COP26: How Jane Goodall advocates for change - and why hope is a call to action

Jane Goodall

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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Road to COP26

This article is part of: Forum COP26 Live
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  • Jane Goodall, the world's best-known living naturalist and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, explains how she advocates for change and shares one of the key messages from her latest book - that hope is a call to action.

For Jane Goodall, hope is not some passive yearning that things will somehow work out. There are no 'rose-tinted spectacles' here. For the world's best known living primatologist and advocate for animal welfare, hope is a verb, one that can mobilise and call us to act.

A tenacious reading of hope is key during this urgent moment for the environment, as leaders gather this week for the global climate summit COP26. Many are not optimistic that action will come quickly enough to slow climate change and prevent some of the worst calamaties that come with rising global temperatures.

A global study from the World Economic Forum released this week found that most people do not feel their countries are prepared to tackle climate change. And while trust in climate science is higher than ever, optimism for climate progress is in much shorter supply.

"We're living in pretty grim times and that's covering the political scenario, social, and of course, especially, environmentalism," said Goodall.

But hope, Goodall reminded us, can be a way out of our darkest times. "Hope is rather like being in a very dark tunnel with many obstacles that have to be climbed on," she tells the Meet The Leader podcast. "And it seems impossible to get to the other end, where there's a speck of light, that hope. Hope can't happen unless we take action and fight to get there."

Once in place, hope can propel us to do more and even inspire others to join in. "It's an upward spiral."

"Hope can't happen unless we take action and fight to get there."

Jane Goodall, founder, Jane Goodall Institute

Goodall's view of of hope follows a tenacious career, one that began at 26, as a primatologist living amongst chimpanzees to provide the world first-hand insights on how they lived and behaved. A female researcher, she was dismissed by some in the field when she started. Others balked at her methods, such as naming the chimpanzees she studied or ascribing them human emotions.

She later became an activist after learning more about the factors driving down chimpanzee populations and the conditions they faced in the name of medical research. She braced herself to visit labs to see the cages they lived in and used her renown to bring attention to animal welfare. She was one of the first to give issues such as animal welfare and environmental stewardship a global profile.

Her Jane Goodall Institute focuses on those issues, raising money for causes such as habitat conversation and poverty alleviation. Its Roots and Shoots program helps young people learn how they can drive conservation in their own communities and make change happen.

Message for COP26

The possibility for change propels her even today, at 86. Pre-COVID she traveled to hundreds of engagements annually, all around the globe. Those meetings have now gone online and she spends Zoom after Zoom reaching thousands during to share the critical message that this is an urgent moment for the climate and everyone plays an important part. She's even released her 22nd book for adults: The Book of Hope: The Survival Guide for Trying Times.

One of the many video calls she had this year was with Meet the Leader. She told the podcast how she defines hope and how that definition has changed for her over time. She also shared the positive changes for the climate she never would have predicted and her message for COP26 leaders and anyone looking to make a difference.

How Jane Goodall pushes for progress

Talk with people, not at them. Tackling problems through arguing makes it hard to bring another person over to your side. When people are thinking up their next rebuttal, they aren't listening - and they aren't learning more about your perspective.

Connect with compassion. Goodall does not nag or wag her finger. Instead, she finds a point of contact between herself and another person - animals, for instance, or a hobby. She suggests you spend one minute or two minutes talking about such topics to build a tiny little bridge between you and your different ideas.

Employ stories. Through story you can find a way to connect with people. "You've got to reach the heart. It's no good blinding someone with statistics. Change must come from within."

Act local. Rather than despair about your inability to change the world - you "cannot help but be depressed" - better to find a way you can make a difference about something you care about in your community.

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LeadershipClimate ActionNature and Biodiversity
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