Think different, save the earth — Jane Goodall convo!
Whiskey, Barbie & a chimp named David…
Hello, Ari here — below is a new piece I just wrote about nature, animals and wisdom from Jane Goodall!
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Think Different, Act Different
Dr. Jane Goodall changed primatology before she had any formal expertise in the field. The story is well known but truly wild whenever you consider it: A young woman goes to Tanzania to study chimpanzees by living with them. She does this in 1960, when women had no parity in the traditional workforce, let alone pushing the boundaries of science.
Goodall, then 26 years old, was the first person to try that tack. It took courage, both to challenge elders professionally, and the physical risk of the experiment. Part of her “edge” was that willingness to try a different type of observation and experiment. That alone is notable, even had it not led to actual breakthroughs. But it did.
Her early work helped establish chimpanzees created and used their own tools, a behavior that scientists previously thought only humans exhibited. Goodall’s new approach, and open mind, proved to be an asset for advancing knowledge. She went on to a long and varied career, which suggests she would have had impact even had she not started in such a dramatic, successful and highly publicized way.
They ran away
Goodall says the breakthroughs almost didn’t happen, because the chimps strenuously avoided her at first. “They'd never seen a bipedal white ape before - which is what we are - and for four months, they ran away from me,” she recalls. ”It was pretty depressing,” she says, noting that her budget only ran six months.”
If someone ran that same experiment for a month, or three, they’d conclude it was pointless. The takeaway might be, ‘humans can’t live with chimps, they just run away anyway.’
Then she gained a “friend”:
Finally, one day, I saw David Greybeard — the first chimpanzee — began to lose his fear of me. And he allowed me to come close enough that I could see him using grass stems to fish termites from their underground nests. So David was doing something that was thought to be unique to humans; he was using tools.
That’s when everything changed. The time and patience she’d invested with at least one chimp, whom she named David, was paying off.
Goodall told me about her work in a recent interview, and how crucial it was to build that trust. Part of the story is all about her — the patience, the vision, the passion and unorthodox approach. And part of it is about the natural world — how it worked in the 1960s, what is left of it today. The thrust of her work required operating in a habitat relatively undisturbed by humans. Those sorts of places are rapidly going away, a problem that drive’s Goodall’s recent work.
Finite Resources x Unlimited Development = Bananas
Goodall has a knack for expressing her ideas with clarity, passion and authenticity, even if she is spending decades giving tons of speeches and interviews about her work. Since I interview a fair number of people, sometimes it’s noticeable when they seem almost tired of their own points (which is understandable). Goodall brims with an urgency about these challenges. When we turned to capitalism’s taxing impact on nature, she was clear:
The state we're in now, the global environment, is simply due to the crazy idea that there can be unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources.
Unfettered capitalism may not run out of ideas, or schemes to make money, but it will certainly run out of resources on earth. Goodall backs a range of environmental solutions, including regulation and international treaties, plus consumers demanding “ethically-produced products.” She also stressed those solutions and tactics work best when there is a sound framework. Too many people look at animals and nature as some “other” plane we can sample, control or ignore, when in fact, we humans “are part of the natural world.” So we should act like it.
That point echoed for me long after we finished our conversation.
Do you agree?
Those are some of the key nature points from Goodall.
If you want even more, here are some other fun items, from whiskey to Barbie….
Don’t be a barbie — or be your own Barbie!
When my team and I began prepping for this interview, we found Goodall’s official Barbie, which encourages kids to aspire to science, (and is made from recycled materials, naturally). Many feminists are skeptical of the Barbie complex, and one approach is to reject the doll’s long, sexist history and ongoing body image shortcomings. That makes sense in many ways. Another approach is to change Barbie, especially if one thinks dolls, and Barbie dolls, will continue to impact millions of people.
Goodall obviously went with the engagement approach, and she told me about it:
“The original Barbies were all pretty pink frills and very, very feminine. And since I’ve grown up and lived all these 88 years on this planet, I've seen a gradual change in the way that women are accepted into the upper levels of politics and business.. [I believe in] a Barbie doll that encourages little girls to think that, ‘I can do that if I want to,’ or I can do something else that I want to.”
And here are a few other quick thoughts from Goodall:
Favorite Whiskey? (She finds it helps her voice)
“Not a very expensive peaty single malt, no. Johnnie Walker Black Label.”
What still gives you hope?
“Young people, the resilience of nature and the human brain.”
What makes you pessimistic?
“The fact that money still plays such a major role in societies around the world.”
Best advice you’ve gotten?
“Follow your dreams.”
Failure to you is?
“Failing to live up to your values.”
Success to you is?
“Achieving a goal that you have fought for.”
Reaching the summit means?
“That I haven't got there yet, I hope.”
Amen to that!
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My entire interview with Jane, with new parts we did not get to air on The Beat, is here.
Excellent interview. I'm glad she is still here to teach us and that you included her as a Maverick. I particularly liked her views on human warfare and chimpanzee aggression. Population growing, resources diminishing, not being good Stewards of the earth is a recipe for failure. No matter how much money the wealthy have, it won't save them in the end. Rachel Carson was another female to be admired.
I watched your interview with her. Her grace and passions are obvious. The scientific facts she brought to light are studied today. I’m glad David was fascinated with her.! She accepted the Barbie for the role model she’s become and looks forward to more girls to become interested in awe inspiring nature. Great Beat interview and subsequently your informative article.