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May 11, 2017

[liveblog] St. Goodall

I’m in Rome at the National Geographic Science Festival
, co-produced by Codice Edizioni which, not entirely coincidentally published, the Italian version of my book Took Big to Know. Jane Goodall is giving the opening talk to a large audience full of students. I won’t try to capture what she is saying because she is talking without notes, telling her personal story.

She embodies an inquiring mind capable of radically re-framing our ideas simply by looking at the phenomena. We may want to dispute her anthropomorphizing of chimps but it is a truth that needed to be uncovered. For example, she says that when she got to Oxford to get a graduate degree — even though she had never been to college — she was told that she should’t have given the chimps names. But this, she says, was because at the time science believed humans were unique. Since then genetics has shown how close we are to them, but even before that her field work had shown the psychological and behavioral similarities. So, her re-framing was fecund and, yes, true.

At a conference in America in 1986, every report from Africa was about the decimation of the chimpanzee population and the abuse of chimpanzees in laboratories. “I went to this conference as a scientist, ready to continue my wonderful life, and I left as an activist.” Her Tacare Institute
works with and for Africans. For example, local people are equipped with tablets and phones and mark chimp nests, downed trees, and the occasional leopard. (Takari provides scholarships to keep girls in school, “and some boys too.”)

She makes a totally Dad joke about “the cloud.”

It is a dangerous world, she says. “Our intellects have developed tremendously.” “Isn’t it strange that this most intellectual creature ever is destroying its home.” She calls out the damage done to our climate by our farming of animals. “There are a lot of reasons to avoid eating a lot of meat or any, but that’s one of them.”

There is a disconnect between our beautiful brains and our hearts, she says. Violence, domestic violence, greed…”we don’t think ‘Are we having a happy life?'” She started “Roots and Shoots
” in 1991 in Tanzania, and now it’s in 99 countries, from kindergartens through universities. It’s a program for young people. “We do not tell the young people what to do.” They decide what matters to them.

Her reasons for hope: 1. The reaction to Roots and Shoots. 2. Our amazing brains. 3. The resilience of nature. 4. Social media, which, if used right can be a “tremendous tool for change.” 6. “The indomitable human spirit.” She uses Nelson Mandela as an example, but also refugees making lives in new lands.

“It’s not only humans that have an indomitable spirit.” She shows a brief video of the release of a chimp that left at least some wizened adults in tears:

She stresses making the right ethical choices, a phrase not heard often enough.

If in this audience of 500 students she has not made five new scientists, I’ll be surprised.

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February 10, 2008

Global climate disruption

That’s what Jock Gill calls “global climate change,” ne� “global warming.”

Good phrase.

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