The Patron Saint of Natural Habitats
Pushing the Limits Interview With Jane Goodall.
Until the day I met Jane Goodall, I had never been in a honeymoon suite. As it turns out, the honeymoon suite at the Delta Chelsea hotel in Toronto was the only spare room available to conduct my interview with the renowned social and animal activist, the ‘chimpanzee lady’ herself. Jane is best known for conducting a decades- long study of chimpanzee life in Africa. Her research has corrected many of the conventional wisdoms about what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Jane was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2004 and was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2002. Today, she tirelessly travels around the globe three hundred days a year promoting the Jane Goodall Institute and her latest initiative ‘Roots and Shoots’ which aims to “inspire youth of all ages to make a difference by becoming involved in their communities.”
Jane Goodall is the closest thing to a saint that the environmental movement has today. And every saint deserves a good mystery surrounding the circumstances of their birth.
By chance, I already had some advance intelligence about the events leading up to her birth and an unexpected glimpse into Jane’s family history. A friend’s grandfather supposedly played a role in delivering Jane into this world. The story goes: Jane’s father was off at war in Europe so my friend’s grandfather drove Jane’s pregnant mother to the hospital for the birth.
“Not so,” Jane said. “I was not born during World War II.” Indeed, Jane was born in 1933 and her father was home at the time. As Jane tells it, the grandfather in question insisted on transporting Jane’s pregnant mother to the hospital on the grounds that Jane’s father’s open-air Aston Marten “was not fit to drive a pregnant lady. It just would not be proper for a woman in her condition to be driving to the hospital in that car.”
Thus Jane’s mother went to the hospital in a fully-roofed vehicle.
Having cleared up that small error about where her unusual life began, we went on a journey to see where Jane wound up and what she had learned about the future of our planet.
I asked Jane, “If you were the kindergarten teacher for a future US President, what message would you want to get across to that child?” Jane replied that there is a delicate dance between democracy and a commitment to issues like the environment, which require long-term thinking. According to Jane, Jakaya Kikwete, the new president of Tanzania, wants to do the right things for the environment, but he’s ham-stringed by the short-term exigencies of democracy. She recalls him saying, “Jane, I want to do all these things for the environment in Tanzania, but now we’ve got this democracy and I can’t. My hands are tied due to popular opinion. The effects won’t be shown for the next 20 or 30 years.’ The electorate can’t wait that long. Jane said it is important to get a future US President to have conviction like Kikwete. “On the other hand, that is pointless unless a big enough percentage of the American public also has the same values. Otherwise that President can’t be elected.”
Jane then tells me about a UN Millennium Peace Summit she attended, which drew a thousand religious and spiritual leaders from a hundred countries. “It was a sight to be seen!” Everyone was dressed up in their regalia, and yet, Jane could not believe that “almost none of them addressed the environment, except for one group of indigenous people from nine countries.” The Inuit leader from Greenland told the august assemblage of clerics, “Brothers and sisters, I have a message for you from your brothers and sisters in the north. Up in the north we know every day what your people do in the south. Up in the north the ice is melting. What will it take to melt the ice of the human heart?” Jane said that moment stayed with her. “It’s the most poignant description of global warming that I can think of. What will it take to melt the ice of the human heart?”