That was Jane Goodall two evenings ago, introducing herself to an audience of c.2600 people in Bakersfield, California. Just one of the hundreds of stops she makes as she travels around the world, almost 300 days a year, speaking on behalf of her beloved Chimpanzees and the rest of Nature, and spreading her message of hope to new generations of young people, the roots and shoots that might help humanity grow out of its Anthropocene predicament.
Today, Jane Goodall turned 80. A long life made longer by the tremendous impact she has had on so many of us fortunate enough to be alive on this astonishing planet with her. An impact that will surely outlast her, and most of us, as she continues to inspire children all over the world to take care of this planet because we adults have really made quite a mess of things, and left it all for them to clean up.
My daughters have grown up referring to Goodall as Jane-didu, Grandma Jane, practically all their lives. Ever since our eldest automatically referred to her as didu upon first seeing a film about her, a film that continues to mesmerize them years later. They finally got to see her in person this week, along with several friends from Fresno. And to sing her happy birthday in a stadium full of several thousand people in the middle of the oil-town of Bakersfield.
I missed out on this trip, alas, but have been reflecting on the impact this one person, a most remarkable person, has had on so many of our lives, becoming almost a part of our family without ever meeting us or ever knowing anything about us. Such is the inspirational power of Jane Goodall, who shows more energy and enthusiasm at 80, than most of us lose by the time we are even 40.
At the recent ScienceOnline 2014 unconference, I was part of an emotional session (#sciohope, storified here) on how ecologists and environmental activists (and science communicators more broadly) can avoid burnout in the face of so much bad news we get every day, about climate change, extinctions, and a whole litany of environmental ills. I daresay the average age of the anguished participants in that conversation was less than half of Jane Goodall’s age today. She has likely seen far worse things than many young activists today, experience deeper grief from losses of chimpanzees she knew personally, and of their habitats. Yet here she is, 80 years young, no sign of burnout, in fact burning brighter than ever as a beacon of hope for all of us. Today, I can think of one good answer to the question asked in the #sciohope session: Where do we find hope and optimism and the energy to avoid burnout and keep going? Simple: follow Jane Goodall.
Here she is, in a fascinating, inspirational conversation with Sylvia Earle:
Happy birthday, Jane Goodall!