For more than 50 years, Dr. Jane Goodall has challenged people to think about and care for the environment they share with all living things on the planet.
She broke ground for science and women in the 1960s with her study of chimpanzees in Tanzania and has continued her conservation and animal welfare work with the Jane Goodall Institute. Her Roots & Shoots program, geared to young people, is working to create the next generation of conservationists.
Goodall is in New York City this week to kick off her first-ever MasterClass program. The online education program consists of 29 lessons as well as workbooks and other content for subscribers. It’s a platform that has been used by actor Dustin Hoffman, writer James Patterson, television producer and writer Shonda Rhimes and others.
amNewYork chatted with the 83-year-old renowned primatologist at her New York City home, the Roger Smith Hotel, about what people will learn from the MasterClass, her biggest environmental concerns and how fostering young conservationists is the key to saving the planet.
Why did you decided to create a MasterClass on conservation? What will people learn?
It certainly does get the message out about conservation and people are very excited about it. I can’t go to every country — although I’m 300 days a year on the road. It also gives me a chance to talk about things I have thought about but not talked about before, like how to make a good lecture.
What I hope people take away is that every single one of us matters. We each have some role to play, even if we haven’t discovered what it is. We each make some difference every single day — the little choices we eat, buy, wear and so on.
What are your top concerns for the environment?
There are three underlying causes of everything. Alleviating poverty is a very important goal. If you are really poor in an area, you have to cut down the last trees to grow food. If you are very poor in an urban area, you have to buy the cheapest food. You can’t ask if it harmed the environment or if it caused animal suffering.
On the other side is the unsustainable lifestyle of everybody else. We have more than we need. This continual buying and throwing away is causing untold harm to the natural world.
The growing human population … already we have used up some finite natural resources more quickly than nature can replenish them.
Climate change is probably the biggest single actual environmental threat facing us today.
I think Mother Nature is kind of hitting back. Weather patterns are changing everywhere
What can New Yorkers do to make a difference?
Think about the consequences of the small choices you make each day. What did you buy? Where was it made? Did it harm the environment? It means you have to learn a bit.
Think about not using plastic. Reuse and recycle.
Turn out the lights. You may not think it makes such a big difference if it’s just you, but if it’s a billion people around the world, it will make a huge difference.
How important is it to teach children about conservation?
They pick it up much more quickly than older people. They know they make a difference. They are much more full of optimism. They haven’t really learned all the downsides, so it’s a good time to get them. And we don’t tell them what to do in our Roots & Shoots program. They have great ideas.
My big vision is getting this critical mass of young people all around the world. We need a new way of thinking, a new way of interacting with nature and each other.
Don’t think you can do everything, I always tell the students. Pour your energy into what you care about and do it well and you will make a difference. … It takes a long time to get ideas to bear fruit. The main idea is not to give up. I have never given up.