The Book of Hope
Jane Goodall’s guide for an endangered planet, brings hope today
One of my Christmas presents last year from a thoughtful sister was The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall. I read the book shortly after and noted the request a couple of pages in, can I read it after you? The sharing of books has always been a good idea and I’ll return it shortly. I don’t believe this brief summary will interrupt future enjoyment.
I picked Hope this week for obvious reasons. I was interested to see whether such a wise advocate of change, might provide solace given the unprovoked stupidity, saturating through every news outlet, whatever your persuasion. It’s clear Putin has different views, but it’s no excuse for war in Europe in 2022.
Who is Jane Goodall?
On the cover David Attenborough describes her as, A woman who turned the world of zoology upside down.
Her story starts in 1960 in Gombe, Tanzania, part of the equatorial rainforest that used to stretch across Africa. 30 years later, it has become little more than a small oasis of forest surrounded by bare hills. She went there to study chimpanzees at the request of Dr Louis Leakey, a famous paleoanthropologist.
He also helped organise funding for Dian Fossey to study gorillas and Birute Galdikas to study orangutans.
99% of the composition of our DNA is shared with chimpanzees. Leakey was keen to understand how our closest relatives behaved in the wild and how it might help shed light on our own evolution.
At first she struggled and would come back to camp depressed because the chimpanzees wouldn’t come near her. Eventually, with perseverance, she got to know one particular chimpanzee which she called David Greybeard. She watched him using grass stems to fish out termites from a termite mound. He would deliberately strip twigs of any leaves to make a suitable tool.
At this point in time, western science believed it was only humans which were capable of making tools. David Greybeard caused a worldwide sensation and was eventually named one of the 15 most influential animals that ever lived by Time magazine. Greybeard’s tool making changed everything. National Geographic agreed to extend her funding after the initial 6 months expired.
What is hope?
Hope is what enables us to keep going in the face of adversity. Its is what we desire to happen, but we must be prepared to work hard to make it so. Jane Goodall.
Which begs the question, can hope only exist when we’re prepared to take action? This can’t be the case. People who have been unfairly imprisoned for political reasons, for instance, still have hope. Nelson Mandela springs to mind or Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, lawyer and anti-corruption activist, nearly murdered last year. He became prominent after organising anti-government demonstrations and pressing for reform against corruption.
Action may be important for generating hope, but it can still live inside a prison cell.
Are hope and faith the same?
Hope and faith are easily confused. Many religions interchange the two words in the same sentence.
Goodall defines faith as belief in an intellectual power, controlling the universe which translates into God, Allah or another deity. Life after death is a common belief, but it’s not based on proof.
Hope is more humble than faith, since no one can know the future. It’s an optimistic attitude of mind, an expectation or desire. Faith says it is so now, hope says it could happen in the future.
4 reasons for hope
Language was the driver for the explosion in intellect of a weak and unexceptional species of prehistoric apes. The same intellect which has made us self appointed masters of the world.
Language, goal setting and hope all appear to come from the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. It’s larger in humans than other great apes, part of the brain capable of reason and solving problems. It was long believed to be restricted to humans, but Goodall and others showed intelligence was abundant in all animals.
There’s also a limit to what a chimpanzee, our highly intelligent, closest relative can do. For instance, they can’t design rockets for space travel, or land on Mars to release a robot, remotely controlled from earth.
Humans have done incredible things through history - Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Darwin, Newton, Einstein, famous names of discovery, to name a few.
But where there is good, there is also bad. It’s the same human intellect, which has made a complete mess of our planet. It’s the greed, hate, fear and desire for power, attached to intellect, which has been the destructive forces at work. What other possible reason could Putin have for creating the current crisis in Ukraine?
President Obama talks about our progress being a series of zigs and zags, not a neat, straight line. The rise of nationalism at the moment, supports his view. It’s not all plain sailing.
There are many examples of change for the better, which we forget. It wasn’t long ago when women and children worked in British mines, slavery was acceptable and justified. More recently, apartheid ended in South Africa and societies attitude towards women improved. That one is still work in progress.
Goodall is an optimist. If we are smart enough to invent nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence, we’re more than capable of finding solutions to heal the harm and destruction caused here.
Resilience of Nature
After the horrors of 9/11, a tree was discovered by a clean-up worker, crushed between blocks of concrete. There was only half a trunk left, It was charred black, the roots were broken and it had one living branch. The tree was cared for in a nursery in the Bronx. It survived and once strong enough was replanted at the 9/11 memorial and museum. It’s a Callery pear and is now called the Survivor Tree.
Nature also plays the long game. An Australian park warden discovered an unexplored canyon, where he found some unfamiliar trees. A few leaves given to botanists could not be identified until they saw a fossilised imprint in ancient rock. The species has survived over 200 million years. The Wollemi pines, as they’re now named, had survived and grown in the canyon for 17 ice ages and counting.
A 500 acre, disused quarry, a scar created by the Bamburi Cement Company, decided to restore the mess they’d made. A pioneer tree species, the Casuarina, suited to the arid, saline conditions was planted successfully. But the needlelike leaves didn’t decompose, which prevented other plants from colonising, until they noticed millipedes chewing them up. Their droppings formed the perfect substance to create humus. More millipedes were imported and the fertile humus enabled other plants to grow.
After 10 years, the original trees were 30m tall and the soil was thick enough to support 180 indigenous trees and plants. Birds, insects and other animals returned. Eventually, giraffes, zebras and even hippopotamus were introduced. It is called Haller Park and now receives visitors from all over the world.
The power of youth
We have not inherited the Earth from our ancestors but borrowed it from our children.
Goodall points out that this famous saying is no longer true. We’ve stolen it from our children and have been doing so for countless years. “Our theft has now reached absolutely unacceptable proportions”.
She reminds us about choice and freewill. If young and old considered whether their purchase harmed the environment, had exploited child slave labour or unfair wages before buying, billions of ethical choices would return the world to the one we want.
Her philosophy of, everyone can make a difference, led her to start her youth programme, Roots & Shoots.
It started in 1991, with 12 Tanzanian high school children from 8 schools. They had a range of concerns from the destruction of the environment, to street children and the ill treatment of stray dogs. With her help, each group decided to choose three projects to help make the world a better place.
They were mocked for cleaning up a beach without being paid. But their activity soon gathered momentum and an unheard of phenomenon called volunteerism was born in Tanzania.
It has since become a global movement from pre-school to university student, hundreds of thousands of members in 68 countries. She is tapping into the abundant energy, enthusiasm and creativity available once the young are empowered to take action.
We have all read extraordinary stories about the indomitable human spirit, some sadly related to war. She describes it as a quality we possess to tackle something which seems impossible and to never give up, despite the real chance of failure. It’s the inner strength and courage to pursue a goal at any cost to oneself, in order to fight for justice and freedom. Even if that means paying the ultimate price. She references great leaders in history and reflects on using our own inner strength to save the planet for our children.
It’s a poignant read, with war now raging in Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the President of Ukraine is a shining example to us all. The same President who refused to bargain with The Donald not so long ago.
And spare a thought for the incredibly brave 4,300 demonstrators, who have been arrested in 21 Russian cities, for condemning Putin’s recent invasion.