Due to the COVID pandemic that made it difficult to travel, Dr. Jane Goodall, 2020 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development, chose to deliver her laureate’s lecture via video link from her house in the UK, where the story she narrated to explain her three reasons for hope began. From the outset, she pointed out that she was speaking from the house where “a lot of who I am started all those years ago,” before moving on to recount personal experiences where some crucial decisions and actions in her life have made many past and current projects possible, while also emphasizing that “it’s not the talk that we need now. It’s action.” With plain and simple language, Dr. Goodall shed light on 60 years of research and on her endeavor to collaborate with more than 60 countries in the “hope” of saving our planet.
Dr. Goodall described how attending an international conference in 1986 led her to the decision of taking action to campaign for sustainable development and the conservation of nature, after she learned of the shocking truth that many forests where chimpanzees were studied were disappearing and “chimpanzee numbers were dropping.” In comparison to the Gombe National Park in the 1960s when it was part of the lush equatorial forest belt, Dr. Goodall noticed that it had been reduced to “a tiny island of forest surrounded by bare hills.” She woke up to the severe damage humans had done to the environment in order to survive. Deciding to help local residents “find ways of living without destroying their environment,” she marshalled the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) to launch TACARE, a community-led conservation and development program where the villagers were involved in everything they were doing. In addition, water management projects were introduced. “Scholarships to keep girls in school beyond puberty” were offered. Dr. Goodall noted that “as women’s education improves, family size tends to drop.” What’s more, the JGI trained volunteers to use smartphones “so they can go into their village forest reserves,” “monitor the health of their forest,” and upload data “onto a platform in the cloud [called] Global Forest Watch,” ensuring the transparency of information and the smooth running of the conservation program.
Having met many young people, “mostly in high school, university,” who “seemed to have lost hope” for the future, Dr. Goodall gained a deeper understanding of the serious consequences of mankind persistently harming the land. For example, “we destroy rain forests and other habitats”; “we pollute the rivers and the ocean”; “we kill the soil with our industrial agriculture, with its chemical pesticides and herbicides, the monoculture that is so destructive of biodiversity”; and “the horrific factory farms where billions of animals are crowded together in horrendously cruel conditions.” Moreover, to feed these animals, “huge areas of land are destroyed in order to grow the grain and lots of fossil fuel is used to get the grain to the animals, to the abattoir.” These human activities have constantly wreaked havoc on the cycles and the equilibrium of nature.
In this lecture, Dr. Goodall also brought up two important figures in her life: her mother and renowned paleoanthropologist Louis Leaky. Because of their respect and support for her love for animals, she was able to seize every opportunity and work hard for her dreams. Looking at today’s young people, she has hope for them, because the Roots & Shoots Program she initiated has expanded to more than 60 countries, with hundreds of thousands of young people, “from kindergarten through university,” participating. They take part in different projects “to make the world a better place, for people, for animals, for the environment.” Therefore, Dr. Goodall believes that “it’s not talk that we need now. It’s action. And what they are doing is very heartwarming. Because they get to choose their own projects; they enter into them with so much enthusiasm and energy.”
Dr. Goodall’s second reason for hope is “this amazing brain,” as she noticed that “scientists are now coming up with all kinds of innovative technology, solar and wind energy, renewable energy, and so many other ways to help us live in greater harmony with nature.” However, she warned that “if we don’t do something about the unsustainable lifestyle of the wealthier communities, we have little hope for future.”
With enormous faith in the resilience of nature, Dr. Goodall reminded us that “places that we’ve totally destroyed can be, once again, supporting of nature and biodiversity, if we give them a chance,” if we make concerted effort with our indomitable spirit. She made special reference to some of what Taiwan has achieved on this front, such as using plants to purify the heavily polluted water, “so that it flows from wetlands into a river,” and became so clean that “you can actually drink it.” She then praised the research done and the efforts made by the Taiwanese to save the landlocked salmon from extinction.
Sustainable development has become a focal policy objective and main goal for governments around the world, as we became more aware that our previous approach of prioritizing economic development above all else already caused plenty of environmental and social problems, which posed ongoing threats to the current and future generations.
Caring about the wellbeing of our planet, the Tang Prize Foundation cordially invites everyone to watch the complete version of the “2020 Tang Prize Laureate’s Lecture for Sustainable Development” at https://youtu.be/ancLAxT8uEI.