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Jane Goodall remains a road warrior for the planet

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/9/2015 (1630 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When world-famous primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall landed in Winnipeg on Thursday, she opened up her laptop and learned a devastating piece of news. National Geographic — her beloved National Geographic — had been sold to Rupert Murdoch, noted climate change denier.

So, naturally, it comes up in our interview in advance of her lecture as part of the Axworthy Lecturer Series on Social Justice and the Public Good at the Duckworth Centre at the University of Winnipeg on Friday, Sept. 11. The lecture is free and open to the public; doors open at 6 p.m., but the lineup begins at 5.

"I thought it was a joke," she tells me. "I truly thought it was a joke. This can’t be true. National Geographic, the National Geographic, being owned almost entirely by Fox News, which is filled with climate deniers and almost flat-world science. I’ve had this long, long relationship with National Geographic. It was the magazine and documentaries that brought the chimpanzees out into the living rooms of the world."

Goodall’s work with chimpanzees earned her many designations: expert, groundbreaker, glass ceiling smasher, icon. But for the past three decades, she’s also been a tireless activist. She remembers the moment she decided to leave "her perfect paradise of a life" out in the field. She was at a conference in Chicago, and was horrified by what her fellow humans were doing to the planet.

Jane Goodall at a downtown Winnipeg hotel. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jane Goodall at a downtown Winnipeg hotel. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"Since that day in October ’86, I haven’t been more than three weeks in one place," she says. Indeed, Goodall, 81, hasn’t slowed down, logging 300-odd days on the road every year lecturing about her life’s work and why we need to stop killing our planet.

In our nearly half-hour interview, we chatted about everything from climate change to Cecil the lion. What follows are excerpts from our conversation — which concluded, of course, with her demonstrating a traditional ape greeting.

Goodall on where animals fit into social justice in our human-centric world:

"We have to look back in history to see how things have changed. When I was told I had to go to Cambridge and get a PhD, I hadn’t been to college — I’d been nearly two years with the chimps. When I got there, to be told that I shouldn’t have given the chimpanzees names, they should have been given numbers, and I couldn’t talk about them having personalities, problem solving abilities — absolutely not emotions. Because those were unique to us. Since that time, I really think chimpanzees have opened the door for people to think about animals in different ways. Today you can actually study animal personality and emotion. You couldn’t have studied them in my day because they didn’t exist. And then studies came in from the field about animals with complex social lives, like elephants and lions and so, gradually, people began to talk and instead of everyone laughing when there were those fighting for animal rights, people felt, ‘Well, yes, why, maybe animals should have rights.’"

On climate change deniers:

"Some people, quite honestly, it’s almost not worth your breath talking to them because they’ve already decided what they’re going to believe. If there’s any way of getting them to listen, it’ll be through telling stories I think, and trying to get into the heart. There’s no point trying to argue with their minds — their minds are shut off to any thought this might be true. And they don’t want it to be true. Because, God forbid, if this is true, they might have to change the way they live."

On the lack of urgency of governments on climate change:

"I meet it here, I meet it in Australia, I meet it in the U.K. And it’s all about money. That’s all it is. ‘I need a lot of money for my election campaign, and I’m getting it from the oil and gas industry, and I’m not going to risk upsetting the goose that lays the golden egg."

Jane Goodall (John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

Jane Goodall (John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press)

On the killing of Cecil the Lion:

"He, in a way, has become an ambassador for the other lions. It’s stupid that we just vilify this one man, this one dentist. There are hundreds of other trophy hunters out there. They choose the lions with the biggest mane, they choose the elephants with the biggest tusks, the rhinos with the biggest horn — and these are very individuals who, throughout evolution, come to be the dominant ones. When they are all singled out and removed, you’re possibly weakening — and certainly changing — the future genetics of a species."

On helplessness in the face of global issues:

"The reason that so many people don’t do anything is that they feel helpless and hopeless. You keep hearing, ‘think globally, act locally,’ but really, if you start thinking globally you start feeling helpless because there’s so much wrong. That’s why I work very hard for our youth program with its message, ‘every individual makes a difference every day, every individual has a role to play.’ So, the message of Roots and Shoots is the other way around: sit with your friends and discuss, what are the local issues I can actually do something about? And what am I passionate about? You can’t be passionate about everything. But maybe I’m passionate about recycling. Or maybe I’m passionate about the homeless. Or maybe I’m passionate about no-kill shelters for dogs and cats. Work out what you can do, roll up your sleeves, get out there, and do it."

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information


Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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Updated on Friday, September 11, 2015 at 8:32 AM CDT: Corrects typo, adds link, adds location at U of W

12:23 PM: Adds video

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