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As Jane Goodall grieves climate change, she finds hope in young people's advocacy

Dr. Jane Goodall in 2019. She has co-authored a new book, <em>The Book Of Hope</em>.
Dr. Jane Goodall in 2019. She has co-authored a new book, <em>The Book Of Hope</em>.

Jane Goodall spent decades studying alpha chimpanzees and was once followed home by a young lion. Now, at 87, she's sizing up a very different threat: Climate change.

The world-renowned naturalist says she experiences eco-grief — a term for climate change-induced distress. In her new book, The Book of Hope, co-authored with Douglas Abrams (with an assist by Gail Hudson), Goodall reflects on the planet and how future generations will fight to protect it.

From her childhood home in Bournemouth, England, Goodall joined Morning Edition's Rachel Martin to discuss the nature of hope. For Goodall, hope requires action and engagement.


Interview highlights

On where her hopefulness comes from, despite climate change and the urgent need to protect our planet

Well, let me back off a bit by saying that if we all lose hope, we're doomed. ... I've met so many people who don't have hope, who say they feel helpless and hopeless. And I say to them, "Well, that's because we're always being told think globally, act locally." But quite honestly, if you think globally you're just so depressed.

I mean, every day we're bombarded with bad news socially, politically, environmentally, but turn it the other way around, something that you feel, "I'd like to do something about this." And either you or, hopefully, you and some friends get together and start doing something and you find you make a difference. And then you realize that, well, in other parts of the world, people are feeling like you, are doing like you because they are being advised to take local action, and you've made a difference so you want to do more. And that's inspiring other people. So it's an upward spiral like this, of growing hope with action.

So for me, hope isn't just something where you sit back and say, "Oh, I hope everything will be OK." No, I don't look at the world through rose- colored spectacles. We've got to work to make what we hope for, happen.

"We have not just compromised the future of young people, we've been stealing it. ... But is there nothing they can do? Was that true? No, there's always something to do."

On being asked at an event a few years ago what her next great adventure will be, and replying: Dying

Well, when you die, this [is] either nothing, you know, which is fine: you're gone, right? Nothing. Your mind. Your consciousness. Everything gone. Or as I have come to believe, through various experiences that I've had in my life, there's something. I don't know what it is quite. But if that's true, can you think of a greater adventure than finding out what is beyond death?

On how her work guides many young peoples' advocacy, and how she talks to the next generation about climate change

It was because of that feeling that I met in so many young people: hopelessness. Helplessness. That's why I started the Roots and Shoots program for youth that's now in over 60 countries. And when they came up to me, they all said more or less the same, this is in four continents, that "we feel this way because you've compromised our future, older generations, and there's nothing we can do about it." Well, we have not just compromised the future of young people, we've been stealing it. We've been stealing it, stealing the natural resources that they will be relying on, many of which will now not be there. But is there nothing they can do? Was that true? No, there's always something to do.

So Roots and Shoots is based on the premise that a group will get together and they'll be interested in different things. And because in the rainforest, I learned how everything is interconnected. Talk to your friends, maybe a teacher, or get somebody in who's an expert. See if there's something you can do, then roll up your sleeves and do it.

Audio version of this story was edited by Reena Advani and produced by Jamila Huxtable.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.