World-famous conservationist and primatologist Jane Goodall was in Singapore for the Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore)’s (JGIS) ConservAction Week from Nov. 26 to 28, 2019.
During that period, she was a speaker at various conferences, educating people on how humans and wildlife can coexist, especially in urbanised cities where human settlements start to encroach on nature areas.
On Nov. 28, Goodall held a sold-out dialogue session at the University Cultural Centre in the National University of Singapore, which was attended by guest speaker, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat.
Goodall, who hails from England, shared about her personal life and how her love for animals as a child led her to travel to Kenya as a young woman in search of wildlife.
In Tanzania, Goodall stayed in close proximity with chimpanzees in the forest, where she made groundbreaking discoveries, such as apes being able to use tools, which was an action previously thought to be a strictly human trait.
Jane Goodall and travelling
During the dialogue's question-and-answer segment, one question posed was what Goodall thought of the impact of air travel.
Planes are known to generate a huge carbon footprint, and the 85-year-old has professed that she travels 300 days a year.
However, in her answer, she replied that air travel could benefit the planet, according to a New York Times article she had read (potentially this article).
Flying, she said, boosts eco-tourism, where travellers tour pristine nature areas and reserves in a sustainable manner.
Goodall also stated that her carbon footprint was offset from the millions of trees planted by Roots & Shoots, an international environmental programme for youth formed by JGIS:
"If I had a magic carpet, or had time to float across the oceans by boat, I would do it, but I can't. And I feel that the message I have to give warrants flying, don't you all agree?"
The question of air travel has been in the spotlight as the result of the actions of young activist, Greta Thunberg, who is vehemently against the idea of such forms of travel.
The 16-year-old Swedish activist is famous for engendering the worldwide climate protests by starting solo school strikes outside Swedish parliament.
Thunberg has made clear her refusal to take planes, instead sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from her home country to New York on a carbon-neutral yacht to speak at the Sep. 23 United Nations' Climate Action Summit, a voyage which took 15 days.
Thunberg a "little bit confrontational"
When asked what she thought of Thunberg, Goodall stated the teenager had "raised awareness [about the climate crisis], without question".
However, she did hedge her reply, saying that Thunberg was a "little bit confrontational".
During the summit in New York, Thunberg delivered a strongly-worded rebuke to politicians and world leaders for failing to act on climate change.
Videos of the speech and clips of her demanding "How dare you!" have circulated on social media and divided public opinion.
Goodall shared that her form of activism and education involved connecting with people, rather than confronting them.
"My mother taught me this, the first thing is to form some kind of bond with [people], and it's no good trying to get up here," she tapped on her head. "You got to get into the heart."
"And to get into the heart, I think you have to tell stories. To tell stories, you got to spend at least one minute trying to sense out who the person you're talking to really is."
"We don't want something like Hong Kong to happen"
Goodall cited Greta's confrontational and uncompromising attitude as the reason why they had not involved Roots & Shoots with Thunberg's climate rally movement.
She admitted she feared such protests could incite violence among young people, and even referenced the ongoing Hong Kong protests as a potential outcome and situation best avoided.
"We don't want something like Hong Kong to happen," she said.
Above all though, the primate expert revealed that walking the talk is key.
"It's not just walking around waving a placard, it's going out and planting trees, it's going out... working on how do we get plastic out of the ocean, it's going out helping poor communities live without destroying the environment. Roots & Shoots is taking action, and that I think is the way to go."
Top photo from Jane Goodall Institute and PBS Newshour / YouTube