2

Jane Goodall – Special interview: Roots & Shoots 2017

I hate hearing that ‘We’ve borrowed the Earth from our children’; I hate it because it’s a lie. We’ve not ‘borrowed’, we have been stealing, and we’ve made so many mistakes and it’s not the young peoples’ job to put it right. We have to work with them to fix it… we’re holding your hand so that together we can make it better.” 

Dr Jane Goodall’s words from March’s Roots & Shoots Awards ceremony rang in my head as I entered the regal surroundings of Windsor Castle; where Roots & Shoots Annual Summit was taking place for a fourth consecutive year.

Jane Goodall Windsor Castle

Roots & Shoots is a youth-driven initiative to assist young people in setting up and working together on self-chosen projects centred around people, animals and the environment. Its success speaks for itself, with at least 100,000 active groups of all ages initiating projects all over the world!

Knowing the difference in ages between the recipients of the Roots & Shoots Awards (largely projects created by primary and secondary schools) and the global delegates at the Annual Summit (most around university age), I wondered how much Jane’s sentiment or optimism would change around those more aware of the momentous tasks that lie ahead. The truthful answer? It didn’t change a bit!

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual summit

Meeting the global delegates at Roots & Shoots Annual Summit, photo courtesy of BESUREIS

Before watching presentations by delegates from 22 different countries (of the 100 that Roots & Shoots programmes are now present in – a milestone met three weeks ago!), I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr Jane and find out more. Easing into the afternoon of the fifth and final day of the summit – which Jane admits is one of the busiest weeks of her calendar – we sit in an impressive lounge room in George’s Hall over tea and take all things Roots & Shoots and the future…

What is the inspiration behind Roots & Shoots?

Dr Jane Goodall: I was learning all about the problems facing the planet and as I was travelling around raising awareness about the chimps and the problems in Africa I was meeting so many young people who were either depressed, or angry, or just apathetic. And when I talked to them, they more or less said the same thing: ‘we feel this way because you’ve compromised our future and there’s nothing we can do about it’. And of course we have compromised their future, but I think there’s something we can do.

So it all began with 12 secondary school students in Dar es Salaam from nine schools in 1991 – and they wanted me to fix all the problems that were around, but I said: “No I can’t, I’m not Tanzanian, but go and get your friends who feel the same [and] we’ll have a meeting” and from that the programme was born, with its main message: ‘every individual matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference every day.’

Do you still find that those who are secondary school-age [often considered ‘the golden age’ before you lose teenagers to apathy and distraction] are still involved now?

Oh, that’s my key target audience, because you get them just before they go away – ok some go to university, but a lot won’t – so it’s your last chance to actually catch them while they’re in one place.

Jane Goodall and Kate on Conservation

Sharing positivity with Jane Goodall over educating and empowering future generations

How would you encourage children to think of their impact on the environment?

Tell them to join Roots & Shoots! Seriously! And then, it depends how old the child is, but for older children — then you start asking questions… I’m going to eat a certain kind of food; “ok, did it harm the environment when it was made? Did it involve cruelty to animals, like in intensive farms? Is it cheap because there was child slave labour?” What do you wear is the same thing: “How was it made? Where did it come from?” And then think about the effect that all these little choices have.

I know so many parents who say: “of course I recycle, my children make me!”. Some kids will literally read every ingredient on a label to see what’s in it — and if it has something in it that’s bad, like palm oil, they won’t let their parents buy it. And if you put millions of those kinds of ethical choices together, you move towards a better world.

 

How do the projects differ across the globe?

Well, in some places they live near the ocean – so they tend to do projects like, they’re especially worried about plastic bags, or maybe they want to help turtles guard their nesting sites and watch while the little ones go back into the ocean when the eggs hatch. Sometimes they’re groups living in the Amazonia jungle, and then they’ll do something perhaps to help whatever kind of endangered primate lives there. Everywhere they’re doing tree planting, everywhere they’re collecting garbage, trying to clean up the world.

It really just depends – like in Asia there’s a lot of concern about the palm oil plantations, but that’s spilled across, because we need to find out which products have palm oil in them, so that we can avoid them, and in order for that to happen you have to persuade the government to enforce labelling. So there’s huge projects in America and Australia to get the government to insist that products have labels saying what’s in them.

Chowbent primary school roots and shoots

Roots & Shoots projects in action at Chowbent Primary School


Are there any specific aims or goals for Roots & Shoots for the year ahead? 

Just going on growing, and also working on global campaigns so that the kids can feel really involved with each other. Recycling cell phones or planting trees can be a global campaign… where they can network on social media.

What is your favourite part of working on the Roots & Shoots programme?

The enthusiasm and energy of young people once they know the problems and you empower them to take action. They’re just imaginative and filled with energy – and so excited about what they do.


Listen to an extract of my interview with Dr Jane Goodall here and learn how recycling old mobile phones can reduce the need to mine for coltan, which can have devastating effects on gorilla habitats, and the children forced to mine for coltan.

Interview conducted on behalf of National Geographic Kids Magazine – keep an eye out for the rest of the interview in future issues of the magazine.

2

A conservation conversation with Sir David Attenborough

By his own admission, Sir David Attenborough’s favourite animal is identified, re-evaluated, and changed on a regular basis. “Today it’s a weedy seadragon,” he explained this weekend as I met him in Kingston, London  – it’s an animal he recently researched and filmed off the coast of southern Australia. “They’ve evolved to look like weeds and spend the entire day dancing.”

Kate on Conservation meets David Attenborough

The last time I heard Sir David’s answer to that question was as part of an interview in Radio Times last October, at which time he stated that the creature that most obsesses him (and grips his affection more than any other) was a human baby. “An 18-month-old child is simply riveting!” RT records him as saying. “Because evolution has evolved that response in us to make sure we protect them.” imageWhilst I’m sure that his affection towards little ones remains intact, it seems that some of his self-confessed obsession with the human race may have taken a turn for the worse over recent months. Not least due to a few controversies surrounding his urging of television audiences to consider their position on conservation and the responsibilities that come with it (a directness that had long been omitted from his magnificent TV series’ for fear that it would interfere with the sense of wonder and possibility that audiences tune in to his world-renowned documentaries to experience – I am told). But speak about our role in the conservation of the planet he has. 171465fbAs an employee of a UK branch of Discovery, who co-produced the series Frozen Planet with BBC in 2011, I find it interesting to re-visit the unfolding of whether or not the US network was going to broadcast the seventh episode in the series – in which Attenborough investigated the consequence of rising temperatures on life on our planet. After much debate, they did screen it – agreeing that global warming was an issue that America too, should indeed be talking about.

david_2076444bThe veteran naturalist seems to have reached a point in life where he has little time for holding his tongue in fear of causing a little discomfort. It strikes me that if there is a conversation to be had, he’s not afraid to have it, and no better time than now.

“I actually agree with cloning a species if  you’re down to the very last one,” he said on Saturday. “But you would have to clone a male and female though, unless you plan to go on cloning over and over again to keep the species going.”

During his lecture at the annual Environment Trust for Richmond conference, which took place at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, Sir David poignantly explained that he knows exactly what it’s like to see a species down to it’s very final member…

This undoubtedly made me think of Born Free Foundation‘s ‘Disappearing Animals‘ poster campaign and the impact it had on me when I first saw it.

It’s too late to make one of these for the Pinter Galapagos Tortoise that Attenborough had the honour/curse of seeing the last one of. 10916378_10153119345252790_3925467927682003275_oI’ll be writing a further blog post about the ‘Wild Neighbours’ lecture that veteran presenter gave at the Environment Trust for Richmond’s annual event (alongside renowned wildlife camera man Gordon Buchanan), including his opinion on the impact that introducing foreign wildlife species has had on the UK’s own native animals (and why some of them we celebrate, whilst others we threaten to cull). IMG_8429But in the meantime, as I leave you with a message of his printed in this month’s BBC Wildlife magazine (that couldn’t be more different from that afore mentioned ‘obsession’ that he discussed with the Radio Times), and one that I find so significant that I asked him sign (see below), I think it’s good to point out that the world-renowned naturalist has a lot of fun and positive spirit in him yet too – when asked what animal he’d be if he could belong to any other species for a whole day, the 89-year-old smiled and replied “a bird of paradise of course, so I could dance all day looking beautiful, and see how many ‘birds’ I can attract”.image