Dr. Jane Goodall & The Hill “Conservation and National Security” Interview


Steve Clemons: My final guest for the afternoon ventured to Gombe, Tanzania at the age of 26, and began her now famous study of chimpanzees in the wild. In addition to being the founder of her non-profit, the Jane Goodall Institute, she’s a U.N. Messenger of Peace, and a dame commander of the British empire. Big welcome to Dr. Jane Goodall.

Dr. Goodall, we’re sitting here, and I should say you’ve been tireless on saying this message for as long as I’ve heard you, which is most of my life. I heard you last, personally, at the World Economic Forum in Davos when you were speaking to these issues, and I guess my question to you is; what are your best bits of advice to the non-profits, the governments, to the policy makers, to the people listening to this today, on how to make better connection between the global environment and our natural environment and national security.

Jane Goodall: Well, I think the most important thing we have to realize is that we are part of the natural world not separated from it, and it’s our disrespect of the environment, our disrespect of animals, that led to the pandemic that is causing so much economic chaos around the world today. And, it’s our disrespect to the environment that has led to climate change. I mean, it doesn’t make sense does it to think that we can have unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources, and on a planet where human population and their livestock is growing. So, right now there are approximately 7.8 billion of us, and I cannot remember the number of our livestock on the planet. And, already we’re using up some of nature’s natural resources faster than nature can replenish them. In 2050 it’s estimated there will be closer to 10 billion of us, so if we carry on with business as usual, if we carry on exploiting the natural world in the way that we have been and still are doing, then that will lead to the extermination of all life on earth, including ours. At least life as we know it. Some life will of course survive and recolonize. But as we are truly using up natures resources in this ridiculous, I would almost say stupid way, and what makes it so absurd is that the biggest difference between us and our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee, who share 98.6% of our DNA with us. The biggest difference is our intellect, so here we are the most intellectual species to ever walk the planet, destroying our only home.

And, it’s ridiculous. So, that’s our first message; we must learn to create a new relationship with the natural world, more respectful.

SC: So, with all respect I have to say you have a couple of decades on me, and you’ve seen a lot. When you went into the jungles, when you connected with chimpanzees, you also connected with a lot of living things. The biodiversity you saw was more than say I would if I ever were to go out there today. And, I want people to hear about what you’ve seen get lost. You’ve lived longer than I have, but what have you seen get lost. What alarm bells are going off for you right now?

JG: Well, I won’t give a whole list of what I’ve seen lost because it would be too depressing, but you know, I’ve been locked down here in the UK. I’m speaking from the house I grew up as a child, and when I was a young child I would wake up very early in the spring and open the window and hear the dawn chorus of the birds, so many birds. This beautiful dawn chorus. Now, 3 or 4 birds. We’ve lost most of our birds. That’s because most of the insects have gone. Many of the insects are gone because of the pesticides and herbicides that people use because they want their gardens to look nice and neat, backyards you call them.

And, so when I first got to Africa, you couldn’t drive along roads almost anywhere, and there would be animals. You’d see wild animals. And on the Serengeti, I had an opportunity to go there before going to Gombe, and I was allowed to walk out with one other young girl in the evenings. We met lions, we met rhinos. They were there, they were everywhere. And, when I got to Gombe, this little tiny national park in Tanzania, it was part of the great equatorial forest belt that stretched all the way right across to the West African Coast. And by 1990, looking down from a small plane, Gombe was a tiny little island of forest surrounded by bare hills. More people living there than the land could support. Too poor to buy food from elsewhere. Gone were the buffalos, gone were the leopards, and many other animals, as well.

And, you know, traveling around the world as I did before the pandemic, I’ve stood in Greenland and seen the melting. I’ve met people who have had to leave their island homes because of the rising sea levels that make them uninhabitable. I’ve seen the results of the terrible, more frequent hurricanes and typhoons. I’ve

seen the horrible after effects of the floods and the draughts, and of course, the terrible wildfires. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

SC: You’ve been on a mission for a long-time regarding chimpanzees, their natural habitats, preserving it. So, one of the questions we’ve been discussing here today is whether or not as we think about investment and policy, and I hate to put it crassly, but the dollar side of things. Whether or not we need to create dollar values for these things so they’re not just whims or something we’re attracted to, or want to think about on a good day, but that they have weight in a world that’s become very commercialized. I know it’s a crass level, but I want to get to what works. What have you found that works when it comes to the economic side of preservation?

JG: Okay, well you know, that’s a very good question, it’s not crass at all. And, the communities I’ve been working with, not just in Tanzania, Jane Goodall Institute is now in 6 African countries around chimpanzee habitat. And, we are surrounded by people living in extremely dire situations, crippling poverty, lack of good health and education facilities, degradation of the land as communities grow and their livestock grow. And, it struck me when I flew over this tiny little island of forest surrounded by these bare hills in 1990, that if we don’t help these people find ways of making a living without destroying the environment, we can’t save chimpanzee forests or anything else, because if you’re really poor you’re going to destroy the last tree, fish the last fish, to either make money, make food, because you have no alternative. If you’re in an urban area and you’re really poor, you’ve got to buy the cheapest junk food. You can’t afford to say, ‘did this harm the environment when it was made?’

And then, coming back to Africa; ecotourism has been in some ways a boon, because it brings in foreign exchange which makes the central government happy. It provides lots of jobs for the hospitality industry and also it sort of helps the local people appreciate their wildlife, and we do need to put a value on it. Crass though it may seem, I don’t want to but then I’m not in that situation of poverty, so the sad thing about the pandemic is there has been less money to pay the rangers, and a lot of the villages have lost their jobs and the hospitality industry, so poaching has gone up. There are always problems to overcome, but yes we do, for these poor

people, yes we do need to put a monetary value or help them find a way of living without destroying the environment.

SC: Dr. Goodall, I’m going to ask you an unfair question, that’s part of my job. The unfair question I want to ask is that we have a new president and vice president coming in to the united states and I want Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to watch this segment and I want to ask a tough question, because this is not a kumbuya situation. This is one where we hope people will hear about the connection between natural security and national security and take action. What would be a couple of things that the Biden/Harris administration could do, if you woke up and said that is the right way forward, or what could they do and say that is the absolute wrong way forward. I know you don’t mince words and are an equal critic. So, what would be the right steps for this administration and what would be the wrong ones?

JG: Well, the right steps are to follow through with the commitment Joe Biden has made to rejoin, or I’m not sure if America even left, but to enforce America’s position in the Paris Agreement. And, to make climate change a really important part of the role that his administration plays, and that means protecting the natural world. It’s going to be very tough because president trump rolled back so many of the environmental protections that have been in place in America, some of them since Roosevelt, so he’s got a tough job, but what he’s saying that climate change is going to be a priority is good. Climate change as it hits different parts of the united states it is causing an enormous and enormous amount of hardship for people but in addition to that it’s going to cost the administration huge amounts of money as the hurricanes get more frequent and worse and the flooding and the wildfires. I mean, we’ve seen it happening, and it’s not going to get better until some of these restrictions on protecting the environment are put back where they were before.

SC: Well, Dr. Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, you’ve been a tireless advocate on these issues for years. And I’ll say, I was in Davos and actually travelling with then, Vice President Joe Biden, when you were speaking at Davos. And, it’s a spoiled crowd that goes to Davos. These are people in their own

mind that are masters of the universe. Very wealthy, ya know, private planes. And, I saw them walk out of your talk for the first time in their lives probably introspective. Thinking we need to see things differently. I thought it would be impossible, so I know you have an impact, and I just want to thank you for all of the things you’ve done on this topic.

JG: Well, that’s extremely nice of you to say that, and thank you very much, and I think the reason people listen is because they know I mean it, and I really try to walk the talk. And, as a last word I should say, education is tremendously important and I hope the Biden administration will push for environmental education in all the schools because that is absolutely key to our future.

Learn more about JGI’s conservation work and support at janegoodall.org/donate


The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.

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About Author

Jane Goodall is a passionate road warrior, traveling nearly 300 days each year on a worldwide speaking tour to raise awareness, inspire change, and encourage each of us to do our part in making the world a better place. Jane's love for animals started at a young age and in July of 1960, at the age of 26, she followed her dreams and traveled from England to what is now Tanzania, to bravely enter the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars, but with her unyielding patience and optimism, she won the trust of the Gombe chimpanzees, and opened a window into their lives for all to see. Jane's studies has taught humanity one of the most important lessons - that we humans are not the only beings on this planet with personalities, minds capable of thinking and above all, emotions. Her findings shook the scientific community and made us re-evaluate what it means to be human.