know, numerous beautiful films of butterflies and bees and flowers, and you know, nature as this gorgeous landscape. And many environmentalists often seem to take the stance, "Yes, nature is pure, nature is beautiful, humans are bad," but then you have the kind of observations that you see, when you actually look at any part of nature in more detail, you see things to be terrified by, honestly. What do you make of nature, how do you think of it, how should we think of it?
JG: Nature is, you know, I mean, you think of the whole spectrum of evolution, and there's something about going to a pristine place, and Africa was very pristine when I was young. And there were animals everywhere. And I never liked the fact that lions killed, they have to, I mean, that's what they do, if they didn't kill animals, they would die. And the big difference between them and us, I think, is that they do what they do because that's what they have to do. And we can plan to do things. Our plans are very different. We can plan to cut down a whole forest, because we want to sell the timber, or because we want to build another shopping mall, something like that. So our destruction of nature and our warfare, we're capable of evil because we can sit comfortably and plan the torture of somebody far away. That's evil. Chimpanzees have a sort of primitive war, and they can be very aggressive, but it's of the moment. It's how they feel. It's response to an emotion.
CA: So your observation of the sophistication of chimpanzees doesn't go as far as what some people would want to say is the sort of the human superpower, of being able to really simulate the future in our minds in great detail and make long-term plans. And act to encourage each other to achieve those long-term plans. That that feels, even to someone who spent so much time with chimpanzees, that feels like a fundamentally different skill set that we just have to take responsibility for and use much more wisely than we do.
JG: Yes, and I personally think, I mean, there's a lot of discussion about this, but I think it's a fact that we developed the way of communication that you and I are using. And because we have words, I mean, animal communication is way more sophisticated than we used to think. And chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans can learn human sign language of the Deaf. But we sort of grow up speaking whatever language it is. So I can tell you about things that you've never heard of. And a chimpanzee couldn't do that. And we can teach our children about abstract things. And chimpanzees couldn't do that. So yes, chimpanzees can do all sorts of clever things, and so can elephants and so can crows and so can octopuses, but we design rockets that go off to another planet and little robots taking photographs, and we've designed this extraordinary way of you and me talking in our different parts of the world. When I was young, when I grew up, there was no TV, there were no cell phones, there was no computers. It was such a different world, I had a pencil, pen and notebook, that was it.
CA: So just going back to this question about nature, because I think about this a lot, and I struggle with this, honestly. So much of your work, so much of so many people who I respect, is about this passion for trying not to screw up the natural world. So is it possible, is it healthy, is it essential, perhaps, to simultaneously accept that many aspects of nature are terrifying, but also, I don't know, that it's awesome, and that some of the awesomeness comes from its potential to be terrifying and that it is also just breathtakingly beautiful, and that we cannot be ourselves, because we are part of nature, we cannot be whole unless we somehow embrace it and are part of it? Help me with the language, Jane, on how that relationship should be.
JG: Well, I think one of the problems is, you know, as we developed our intellect, and we became better and better at modifying the environment for our own use, and creating fields and growing crops where it used to be forest or woodland, and you know, we won't go into that now, but we have this ability to change nature. And as we've moved more into towns and cities, and relied more on technology, many people feel so divorced from the natural world. And there's hundreds, thousands of children growing up in inner cities, where there basically isn't any nature, which is why this movement now to green our cities is so important. And you know, they've done experiments, I think it was in Chicago, I'm not quite sure, and there were various empty lots in a very violent part of town. So in some of those areas they made it green, they put trees and flowers and things, shrubs in these vacant lots. And the crime rate went right down. So then of course, they put trees in the other half. So it just shows, and also, there have been studies done showing that children really need green nature for good psychological development.
But we are, as you say, part of nature and we disrespect it, as we are, and that is so terrible for our children and our children's children, because we rely on nature for clean air, clean water, for regulating climate and rainfall. Look what we've done, look at the climate crisis. That's us. We did that.
CA: So a little over 30 years ago, you made this shift from scientist mainly to activist mainly, I guess. Why?
JG: Conference in 1986, scientific one, I'd got my PhD by then and it was to find out how chimp behavior differed, if it did, from one environment to another. There were six study sites across Africa. So we thought, let’s bring these scientists together and explore this, which was fascinating. But we also had a session on conservation and a session on conditions in some captive situations like medical research. And those two sessions were so shocking to me. I went to the conference a a scientist, and I left as an activist. I didn't make the decision, something happened inside me.
CA: So you spent the last 34 years sort of tirelessly campaigning for a better relationship between people and nature. What should that relationship look like?
JG: Well, you know, again you come up with all these problems. People have to have space to live. But I think the problem is that we've become, in the affluent societies, too greedy. I mean, honestly, who needs four houses with huge grounds? And why do we need yet another shopping mall? And so on and so on. So we are looking at short-term economic benefit, money has become a sort of god to worship, as we lose all spiritual connection with the natural world. And so we're looking for short-term monetary gain, or power, rather than the health of the planet and the future of our children. We don't seem to care about that anymore. That's why I'll never stop fighting.
CA: I mean, in your work specifically on chimpanzee conservation, you've made it practice to put people at the center of that, local people, to engage them. How has that worked and do you think that's an essential idea if we're to succeed in protecting the planet?
JG: You know, after that famous conference, I thought, well, I must learn more about why chimps are vanishing in Africa and what's happening to the forest. So I got a bit of money together and went out to visit six range countries. And learned a lot about the problems faced by chimps, you know, hunting for bushmeat and the live animal trade and caught in snares and human populations growing and needing more land for their crops and their cattle and their villages. But I was also learning about the plight faced by so many people. The absolute poverty, the lack of health and education, the degradation of the land. And it came to a head when I flew over the tiny Gombe National Park. It had been part of this equatorial forest belt right across Africa to the west coast, and in 1990, it was just this little island of forest, just tiny national park. All around, the hills were bare. And that's when it hit me. If we don't do something to help the people find ways of living without destroying their environment, we can't even try to save the chimps. So the Jane Goodall Institute began this program "Take Care," we call it "TACARE." And it's our method of community-based conservation, totally holistic. And we've now put the tools of conservation into the hand of the villagers, because most Tanzanian wild chimps are not in protected areas, they're just in the village forest reserves. And so, they now go and measure the health of their forest. They've understood now that protecting the forest isn't just for wildlife, it's their own future. That they need the forest. And they're very proud. The volunteers go to workshops, they learn how to use smartphones, they learn how to upload into platform and the cloud. And so it's all transparent. And the trees have come back, there's no bare hills anymore. They agreed to make a buffer zone around Gombe, so the chimps have more forest than they did in 1990. They're opening up corridors of forest to link the scattered chimp groups so that you don't get too much inbreeding. So yes, it's worked, and it's in six other countries now. Same thing.
CA: I mean, you've been this extraordinary tireless voice, all around the world, just traveling so much, speaking everywhere, inspiring people everywhere. How on earth do you find the energy, you know, the fire to do that, because that is exhausting to do, every meeting with lots of people, it is just physically exhausting, and yet, here you are, still doing it. How are you doing this, Jane?
JG: Well, I suppose, you know, I'm obstinate, I don't like giving up, but I'm not going to let these CEOs of big companies who are destroying the forests, or the politicians who are unraveling all the protections that were put in place by previous presidents, and you know who I'm talking about. And you know, I'll go on fighting, I care about, I'm passionate about the wildlife. I'm passionate about the natural world. I love forests, it hurts me to see them damaged. And I care passionately about children. And we're stealing their future. And I'm not going to give up. So I guess I'm blessed with good genes, that's a gift, and the other gift, which I discovered I had, was communication, whether it's writing or speaking. And so, you know, if going around like this wasn't working, but every time I do a lecture, people come up and say, "Well, I had given up, but you've inspired me, I promise to do my bit." And we have our youth program "Roots and Shoots" now in 65 countries and growing fast, all ages, all choosing projects to help people, animals, the environment, rolling up their sleeves and taking action. And you know, they look at you with shining eyes, wanting to tell Dr. Jane what they've been doing to make the world a better place. How can I let them down?
CA: I mean, as you look at the planet's future, what worries you most, actually, what scares you most about where we're at?
JG: Well, the fact that we have a small window of time, I believe, when we can at least start healing some of the harm and slowing down climate change. But it is closing, and we've seen what happens with the lockdown around the world because of COVID-19: clear skies over cities, some people breathing clean air that they've never breathed before and looking up at the shining skies at night, which they've never seen properly before. And you know, so what worries me most is how to get enough people, people understand, but they're not taking action, how to get enough people to take action?
CA: National Geographic just launched this extraordinary film about you, highlighting your work over six decades. It's titled "Jane Goodall: The Hope." So what is the hope, Jane?
JG: Well, the hope, my greatest hope is all these young people. I mean, in China, people will come up and say, "Well, of course I care about the environment, I was in 'Roots and Shoots' in primary school." And you know, we have "Roots and Shoots" just hanging on to the values and they're so enthusiastic once they know the problems and they're empowered to take action, they are clearing the streams, removing invasive species humanely. And they have so many ideas. And then there's, you know, this extraordinary intellect of ours. We're beginning to use it to come up with technology that really will help us to live in greater harmony, and in our individual lives, let's think about the consequences of what we do each day. What do we buy, where did it come from, how was it made? Did it harm the environment, was it cruel to animals? Is it cheap because of child slave labor? Make ethical choices. Which you can't do if you're living in poverty, by the way. And then finally, this indomitable spirit of people who tackle what seems impossible and won't give up. You can't give up when you have those ... But you know, there are things that I can't fight. I can't fight corruption. I can't fight military regimes and dictators. So I can only do what I can do, and if we all do the bits that we can do, surely that makes a whole that eventually will win out.
CA: So, last question, Jane. If there was one idea, one thought, one seed you could plant in the minds of everyone watching this, what would that be?
JG: You know, just remember that every day you live, you make an impact on the planet. You can't help making an impact. And at least, unless you're living in extreme poverty, you have a choice as to what sort of impact you make. Even in poverty you have a choice, but when we are more affluent, we have a greater choice. And if we all make ethical choices, then we start moving towards a world that will be not quite so desperate to leave to our great-grandchildren. That's, I think, something for everybody. Because a lot of people understand what's happening, but they feel helpless and hopeless, and what can they do, so they do nothing and they become apathetic. And that is a huge danger, apathy.
CA: Dr. Jane Goodall, wow. I really want to thank you for your extraordinary life, for all that you've done and for spending this time with us now.
JG: Thank you.