How do we stay hopeful when everything seems hopeless? How do we cultivate hope in our children?
Jane Goodall shows us how to do both in her wonderful and inspiring The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times.
I’ve been captivated and motivated by Jane Goodall since I was a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. While I was babysitting and studying for SATs, she, 20 years older, was fording crocodile-laden rivers, trekking through African rainforests, and studying wild chimpanzees, the work that would become her hallmark. She made nature real for a girl whose air was polluted by automobile factories and whose lakes were contaminated by toxic chemicals. Goodall was just so brave! She made me want to be adventurous and fearless. She showed me that one person—one woman—could make a difference.
But going down that path has been, and still is, incredibly difficult, especially now that the climate crisis is wreaking havoc from the North Pole to the South. Fittingly, her book has been published right before the start of the United Nations’ 2021 global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. As world leaders from over 200 countries meet to hammer out agreements to try to prevent complete climate collapse, Goodall has sent up a warning flare. “Climate change is not something that might affect us in the future,” she declares. “It is affecting us now, with changing weather patterns around the globe: melting ice; rising sea levels; and catastrophically powerful hurricanes, tornadoes, and typhoons. There is worse flooding, longer droughts, and devastating fires that are breaking out around the globe. For the first time, fires have even been recorded in the Arctic Circle.”
No wonder “there are days we feel we are doomed to sit back and watch the world end,” she acknowledges. But “each time I become depressed,” Goodall says, “I think of all the amazing stories of the courage, steadfastness, and determination of those who are fighting the ‘forces of evil.’” Those stories fill her book, accounts of people who are protecting their environment despite the odds: planting trees in refugee camps and deserts, organizing petition drives to stop power plants and polluting oil and gas operations, saving birds like the rare black robin from extinction.
The Book of Hope, which was co-written with Douglas Abrams, the founder of the Global Icons Series, also brims with insights about mothers and children—and not just human ones. Goodall, who has a PhD and is a UN Messenger for Peace, writes about being cautious when studying animals in their natural habitat because “the most dangerous thing was to get between a mother and her child.” (Don’t we all know that!!)
“I learned from the chimps the importance of the first couple of years of life… After sixty years of research it is very clear that the young chimps who had supportive mothers have tended to be the most successful.”
Goodall notes that her own mother, “Mum,” provided essential support by agreeing to accompany her when she wanted to set up her first chimpanzee research station in Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika) and it was “unthinkable” that a single woman would go off into the jungle alone.
She compares the young children she used to speak to in person pre-pandemic to baby chimps that wriggle about while you’re trying to teach something, but who actually turn out to be listening and learning after all. She decries “intergenerational injustice because the children of the future, the people of the future, do not have a vote or say in our boardrooms.”
“What gives me hope is that everywhere I go, young people filled with energy want to show me what they’ve done and what they’re doing to make the world a better place. Once they understand the problems and when we empower them to take action, they almost always want to help. And their energy and enthusiasm and creativity are endless.” Roots & Shoots, the organization she set up to involve and educate youths at every level, is now stoking that enthusiasm in 68 countries.
Goodall believes educating and empowering kids is critical for another reason: “It’s particularly exciting to see how children are influencing their parents and grandparents. So many parents tell me that they never thought about their purchases until their child started explaining what they were learning about the environment.”
Goodall knows time is running out. But she wrote The Book of Hope because she strongly believes that, “There is hope for our future—for the health of our planet, our societies, and our children. But only if we all get together and join forces.”
“We can find ways to slow down climate change and species extinction. Remember that as individuals we make a difference every day, and millions of our individual ethical choices in how we behave will move us toward a more sustainable world.”
“Against all odds, we can win out.”