The following is an essay by Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute. It was published in the International Herald Tribune Magazine (Summer 2012):
Since the dawn of human history, we have been destroying the natural world at an ever-increasing rate. Now, as human numbers grow, we face an ecological crisis. Mother Nature is resilient, but the time is fast approaching when she will be battered beyond her ability to restore herself. We must make a choice.
From one direction come the voices of those who put economic gain ahead of the interests of future generations, who believe in unlimited economic growth. They are joined by millions who are uninformed and those who understand but do nothing–either because they refuse to change their comfortable lifestyle or because they feel helpless.
If we heed these voices, I see the world in 50 years, perhaps 100, as a dark place, the wonders of nature known only from archived materials and a few sad prisioners in zoos. Environmental refugees, in their millions, will have fled their destroyed homelands, flooded by the rising seas or buried by the encroaching deserts. Many people will be starving as they fight for access to water and land. Medical science will be unable to cope with new infections as bacteria build up resistance to more and more antibiotics and the tropical forests where so many medical cures are sourced are destroyed.
Down the other route are the voices of those advocating for protection of the environment–who understand that, without nature and all that nature provides, not only will plants and animals perish, but eventually so will we.
Albert Einstein said, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” Indeed! For only then shall we listen to the voices of wisdom. I still have hope that we will.
Many people now understand the need to protect natural resources, realizing that as we destroy animals and ecosystems our own future will also be affected, that saving the forests will slow global warming. A growing number of corporate leaders understand that the materials they need from the developing world for their business are running out. More people are speaking out for the poor, and the concept of fair trade has emerged. Ethical values are moving into business. And, yes, fortunately nature is amazingly resilient.
I work with young people around the world. They are breaking down the barriers we have built between cultures, religions, nations and the natural world. We need a critical mass of young people–the next parents, teachers, lawyers, politicians, etc.–who understand that while we need money to live, we should not live for money.
And finally, we are realizing that each one of us makes a difference every day. If each one of us spends a few moments thinking about the consequences of the choices we make–what we buy, eat, wear, and so on–the cumulative impact on the planet will be huge. Then in 50 years, the world will be a much better place than it is today.