As a child in London, Jane Goodall carried a torch for Tarzan and dreamed of becoming a female Dr. Doolittle, so it’s fitting that another children’s adventure story – Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go! – will provide the theme for this year’s Rose Parade, starring Dr. Goodall as Grand Marshal.
The world’s most famous and beloved primatologist, Goodall, now 78, entered Gombe National Park in Tanzania in 1960 and dedicated her life to the study of chimpanzees. After spending the better part of three decades there, a conference awakened her to the fact that beyond her “spiritual home,” chimpanzees and so many other creatures were at risk. The scientist then became an activist, traveling an average of 300 days a year to bring her messages of sustainability, accountability, and respect for all living things to every corner of the globe. A devout vegetarian and pacifist, she was appointed a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002. Today the Jane Goodall Institute has 19 offices around the world, and its global youth program Roots & Shoots is active in over 120 countries.
Goodall’s tireless travels have brought her to Pasadena a number of times, where she addressed a crowd of over 1,000 at the Huntington and lectured at Caltech 11 years a row. The author of two dozen books for adults and children, Goodall was the subject of the 2010 feature documentary Jane’s Journey. In between her many commitments Dr. Goodall was kind enough to answer a few questions about her life and the work that continues to inspire her. She told us that she is looking forward to enjoying the Rose Parade with her family, and is pleased to see the Tournament of Roses continuing its efforts toward sustainability, which include increased recycling facilities and the use of alternative power sources.
To learn more visit janegoodall.org
The Tournament of Roses chose the theme “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” with you in mind. Is there anything – or anyone – you credit your adventurous spirit to?
My great grandfather (or maybe great great) went off one day on a boat sailing for Australia – just like that. His wife had no idea he had gone. She found out what had happened when one of his friends told her the next day! He went all over the place and was away for a year. All my childhood was spent reading books about faraway jungles and other wild places. Maybe it was in my blood!
Are you a fan of Dr. Seuss? It seems as though some of his philosophies – like his warnings about the environment in The Lorax and the messages of sharing and community in The Grinch – are very in keeping with your own.
I used to read Dr. Seuss books to my son when he was young. Indeed, Dr. Seuss and I have lots in common and I am only sad I never met him.
Roots & Shoots is what you’re devoting most of your energy to these days and it’s growing all the time. Can you please tell us about a couple current projects?
There are so many. For example, a group in Germany organized a river clean-up then developed a competition for the best art created from the trash they removed – like lovely ‘flowers’ made of plastic bags.
St. Croix Valley Roots & Shoots in Minnesota built a frog pond to help alleviate some habitat loss that resulted from local development. The group members raised $400 for the pond, and even went before the city council to get approval! The group started the project on 2012 Save the Frogs Day, successfully built the pond, and filled it with water plants and frogs. Through this project, group members learned about soil types, water plants and governmental processes.
And the Roots & Shoots group at The Community Children’s Museum in New Jersey researched and prepared activities for a public program to show families the benefits of using rechargeable batteries. Home Depot of Rockaway, N.J., supported the children by making presentations and giving families that attended a free set of rechargeable batteries with a wall charger. The children ran educational games, activities, and presented a play that they wrote themselves about the effects of one-time-use batteries in landfills.
Earth Friends Roots & Shoots of Murphy, Tex., invited their entire co-op to help them decorate and fill 88 paper bags for homeless families. The group covered the bags with uplifting words and images, and filled them with toiletries, socks, water, antibacterial hand wipes, granola bars, and countless other items. This project really caused the group to think about what it would be like to be homeless and inspired the members to help those in need.
In the documentary Jane’s Journey you noted that some of the worst poverty you were encountering was in “first world” countries including America. Why do you think this is happening and what can be done?
The Native Americans have been given a terrible time from the start. Their culture was destroyed, they were pushed onto marginal land, and basically they lost hope. In the inner cities, it is much the same: discrimination, poor education, no good infrastructure, and again a loss of pride and hope. We believe that Roots & Shoots, started in these forgotten places, can restore pride and create new hope. Youth become empowered and young people can make a difference.
You’ve said that young people and the resilience of nature give you hope, can you offer a few recent examples that have given you a feeling of optimism for the future?
I have recently been to Roots & Shoots festivals in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. The number of projects helping people, animals and environment were so many, and so impressive. One group restored a wetland on their school’s grounds and have learned to measure water pollution – it has gotten much much better since I was there two years ago. Another of the groups is raising money for a no-kill dog shelter. And university Roots & Shoots groups are bringing hope – and better lives – to migrants who are moving in from rural areas by starting Roots & Shoots groups in their schools.
The government in Hong Kong has banned shark fin soup from all government functions, and R&S members have gotten many restaurants to sign pledges that they will not serve it again.
And I find hope in the fact that some big corporations are truly making a difference in the communities where they operate and are working very hard to minimize their environmental damage.
Also in Jane’s Journey, you state very powerfully that we have stolen the earth from our children. How can the average person help to start giving it back?
We must think, every day, about the consequences of the choices that we make: what we buy, where it came from, did it travel from far away, and is there an alternative that is local; were agricultural chemicals used on the food we eat, causing harm to the environment; was cruelty to animals involved in the production of meat, or child slave labor in the production of the garments we buy; are there ways we can save on electricity and water; can we walk or bike or take public transport. And there are so many other ways we can make a difference if we bother to ask the right questions and seek for the answers.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from chimpanzees?
Because they are more like us than any other animals, we can then ask what is it that makes us uniquely human? The answer, I think, is the explosive development of the human intellect. So how come we are destroying our only home, Planet Earth? Because, I believe, we have lost wisdom. Instead of asking how the decisions we make today will affect future generations, we ask only how it will affect us now … at the next shareholders’ meeting or during the next political campaign. There is, clearly, a disconnect between the clever brain and the human heart – the seat of love and compassion. Only when the two work in harmony shall we humans achieve our full potential.