Wednesday 15 January 2020
Photo: Sumy Sadurni / AFP

In the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction – which is defined as the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history – humans are responsible for both the genesis and prevention of a global meltdown.

The good news is that many have taken matters into their own hands. Cases in point: the Greta Thunberg effect, an increase in climate-related strikes, and people boycotting certain products.

But are these really the best solutions? What exactly are the most beneficial ways to tackle the rising environmental problems?

To have a better understanding of these matters, we caught up with the renowned Jane Goodall during her recent visit to Malaysia. This is what the English primatologist and anthropologist has to say:

What do you think is the biggest threat to the environment?

I think, when we are addressing the biggest threat to the environment, we probably now say that it is climate crisis – which is essentially global warming and climate change just because it’s affecting everybody everywhere. But, it should not be narrowed to just one environmental threat – it is no good just tackling one thing. We have to tackle all the different issues.

This is why it is fortunate that there are so many NGOs such as Roots & Shoots Malaysia, where young people who care about topics like this – whether climate crisis or the mass extinction of animals – have a platform to make a difference. In that sense, we’ve got a workforce out there tackling all the different issues that actually lead to the climate crisis in the first place.

Tell us more about Roots & Shoots?

I founded Roots and Shoots in 1991, under the Jane Goodall Institute. The program strives to educate the youth about the current challenges and threats to the environment. The whole purpose of Roots and shoots is to equip the new generations to be conservation-minded individuals in their everyday lives. This is the same ideal for Roots and Shoots around the world, Malaysia included.

For example, we have launched multiple conservation programmes, including billboard campaigns which help to educate the public on the crimes linked to great apes. Most importantly, we instil the knowledge of conservation and the importance of wildlife by attending schools and directly addressing these topics with students. This overall gives a sense of hope to the youth, the notion that there is a bright future ahead of them and they can make a change.

In your opinion, how can the youths in Malaysia contribute to the preservation of our rainforests and our wildlife?

What young people here can do is what they have been doing all over the world: learn about the problems and talk about them. And these problems are both social as well as environmental – they are welded together.

Then, having bringing up the problem, discuss: What can we do about it? Is there anything we can do? Yes, there is. So now roll up your sleeves and get out and do something. Kids are good at raising money for causes, they are good at writing letters and trying to get the government to answer their questions.

Also, it is really important to try and give young people some hope that if they all take action and do their utmost to involve their friends and families, then, all we can do is hope that our combined efforts will result in some protection of the wildlife. They care about their future because it’s their future.

And how should we deal with the rising threats and concerns to our environment, such as palm oil production?

For heaven’s sake, let us not destroy any more old forests and any new plantations that were made where the old forests were growing. Let’s try and remove them and let the old forests come back – which they will if they haven’t been destroyed for too long.

Additionally, let us stop burning these plantations down, and stop killing orang utans, gibbons and all these other creatures. It is their home! We are so arrogant. How do we dare say, “just because we want palm oil, we are going to destroy the whole world for this orang utan family.” The truth is, you can save the world.

Lastly, what would you like to say to policymakers who have the power to implement significant changes?

We have to help people understand that we need the environment for ourselves and we need the ecosystem. As we destroy it, we are destroying the future for our own children.

Somehow, we have to get the message across that we actually need the natural world and we should try and help people understand what we face if we continue to destroy it. But hopefully, when that message is received, then better and more productive changes can be made.