UN Messenger of Peace Dr. Jane Goodall Addresses the Climate Assembly
Jane Goodall addressed the Climate Action I Assembly at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.
August 14, 2023 (Transcript) – Hello, this is Jane Goodall, and I really wish I could be with you all. I’m speaking from the house where I was brought up in the UK. I was brought up as a Christian. My grandfather was a congregational minister. We went to church and worshiped God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. But my wise mother told me that if I’d been born to a Jewish family, I’d worship Jehovah, to a Muslim family, Allah, to a Native American family, the Creator, and so on.
I’ve really worked to understand all these different religions. I’ve given talks not about religion per se but in synagogues, mosques, temples, and also churches and cathedrals of different Christian denominations. There’s one thing shared by all the major religions. The golden rule that bids us do to others as you would have them do to you. What a wonderful world it would be if we all followed that rule.
Sadly, but understandably, many people have turned away from organized religion. The church where we used to go in my hometown, like so many others, is now expecting money from everyone in the congregation. In other words, you’re charged for attending a service. It’s understandable. After all, many churches rely increasingly on donations from their congregations to keep the church going. But it does take away from the spiritual atmosphere, and many people now prefer to pray in private.
But far worse is the proliferation of fanaticism, hatred, and violence that is now associated with Muslims, Jews, and the Christian far-right, the extremists. We only have to think of the crusades, the ongoing Israel-Palestine violence, the conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, the Taliban, and their acts of terrorism and cruelty to women all in the name of God.
And there are many other groups that are ignoring the dictates of their faith. They make a mockery of the commandment, thou shalt not kill.
And so many people today are agnostic even atheist, but they often do what some would describe as God’s work. They’re humanitarians who work along with believers to alleviate poverty and to fight injustice, inequality, ignorance, racism, gender discrimination, child slavery, sweatshops, cruelty to humans and animals, dictatorships, the re-emergence of fascism, and so on.
But there are also countless numbers who are caught up in a materialistic, selfish, and unsustainable lifestyle. And this is placing unrealistic demands on the planet’s finite and shrinking natural resources. This, of course, has led to climate change and loss of biodiversity.
And it’s fortunate that environmentalists around the globe are trying to find ways to at least slow down the warming of the globe and the extinction of species. It’s really sad that so many of us are becoming increasingly separated from nature, trapped in a world of TV, laptops, video games, and social media. Sad because we need to know and love the natural world in order to want to protect it.
Moreover, we need time in nature for ourselves, for our mental and physical health. St. Francis of Assisi was a mystic who lived a simple life, and he not only helped the poor, but was a lover of nature and animals. He saw God reflected in the natural world. When I was on my own in the rainforest of Gombe, where I studied chimpanzees for years, years I became part of nature and I felt such a strong connection with the great spiritual power which with my Christian upbringing I would call God.
I was awed by the wonder of nature and felt a close connection not only with the animals but with the whole environment. Like St. Francis I would greet familiar trees and the streams and the peak from which I used to watch the chimps and I felt awe and wonder as I lay at night looking up at the stars sensing the infinity of the universe.
Those years strengthened me. How else could I go around the world trying to energize those who have lost hope and fallen into apathy or become depressed or angry and sometimes violent? When I’m weary and sad I still seek solace in nature. Just now I looked out of the window at the beach tree I climbed as a child.
I saw a robin on the bird table his red breasts glowing in the sunlight and I felt again that sense of wonder and awe. Each leaf, each feather, the sun itself was the work of an unseen hand. Some of the greatest scientists such as Einstein believed that behind the creation of the universe there is an intelligence which is of course just another name for God.
It’s so important to understand that we are not only part of the natural world but we depend on it for food, water, air, everything but we depend on healthy ecosystems and ecosystems are made up of a complex mix of interconnected plants and animals each with a role to play in the glorious living web of life.
And when more and more species disappear, the web will hang in tatters and the ecosystem will collapse. This is happening around the world as we destroy one’s ecosystem after another. As we pollute air, water, land. The so-called greenhouse gases, CO2, methane, and so on, now blanket the globe and trap the heat of the sun.
And this has led to ever-rising temperatures. And this is changing weather patterns everywhere. This is why we have more frequent and often terrifying hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires. The natural world, God’s creation, is calling out for help, begging us to take action before it’s too late.
Fortunately, there is growing awareness that we need a new relationship with the natural world, that there cannot be unlimited economic development on a planet with finite natural resources and growing populations of people and livestock, at least not if everyone aspires to the unsustainable lifestyles of the world to do. This knowledge has triggered many groups in many countries to tackle the causes of the mess we find ourselves in and try to come up with solutions.
People are always asking if I really have hope for the future. Because I’ve seen so much human and animals suffering and environmental destruction. To me, hope is not passive, wishful thinking. It’s about action, working to make our wish a reality. And without hope that our efforts will make a difference, why bother? When people tell me they feel hopeless and helpless, I tell them, don’t think about global problems, but think about something you care about in your own community, whether it be waste, cruel treatment of animals, homelessness, whatever it is. And I suggest they get a group of friends together, discuss the problem, roll up their sleeves and do something about it. Then they’ll see that they can make a difference and they feel good about that and they want to do more and this inspires others to join them.
And then realizing that there are groups like theirs all over the world, they find hope. Let me share my main reasons for hope. Firstly, the amazing human brains we humans have been blessed with. More and more people are coming up with ways to develop a better relationship with the natural world, protecting forests and other ecosystems, turning to ways of farming that do not rely on the chemical and poisonous pesticides and herbicides that destroy biodiversity and the soil on which we depend. And they also make people sick because there are better ways to farm, such as regenerative farming, permaculture, agroforestry and so on.
Small family farms are once again starting to make profit as more people think about the food they eat, so that eventually there will be an end to the horrific suffering of animals in factory farms.
Then there’s the scientific technology such as the use of sun wind and tides to give us renewable energy and machines that capture and store CO2 from the atmosphere and that can lead to the end of our use of polluting fossil fuels.
And there are now alternatives to the use of animals in medical research that can save thousands of sentient beings from depression, fear and pain, and are more effective and cheaper.
Another reason for hope is the resilience of nature. If we give it a chance and perhaps some help, it will reclaim areas we’ve utterly destroyed so that biodiversity, that glorious living web of life, can return. And animals on the brink of extinction can be given another chance.
Another reason for hope is the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle what seems impossible, refuse to give up, and often they succeed. And even if they don’t, they inspire others to work towards the same goal. We only need to think of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring started an environmental movement back in the 70s. And then a growing number of individuals or small companies are challenging the giant corporations that are harming the planet.
Why? Because they want to make short-term profit at the expense of saving the environment for the future. Recently, a number of these dedicated individuals have challenged giants like Monsanto and won.
We all have that indomitable spirit. We must have the courage to join the fight to save our planet. Perhaps my greatest reason for hope is the energy commitment and determination of young people when they understand the problems and are empowered to take action.
I’m really inspired by the environmental and humanitarian program for young people, Roots and Shoots, that I began in 1991. It’s now in 69 countries and growing. Its main message is that every one of us makes an impact on the planet every day, and we can choose what sort of impact we make. And even small ethical choices as to what we eat and wear, what we buy, how we treat each other, animals and the environment, when they’re made by millions of us cumulatively make a significant difference.
We have thousands of groups of all ages from kindergarten through university, and more adults are joining the movement. Each group chooses projects to help people, to help animals, to help the environment, and we partner with other youth groups around the world.
Because we link groups from different countries and cultures, they’re discovering that far more important than the color of our skin, our language, our culture, our religion is the fact we’re all human. We all laugh and cry, no joy and depression and love. We’re working to bring together young leaders from Palestine and Israel. And if any of you could help us to locate such groups, I’d be so happy.
Roots and Chutes partners with youth groups all around the world. In Tanzania, where Roots and Chutes began, we see perfect harmony between Christian and Muslim youth. We celebrate the UN International Day of Peace, flying giant pea stubs made of old bedsheets and chickenware with 20 -foot wingspans, and they’re carried on long poles. And we sing our peace song for music as a language understood by all cultures.
Finally, for some of us, there’s our belief in the great spiritual power in which we we live and move and have our being, a power that can support and give us the strength we need to confront the massive problems we have brought upon ourselves.
The major religions are powerful with great influence over their thousands of followers. Recently, Pope Francis called upon world leaders to do more to limit polluting emissions. The situation is indeed urgent and all of us from all cultures and all religions must collaborate and take action to protect and restore the natural world before it’s too late.