Climate change: Jane Goodall says window of time to slow climate change is closing, but people can't give up hope

A world-leading conservationist says the window of time to combat climate change is closing, but change is still possible - and people should not give up hope . 

English primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall is considered to be the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees. Her illustrious career, 60 years of which have been dedicated to the study of the primates, has seen her pen numerous books, the latest of which has just been released as the world struggles to comprehend the escalating crisis of climate change.

In a world ravaged by the worsening impacts of global heating, political upheaval and a global pandemic, The Book of Hope examines how people can hold onto their optimism - a tool Goodall says is crucial in the fight against climate change.

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday morning from her childhood home, Goodall, 87, says the world must hold out hope if we are to win the war against the climate crisis - and to do that, people must keep believing that what they do is making a difference.

"If we lose hope, we're doomed. If you don't have hope, if you don't believe that what you do is making a difference - if you don't believe that what other people are doing is making a difference - why bother? Let's give up. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die," she said.

Goodall says her definition of hope is not viewing the world through "rose-tinted spectacles", but is having a vision - and taking action to make that vision a reality.

"My definition of hope isn't looking at the world through rose-tinted spectacles and thinking, 'everything is going to be okay'... no. It's about action… you have to have a vision. Then you work to make that vision a reality," she said.

"We have to work out what we can do since we are here, and are likely to be here as long as we take action now. There's a window of time where we can choose to do actions that will slow down climate change. That window is closing. We have to take action now… if you don't have hope, you give up. You become apathetic, you do nothing."

In 1991, Goodall founded the Roots & Shoots programme, an organisation with local chapters in more than 140 countries, including New Zealand. Many of the chapters operate through schools and educational institutions, encouraging youth from preschool to university to work on environmental and humanitarian issues in their communities. She says engaging with young people is crucial.

"We have to reach out to the young people, it's their world that we've trashed, we have to reach out to business, corporations. We have to reach out to governments. We have to reach out to every [Tom], Dick and Harry on the planet and help people understand that what you do matters."

On Tuesday (NZ time), 18-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg made headlines after she joined a protest outside the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. Delegates from more than 200 countries are attending the 12-day summit, which aims to accelerate action towards the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. World leaders, environmental experts and activists alike have taken the stage to address the worsening climate crisis, including the likes of US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Thunberg, who inspired a global youth movement with her school strikes against climate change in 2018, is not scheduled to speak. Instead, the activist took part in one of the many protests held across Glasgow on Monday (local time), telling young demonstrators from 'Fridays for Future' that the politicians attending the summit are merely "pretending to take our future seriously"

"This COP26 is so far just like the previous COPs and that has led us nowhere. They have led us nowhere," she told the activists.  "Inside COP there are just politicians and people in power pretending to take our future seriously, pretending to take the present seriously of the people who are being affected already today by the climate crisis.

"Change is not going to come from inside there. That is not leadership - this is leadership."

When asked if world leaders are the people we need to be holding accountable for reversing the effects of climate change, Goodall said it depends on the country.

"I think in New Zealand, you have good leadership," she said. "Other countries, the leadership is trash, quite honestly. So, it depends."

Jane Goodall.
Jane Goodall. Photo credit: Getty Images

The inability of major powers so far to agree more broadly on rapid reductions in the use of fossil fuels, the main cause of manmade global warming, has upset poorer developing nations likely to suffer its worst effects. On Tuesday (local time), leaders at COP26 pledged to stop deforestation by the end of the decade and slash emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to help slow climate change.

Nearly 90 countries have now joined a US and EU-led effort to reduce methane emissions 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030, a senior Biden administration official said ahead of the formal announcement on Tuesday.

Among the signatories announced on Tuesday is Brazil - one of the five biggest emitters of methane, which is generated in cows' digestive systems, in landfill wast,  and in oil and gas production. Three others - China, Russia and India - have not signed up, while Australia has said it will not back the pledge.

The COP26 summit is aiming to keep alive a receding target of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avert  greater damage from the intensified heatwaves, droughts, storms, floods and coastal damage that climate change is already causing. Under the agreement, 12 countries pledged to provide $12 billion of public funding between 2021 and 2025 for developing countries to restore degraded land and tackle wildfires.

Overall, Goodall says the onus is on everyone to do their bit to combat climate change. Everyone needs to believe that the actions they are taking, no matter how small, are helping the fight against the crisis -  and if everyone makes small changes, it adds up to a sizable difference. 

"The main message is every individual, every one of us, makes an impact on the planet every single day. We can choose what sort of impact we make," she said.

"Although you may think that what you do in a day doesn't make any difference, it's not just you. People are understanding that we can't go on with business as usual."