One of the world’s leading voices on the issue of climate change and protecting the environment at COP21 is Jane Goodall, a renowned primatologist, best known for her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees and baboons. In this web exclusive interview, she explains that she came to Paris for this year’s U.N. climate summit “to save the rainforests” from corruption and intensive farming. She also explains how climate concerns drove her to be a vegetarian. Ultimately, she remains optimistic, saying, “Nature is resilient.”
JANE GOODALL: My name’s Jane Goodall. Enough people have told me so this morning. I came from the U.K., but that was almost directly from Latin America. Before that was North America. Anyway, round and round and round. And I’m here really to talk about the importance of saving the rainforest as a way of mitigating climate change, because I know more about that than many of the other issues, although I talk about all of them.
AMY GOODMAN: Why is it important to save the rainforest?
JANE GOODALL: Because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And as we cut them down and burn them, that CO2 is released back from the trees, the leaves and also from the forest soils. And about 50 percent of our tropical rainforests have already gone. They’re going at a tremendously fast rate. And even when they are protected in many countries, because of corruption, the power of the corporations, the worship of money and profit, the protection isn’t always saving the forest.
AMY GOODMAN: You have recently been in the United States. You know there’s a presidential election going on there.
JANE GOODALL: Heinous.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about, especially in the Republican Party, the presidential candidates’, like the leading candidate Donald Trump’s, denial that climate change is caused by human beings overwhelmingly?
JANE GOODALL: Well, I listened to Donald Trump saying, you know, that he doesn’t believe that we’ve caused or are causing climate change, and some of the other right-wing leaders, and I just ask myself, do they really believe what they’re saying? Because it seems so very obvious. If you read the facts, I don’t see how you can come to any other conclusion but that it’s our misuse of fossil fuels, the emissions—from agriculture, from industry, from households—the vast impact that’s being made by this intensive farming of animals. And in order to feed the billions and billions of cows and pigs and chickens, even if you don’t care about the cruelty, even if you refuse to admit that these are individuals with feelings, who feel pain and have emotions, even if you don’t admit that, you have to admit huge areas of forest are cut down to grow grain to feed them. Intensive cattle grazing is turning forests to woodland, to scrubland. And food in one end, gas out both ends, that’s methane. And that’s an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It’s about 36 percent of all methane emissions come from this intensive farming.
AMY GOODMAN: Of cows.
JANE GOODALL: Of, well, cows, pigs, the whole thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how diet fuels climate change and why you’re a vegetarian?
JANE GOODALL: I’m a vegetarian because—partly because, you know, I respect animals. I know they’re all individuals. And I wouldn’t eat a cow any more than I would eat my dog. That’s the truth. And pigs are more intelligent than many dogs. But, you know, in addition, when you know the impact on the environment of this intensive, intensifying eating of meat, it’s also true that being a vegetarian is more healthy. And so, everything combined, I would be a vegan if I was in one place. But you have to be a bit careful if you’re a vegan to get, you know, the right sort of nutrients and so forth. And as I’m 300 days a year on the road, I just—vegetarian is sometimes hard, but I do stick to that.
AMY GOODMAN: What have you learned as a leading primatologist, expert in chimpanzees and baboons, that most of us don’t know?
JANE GOODALL: I think it really started a long time ago. When I went to study chimpanzees in 1960, I hadn’t even been to college. And when I went to Cambridge two years later, because my—
AMY GOODMAN: Where did you go to study them?
JANE GOODALL: Cambridge—oh, I went to Gombe National Park in Tanzania. It was Tanganyika back then, all that time ago in 1960. And after I’d been there for about two years, my mentor, the late Louis Leakey, told me I had to get a degree. He got me a place in Cambridge straight into a Ph.D., because he said there was no time for a B.A.
And imagine my shock when these erudite professors, of whom I was a little nervous, told me I had done everything wrong; that I should have given the chimpanzees numbers, not names; that I couldn’t talk about them having personalities, minds capable of problem solving and certainly not emotions. Why? Because those were unique to us. And, in fact, back then, it was generally thought that there was a sharp line between us and the rest of the animals, and it was a difference of kind. And it’s so clearly a difference of degree, you know, with the same building blocks of life that we can trace through evolution coming up from very primitive sort of creatures and ending up in our bodies, too.
So, basically, the chimpanzees opened the door for a new way of thinking about animals, to admit that we are not the only beings with personality, mind and emotions, and that it makes us ask the question: But we are different, so what’s the biggest difference? Development of the intellect. How is it possible that the most intellectual creature that’s ever walked the planet is destroying its only home?
AMY GOODMAN: As you spend time at the U.N. climate change summit 2015, the one that has been considered the most important after Kyoto, because it’s supposed to be a binding agreement—though in the United States President Obama says it can’t be called a binding treaty, because then he’d have to put it through Congress—what have you been most struck by?
JANE GOODALL: I think—you know, I’ve been to four other COPs, and I think the thing that’s different is that there is more of a sense of urgency, and there are far more people accepting the fact that climate change is for real. I mean, if you just look around the world on almost any day, then you see what’s happening. You know, England—half of England is flooded. People are dying in the DRC from floods. Go down to Namibia, and it’s getting drier and drier and drier. And we get these terrible storms. I mean, even in the U.K. last week, a plane was diverted because the wind was so strong, it couldn’t land. And, yes, these things have always happened, but they’re happening faster and faster. The permafrost under the Tibetan Plateau is melting way faster than science predicted. And if that releases all the methane into the atmosphere, it’s going to just pfff up climate change. And it’s happening. And it’s happening in Alaska, and it’s happening in Greenland.
AMY GOODMAN: We were talking to climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre, and he was criticizing climate scientists, saying they’re censoring themselves, that no matter what is said, it’s actually much worse.
JANE GOODALL: They don’t dare. They’re not brave enough. It’s always—they want to sort of be very cautious and say “if this” and “if that” and “perhaps” and “maybe.” But it’s just the ordinary person who cares, especially if you travel like I do. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived long enough to see the change and to see how in the last 15 years or so it’s just accelerated in the most terrifying way.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the globe, the fate of the planet. How can one person make a difference?
JANE GOODALL: Well, the thing is, it’s not about one person, can they make a difference. Everybody every day does make a difference. And if we think about the consequences of the choices we make—what we buy, what we eat, what we wear—and we start making the right ethical choices, then when that’s multiplied a thousand, a million, a billion, several billion times, we see the world moving towards change. So the most important thing is to give people hope. I have seen areas that have been destroyed that have come back to be beautiful again and support life. Nature is resilient. Animal species on the brink of extinction can be given another chance.
AMY GOODMAN: Like where?
JANE GOODALL: Animal—well, I’m thinking of different—I wrote a whole book called Hope for Animals and Their World, and I picked species that were—you know, the prime example in New Zealand was just two birds, one male and one female, and a scientist who said, “I’m not giving up.” And he—and these were in the wild. And there’s now 500 of them on four different islands.
AMY GOODMAN: Thanks so much, Jane Goodall.
JANE GOODALL: Thank you.