A photo of anthropologist Jane Goodall with the cover of her new book, The Book of Hope, overlaid on the right.

‘Hope requires action’: a letter from Jane Goodall

In The Book of Hope, Jane Goodall presents solutions to the climate crisis, emphasising the power of even small gestures of engagement. Here, the English ethologist issues a call to action.

Jane Goodall

We are going through dark times.

There is armed conflict in many parts of the world, racial and religious discrimination, hate crimes, terrorist attacks, a political swing to the far right fuelling demonstrations and protests that, all too often, become violent. The gap between the haves and have-nots is widening and fomenting anger – and unrest. Democracy is under attack in many countries. On top of all that, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing so much suffering and death, loss of jobs, and economic chaos around the world. And the climate crisis, temporarily pushed into the background, is an even greater threat to our future – indeed, to all life on Earth as we know it.

Climate change is not something that might affect us in the future – it is affecting us now with changing weather patterns around the globe: melting ice; rising sea levels; and catastrophically powerful hurricanes, tornadoes, and typhoons. There is worse flooding, longer droughts, and devastating fires that are breaking out around the globe. For the first time, fires have even been recorded in the Arctic Circle.

“Jane is almost ninety years old,” you may be thinking. “If she is aware of what is going on in the world, how can she still be writing about hope? She is probably giving in to wishful thinking. She is not facing up to the facts.”

'Climate change is affecting us now; for the first time, fires have even been recorded in the Arctic Circle'

I am facing up to the facts. And on many days I admit that I feel depressed, days when it seems that the efforts, the struggles, and the sacrifices of so many people fighting for social and environmental justice, fighting prejudice and racism and greed, are fighting a losing battle. The forces raging around us – greed, corruption, hatred, blind prejudice – are ones we might be foolish to think we can overcome. It’s understandable that there are days we feel we are doomed to sit back and watch the world end “not with a bang but a whimper” (T. S. Eliot).

Over the last eight decades I have been no stranger to disasters such as 9/11, school shootings, suicide bombings, and so on, and the despair that some of these terrible events can elicit. I grew up during World War II, when the world risked being overrun by Hitler and the Nazis. I lived through the Cold War arms race, when the world was threatened by a thermonuclear holocaust, and the horrors of the many conflicts that have condemned millions to torture and death around the globe. Like all people who live long enough, I have been through many dark periods and seen so much suffering.

But each time I become depressed I think of all the amazing stories of the courage, steadfastness, and determination of those who are fighting the “forces of evil.” For, yes, I do believe there is evil amongst us. But how much more powerful and inspirational are the voices of those who stand up against it. And even when they lose their lives, their voices still resonate long after they are gone, giving us inspiration and hope – hope in the ultimate goodness of this strange, conflicted human creature that evolved from an apelike creature some six million years ago.

Ever since I began traveling around the world in 1986 to raise awareness about the harm we humans have created, socially and environmentally, I have met so many people who have told me they have lost hope for the future. Young people especially have been angry, depressed, or just apathetic because, they’ve told me, we have compromised their future and they feel there is nothing they can do about it. But while it is true that we have not just compromised but stolen their future as we have relentlessly plundered the finite resources of our planet with no concern for future generations, I do not believe it is too late to do something to put things right.

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Probably the question I am asked more often than any other is: Do you honestly believe there is hope for our world? For the future of our children and grandchildren?

And I am able to answer, truthfully, yes. I believe we still have a window of time during which we can start healing the harm we have inflicted on the planet – but that window is closing. If we care about the future of our children and theirs, if we care about the health of the natural world, we must get together and take action. Now – before it is too late.

What is this “hope” that I still believe in, that keeps me motivated to carry on, fighting the good fight? What do I really mean by “hope”?

Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement. Many people understand the dire state of the planet – but do nothing about it because they feel helpless and hopeless. That is why my book is important, as it will, I hope (!), help people realize that their actions, however small they may seem, will truly make a difference. The cumulative effect of thousands of ethical actions can help to save and improve our world for future generations. And why would you bother to take action if you did not truly hope that it would make a difference?

My reasons for hope in these dark times will become clear in this book, but for now let me say that without hope, all is lost. It is a crucial survival trait that has sustained our species from the time of our Stone Age ancestors. Certainly, my own improbable journey would have been impossible had I lacked hope.

Hope is contagious. Your actions will inspire others. It is my sincere desire that my book will help you find solace in a time of anguish, direction in a time of uncertainty, courage in a time of fear.

We invite you to join us on this journey toward hope.

Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE, UN Messenger of Peace

Image: Ryan MacEachern / Penguin

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