Dr. Jane Goodall carries a stuffed animal monkey, named Mr. H, with her everywhere she goes. Why? “To make people smile,” she says, but also to remind people of hope.
On October 4, over 400 students, advocates, and fans piled into the Earth Sciences building at the University of Toronto to listen to Goodall’s “Reasons for Hope” lecture. The event was organized by The University Toronto Environmental Action group, whose efforts include advocating for “more effective government policy on climate change and other environmental issues,” and was co-sponsored by The Jane Goodall Institute and U of T’s School of the Environment.
Known for her groundbreaking research on chimpanzees’ construction and utilization of tools, Goodall shattered the notion that humans were the only species to use tools. These days, Goodall feels it is critical that she spread the message of the importance of conservation. At 79 years old, she currently travels 300 days a year to inspire and reignite hope in young people, and articulates that we are “suffering from climate injustice” due to the use and abuse of the planet over the past several decades.
Throughout her talk, Goodall went into detail about the case of the chimpanzees in the Gombe Forest in Tanzania. The success of her program the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) there illuminates how critical local involvement is to ensure effective conservation policy.
When Dr. Goodall began her research in the 1960s, there were between 1 and 2 million chimpanzees worldwide. Now there are estimated to be less than 300,000 left in the forests of Africa. However, this number may have been drastically reduced if it wasn’t for the efforts of the JGI.
One of the biggest threats to the Gombe chimps was deforestation caused by the region’s impoverished population, who survived off of bushmeat and timber sales. Goodall described how mountains that were once lush in greenery became barren and exposed. One of the biggest challenges in the Gombe region was the expanding population, which was directly impacting the environment.
The JGI began to ask local populations what they required in order to live a better life. The answers from all interviewees focussed on more food and improved medicine and education. It was clear to the JGI that the first issue that needed to be addressed was population control. Birth control methods were discussed and taught, mitigating the unsustainable numbers of habitants in the forest. Goodall proudly announced that these days, “Men come to [the JGI] now asking for vasectomies.”
As the population growth of the Gombe region was curbed, women had greater chances of receiving education. The JGI distributed micro-loans to women in order for them to start their own businesses as an incentive to stay in school and work on their careers. Medicine was offered and more sustainable farming methods were introduced. As a result of these efforts, the chimpanzees in the Gombe now have three times more forest area than they did 10 years ago, and the people of the area have achieved a better standard of living.
Recent policy changes, such as the Species at Risk Act amendment in Bill C-38 that exempts the National Energy Board from having to protect essential habitat for any projects it approves, demonstrate the federal government’s failure to prioritize the environment. These developments also reveal how important non-state actors are in ensuring the protection of the natural world. Without the work of non-profit organizations such as the JGI, environmental issues would be brushed aside from the political agenda.
One of the principle messages of Goodall’s presentation was how important personal choices are for environmental protection and action. While our governments haven’t been able to properly address climate change and other environmental threats, she argues that it is essential for youth to get involved and be active in the movement. Goodall concluded that it is through small collective efforts that political and social changes can occur, reiterating how important it is to keep hope alive.
After her talk, Goodall showed a touching movie clip of the release of a chimpanzee onto the JGI’s Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda. The clip showed the chimpanzee hugging Goodall goodbye, before it went off into the forest. She explained after the film that that was the first time she and the chimp had ever met, making this long hug a highly unusual behavioural response. The caregivers of the animal told her that “[The chimp] knew that you were the one responsible for all of this,” and that she was thanking Goodall for her work.
Denna Berg is a Master of Public Policy Candidate for 2015 at the University of Toronto and a passionate environmentalist. With a degree in Environmental Policy and Procedures, she hopes to become an active advocate for the environmental movement in Canada. Her current projects include: consulting for Sierra Youth Coalition’s Campus Food Systems Project; working as a freelance writer on environmental issues; and actively partaking in the University of Toronto Environmental Action Group.