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Jane Goodall, GB

Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

You travel around the world for nearly 300 days a year to speak about the need to bring change and create – as you say – a world where we can live in harmony with nature. What has gone wrong in humankind’s relationship with nature?

When our hunter-gatherer ancestors began to grow food crops and learned how to store it during times of plenty, they gradually put more and more land under cultivation. Since that far-off time, humans have been destroying the natural world at an ever-increasing rate. The industrial revolution caused this destruction to accelerate. Meanwhile, the human population was constantly increasing so that today, with more than seven billion people on the planet, we face an ecological crisis. Habitats and animal and plant species are vanishing everywhere. Mother Nature is resilient, but the time is fast approaching when she will be battered beyond her ability to restore herself. We are faced with a choice – to take action to protect the resources of our planet or to carry on as usual, bringing more children into a diminishing world.

What kind of change do we need for a better world?

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive,” Albert Einstein wrote. He understood what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said: “The planet can provide enough for every man’s need, but not enough for every man’s greed.” Only if we listen to those voices of wisdom can we turn things around. I still have hope that we shall.

How firmly rooted is this thinking in people’s minds and, above all, in their actions?

A growing number of people now understand the need to protect natural resources, realising that as we destroy animals and ecosystems our own future will also be affected. And this includes more and more corporate leaders who have realised that the materials they need from the developing world for their businesses are running out. This knowledge and understanding are so important, for, as I often say: “Only if we understand we can care: only if we care will we help: only if we help shall all be saved.” Indeed, for today ethical values are moving into business, more people are speaking out for the poor and the concept of fair trade has emerged. And, yes, fortunately nature is indeed amazingly resilient when we give it a chance.

In 1991 you founded Roots & Shoots, a global youth programme. So reaching out to young people is a top priority for you, isn’t it?

Yes, in fact one of my reasons for hope lies in the tremendous energy, enthusiasm and commitment of young people around the world. They are breaking down the barriers we have built between countries, religions, nations and, above all, those between ourselves and the natural world. They are joining together, finding a voice, determined to make this a better world. What is needed is a critical mass of young people – the next parents, teachers, lawyers, politicians, and so on – who understand that while we need money to live, we should not live for money.

Why do you think the SEA is a great initiative to support?

I truly appreciate and support initiatives like the SEA, which is raising awareness of these issues and hoping to move forward into an international arena. I wish Christina Weidinger all the best for this great project. May this idea change our minds, activate more people to take responsibility and, as a collective force, make our world a better place for our children and grandchildren and all future generations.

You are giving hope and encouraging people to do what they can to create a better world. What can each and every one of us do?

From one direction come the voices of those who put economic gain ahead of the interests of future generations, who believe that unlimited economic growth is an imperative for every country. There are millions of uninformed people who agree with them. And although there are also countless people who realise that endless economic growth on a planet with finite resources is, in the long run, unsustainable, they say and do nothing either, because they refuse to change their comfortable lifestyles – or because they feel helpless.

It is important that we recognise that each one of us makes a difference – every day. If each one of us spends a few moments thinking about the consequences of the choices we make – what we buy, eat, wear, what we use for daily life – the cumulative impact on the planet will be huge. Knowledge and Understanding: Hard Work and Persistence: Love and Compassion. With these tools, linking head and heart we can, together, heal the world.