The leading conservationist Jane Goodall has condemned Donald Trump’s bid to rip up America’s climate change policies as “immensely depressing” and flying in the face of scientific evidence.
The US president signed an executive order on Tuesday aimed at dismantling Barack Obama’s clean power plan, intended to limit greenhouse gases from power plants. Trump’s move calls US commitment to the Paris accord into question.
“I find it immensely depressing because many of us – not just my institute – have been working really hard to create the Paris agreement and global effort to cut carbon emissions,” Goodall told journalists ahead of a speech at American University in Washington. “Thinking that the USA isn’t going to play its part, such a major industrial country, is really very, very sad and it just means we’re going to have to work harder.”
The British primatologist, renowned for her work with chimpanzees, expressed dismay that Trump and others in his administration have questioned the scientific basis of climate change. “Because I’m traveling all over the world 300 days a year, I have seen the result of climate change and we know, science has shown, that global temperatures are warming and these so-called greenhouse gases are blanketing the globe,” she said, noting that ice was melting, sea levels rising and oceans losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
“There’s no way we can say climate change isn’t happening: it’s happened. The argument that people give is, ‘Well, we can’t prove that human activities are the main cause of this,’ and I just heard the other day that one of the president’s people [Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency] said, ‘Well, we don’t think carbon monoxide is the main greenhouse gas.’”
Speaking with quiet, calm and piercing authority, Goodall continued: “So being not a scientist in that field, I tend to listen to scientists who do work in that field, like Nicholas Stern, and I would not dream of refuting the science that shows climate change is happening. It’s happening everywhere. It’s already having devastating effects in many parts of the word and the droughts are getting worse, flooding’s getting worse, storms, hurricanes are getting more frequent and more violent. And the main thing is unpredictability: everywhere I go, people say, ‘Well, it’s not normally like that at this time of year.’”
Asked whether the global effort to combat these changes could survive without the US, Goodall pointed to China and the United Arab Emirates as major investors in green energy. “I think it depends a little bit on how many coal mines the president is able to open up again, ’cos that is a problem.”
In addition to the climate issue, the 82-year-old also has cause to worry about Trump’s plans to slash funding to USAid, which could hurt the Jane Goodall Institute, a wildlife and environment conservation organisation she founded in 1977. Working in six African countries, its projects include community-based conservation, girls’ education, family planning and forest protection and restoration.
Goodall is a regular visitor to the US but this is her first trip since Trump’s staggering election win last November. “It does feel different,” she acknowledged. “There is definitely a feeling of gloom and doom among all the people I know. If we allow this feeling of doom and gloom to continue then it will be very, very bad, but my job is to give people hope, and I think one of the main hopes is the fact that people have woken up: people who were apathetic before or didn’t seem to care.
“Now suddenly it’s like they’ve heard a trumpet call: ‘What can we do? We have to do something.’ These are people thinking about future generations, not just themselves.”
The Guardian asked Goodall what she thinks about Trump. “I’m not going to tell you, because you’ll print it,” she replied, with a laugh.
Meanwhile, nearly 30 years after Gorillas in the Mist, a film starring Sigourney Weaver as the primatologist Dian Fossey, Goodall is finally going to receive the Hollywood treatment, too. The movie will be produced by the actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio’s company but Goodall does not have a view on which actor should play her. “It’s creepy to me,” she mused. “Two Janes out there.”
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