Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/FILE
Jane Goodall arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary film "Jane" at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in 2017.

When science meets hope

Jane Goodall acknowledges that the natural world is threatened by extinctions. But she’s energized by people everywhere taking action.

Scientists are pointing to human actions for bringing on a mass extinction of many forms of life on Earth. A million species are now at risk, warns the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity, whose ambitious goal is to put in place new programs around the world that will allow humans to live in harmony with nature by 2050.

“When one little species goes extinct, it may seem unimportant,” notes celebrated primatologist Jane Goodall, “but every time one species disappears it’s like pulling a thread from [a] tapestry and eventually that tapestry hangs in tatters and that can lead to ecosystem collapse.”

One challenge to saving Earth’s ecosystem can be discouragement, losing hope that it can be done quickly enough, or at all. 

Dr. Goodall, who’s spent more than six decades studying the natural world and its creatures, is having none of that. She urges everyone to join in by taking little steps in their own lives to preserve the environment, steps that together can make a huge difference. 

There’s much work to be done, she concedes, but also plenty of motivated people already doing it. 

“There are so many tackling seemingly impossible tasks and succeeding,” Dr. Goodall said in her acceptance statement for the Templeton Prize in June. The prize, valued at about $1.5 million, was established by the philanthropist Sir John Templeton to honor those who use the sciences “to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it,” the prize announcement says.

Dr. Goodall gained fame for her work with chimpanzees and other primates in Africa, changing how scientists viewed them. Her latest book, “The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times,” will be published in October.

Traveling the world Dr. Goodall has seen “so many projects of restoration, animal and plant species being rescued from the brink of extinction, people tackling what seemed impossible and not giving up,” she recently told The New York Times. “Those are the stories that should have equal time, because they’re what gives people hope.”

Growing up in England in a Christian household, Dr. Goodall has over the years developed her own sense of the spiritual basis of the universe. As a youth “religion entered into me,” she recently told the Religion News Service. “I developed a really strong feeling of spiritual connection with the natural world.”

She loves that, today, “science and religion are coming together and more minds are seeing purpose behind the universe and intelligence,” she says. “We don’t live in only a materialistic world.”

Dr. Goodall has found that developing empathy for animals and adhering to strict scientific methods aren’t at odds with each other. 

“It’s having empathy with what you’re studying that gives you those ‘aha’ moments – ‘Yes, I think I know why he or she is doing that,’” she says. Then she uses scientific methods to “prove that my intuition is right or not.”

Dr. Goodall’s long – and continuing – career provides proof that a deep love for the natural world, and the vast variety of life it expresses, can overcome fears for its future. It can encourage all of us to take needed steps of progress.

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