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Reflections on Jane Goodall's Visit to Beijing


Acclaimed British primatologist and environmental activist Jane Goodall appeared at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday September 15th, the 50th Anniversary of her first trip to Gombe National Park.

Dr. Goodall, who currently travels 300 days a year - giving talks, researching, and working on a series of conservation projects, was here to promote Roots and Shoots, a youth program focused on involving the next generation in global environmental protection efforts.

Goodall stressed the importance of her visits to China. "China has one fifths of the world's population," she said, "The young people here deserve to have access to information, to become involved in making changes."

In China, conservation often seems like a lost cause. Beijing and other big cities face annual sandstorms and poor air quality. The country has suffered a large number of natural disasters caused by environmental degradation and now surpasses the US as the number one contributor of greenhouse emissions.

But Dr. Goodall finds reasons to be optimistic: "China has very polluted rivers, but the Thames used to be polluted too."

In the last fifty years, because of government measures and increasing public awareness, there have been rapid improvements in the environmental protection standards of western countries.

"Fishing boats have returned to the Thames. Nature is resilient," she reminded us, "it can be given a second chance." But this is contingent upon us making an effort.

In the press conference, she also stressed the importance of our personal choices, from "turning off the faucet" to adopting vegetarian lifestyle. Einstein famously said: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." Goodall seems to agree.

Her push for grassroots involvement and responsible living is encouraging. And of course, an involved government and responsible choices are important, but will they be enough to alleviate the already dire condition of China’s environment? I'm not so sure.

Goodall pointed out that "development" is often pitted against "nature," and more often than not, it is nature that loses. Yet she admitted, "You can't expect people in China to live without things that the US and other countries have."

But universal access to the US standard of living is unsustainable.

Jane Goodall does not address this, but saving the environment will probably come at a heavy macroeconomic cost for many countries and a personal cost to us. Eventually, we will need to reevaluate the models of mass production. We will need to consume differently, but more importantly, we will need to consume a lot less, use a lot less, and ultimately live with a lot less. This is true for western countries, and it is true for China. We are kidding ourselves if we think switching to a different brand of fruit or driving a hybrid car is enough to save the planet.
It is true that China is investing more in green energy than any other country including the United States. There are also entrepreneurs who genuinely care about the environment and are developing innovative technology to prevent resource depletion and environmental destruction.
And as Goodall expressed, "what is exciting about China is the chance to get it right."
Progress is happening here, and the results are remarkable. But they will not be enough without significant lifestyle sacrifices.

Links and Sources
The Jane Goodall Institute in China: Official Site
Roots and Shoots Beijing Office: Official Site
Global Times: Image


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