Jane Goodall, the world’s leading expert on chimpanzees, told a Grand Island audience Thursday night that she is constantly amazed at the intelligence of various species in the animal world, even the lowly bumblebee.
Through her 55-year study of chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania, Goodall was the first to discover that chimpanzees could make and use tools. She described how she observed a chimpanzee place stalks of grass into termite holes. When the stalk was removed from the hole, it would be covered with termites, which the chimpanzee would then eat.
She also observed how chimpanzees would bend a twig and strip it of all leaves, effectively making that tool.
Goodall’s observations demolished long-held accepted scientific theory: That humans were the only species on earth that could make and use tools. Goodall said many other animal species have the capacity to learn; even bumblebees can learn how to retrieve nectar simply by observing another bumblebee.
Goodall, though, acknowledged the explosive development of the human brain gives humankind a capacity to do things far beyond the capacity of even the most intelligent animal. She noted only humans have the intelligence to send a spaceship to Mars and then remotely control a motorized vehicle to explore the surface.
“So isn’t it peculiar that this most intellectual creature to ever walk the planet is destroying its only home?” she asked.
Goodall said humans too often destroy forests and other habitats, releasing carbon dioxide into the air, and they often despoil the environment through agricultural, industrial and household pollution, “poisoning the earth, the water and the air.”
Cutting down forests and burning too many fossil fuels is creating a blanket around the globe that is trapping the heat of the sun, which is warming the surface of the planet. The scientific consensus is that the earth’s surface is warming so much faster than it ever has in its existence, leading to climate change.
Goodall said it is very hard to deny climate change when people can observe the earth’s ice caps melting, when they can see people forced to leave their island homes because of rising ocean levels and to see sea levels rise on coastal beaches. She said humans cannot colonize Mars: “you’ve seen the pictures, it’s really not an option.”
“You know, this planet is very beautiful,” Goodall said. “There’s still a lot that is beautiful, so why are we consistently as a species harming it so badly?
“It seems to me there is a disconnect between the clever, clever, clever brain and the human heart,” she said.
Goodall said it seems there are too many people who only think about how an action affects them, while not considering how it affects their children and grandchildren. She said “we (the older generation) have not borrowed the future from our children. We have stolen it.”
She said it is now time for the generations to work together for the planet’s benefit.
One of the reasons that she founded Roots and Shoots is to give young people hope for the future. The organization’s message is “every single one of us matters and has some role to play. Every single one of us makes some impact on this planet. Every single day we have a choice about what kind of impact we’re going to make.”
Goodall said Roots and Shoots sees a holistic connection between people, animals and the environment. It lets young people choose the kind of project they want to undertake to make the earth a better place. Roots and Shoots is now in 97 countries.
Before her talk in the Grand Island Senior High auditorium, Goodall went to the northwest cafeteria to see the projects done by Grand Island students in Roots and Shoots. Those projects inspire her as she sees young people tackling the issues they care about. “You choose what to do, because of what is important to you, because of where you are, because of who you are.”
Despite the sometimes bad news on the environment, there are four things that give her hope, Goodall said. The first is “this amazing human brain. We can use it to do good. We always need it to do good. We can use it to harm, but the human brain is capable of finding ways for us to live in greater harmony with nature, as a society and as individuals.”
Another thing that gives her hope is to see projects that have restored nature and helped save species on the brink of extinction such as whooping cranes. When it comes to endangered species, there are “animals that would not be and plants that would that would not be here but for certain dedicated people.”
She noted that social media also gives her hope. “For the first time, we can bring together people all around the world. They have never met each other or heard of each other, but who care about a single issue like climate change or women’s rights or something like that. We can bring them together so that the voice swells and it really makes a difference. It has made social change.”
The final thing that gives Goodall hope is “the indomitable human spirit.” She talked about George Haun, a blind magician who gave her a stuff animal she calls Mr. H. Haun performs his magic so skillfully that young children do not know he is blind. The fact that children could not tell he is blind is a way to inspire them and to tell them to “never give up.”
She said there are many people who have the same indomitable spirit, including refugees who arrive in a new country and “pull their lives together.”
She noted that animals — which share the human ability to have emotions and personalities — also can have an indomitable spirit. Goodall cited the example of a chimpanzee who first survived the killing of his mother and then came back from near death after receiving the first chimpanzee to chimpanzee blood transfusion.
Roots and Shoots alumni
Before giving her Thursday evening presentation to the audience in Grand Island Senior High’s auditorium, Jane Goodall held a brief press conference with reporters. Goodall has met Roots and Shoots alumni who have told her that their involvement in the program has “changed them completely” by giving them a lifelong passion for helping either people, animals or the environment. Some alumni said they also have gotten their children involved.
She noted that because of the Roots and Shoots program, children who live in very deprived areas of the world find themselves empowered; they feel that “Yes, I can make a difference.”
Speaking about the change in attitude toward the environment with the new administration in Washington, D.C., Goodall said that “it is tragic to see what we’ve worked for so hard being destroyed in place after place.” She noted that many people are depressed by the situation, but people must work harder and find a way to keep going.
Goodall was asked about the subject of race. For her, race is a social construct, because humans are a single species. When people laugh, they feel the same emotion and when they cry, they feel the same emotion, regardless of race, culture or religion.