ROME – World-renowned anthropologist Jane Goodall has joined her voice to the Vatican’s in calling for the defense of biodiversity, saying she has seen hopeful trends in global fight to protect the environment, one of which is Pope Francis.

Speaking during an April 20 Vatican-organized webinar on biodiversity, Goodall, 87, said that in her more than 60 years of work in the scientific field, “I’ve seen so much change.”

“One of my reasons for hope is Pope Francis,” the Englishwoman said, because in his position as pope, “with the whole of the Catholic Church around the world, his stand on the environment really has made a big difference.”

“The other reason for hope is that the other religions too are beginning to talk about the environment more and more,” she said.

“So, this really is one of the big hopes for our future, and that more and more scientists – I never thought I’d live to see this day – but the scientists are coming together to agree that there is intelligence, with a capital ‘I,’ behind the creation of the universe,” she said.

Founder and doctor at The Jane Goodall Institute, she first rose to fame for her groundbreaking research in the world of chimpanzees. She traveled to Tanzania in 1960 at the age of 26 to live amongst them and learn about the species up close.

Her discovery in 1960 that chimps make and use tools is still considered one of the greatest achievements in 20th century scholarship. Her field research has transformed not only the scientific community’s understanding of chimps, but it has redefined the human-animal relationship throughout the world.

In addition to educating the global community on the urgency of saving chimpanzees from extinction, Goodall’s work has also widely reshaped species conservation to include the needs of both the local community and the environment.

Goodall spoke as part of a webinar on biological diversity titled, “The Road to COP15,” which is a major UN-level conference on biodiversity scheduled to take place Oct. 11-24 in Kunming, China.

The webinar was organized by the Vatican’s department for Promoting Integral Human Development, which is led by Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, who also spoke at the event.

In her remarks during Tuesday’s webinar, Goodall said she learned many things about the similarities between humans and chimpanzees while conducting her field research, but one thing she also learned is that “we’re different.”

As human beings, “our intellect has developed explosively from that of our closes living relatives,” she said.

“Yes, they are animals that are way more intelligent that people used to think, but we designed a rocket that went up to Mars,” she said. And yet, “We don’t want to go and live on Mars.”

“At one point it was thought that it might support life, but we’ve got this one, beautiful, green and blue planet, Planet Earth, created by God,” she said, asking, “How is it possible that the most intellectual creature to ever walk on this planet is destroying its only home?”

Speaking of the coronavirus pandemic and the global damage it has wrought, Goodall argued that as a human community, “we’ve brought it in large part on ourselves.”

The reasons for this, she said, are “our absolute disrespect of animals and our disrespect of the natural world.”

“As we destroy habitat after habitat in the environment, and as we bring to extinction species after species, the animals remaining in the remaining habitats are often very close to humans. Humans invade their territory, and in addition to that, they are hunted and eaten, they are captured alive, they or their body parts are trafficked around the world to be sold in wildlife markets everywhere for food, for medicine, for clothing, and for pets,” she said.

Noting that the conditions of animal markets are often “unhygienic, crowded, and cruel,” Goodall said in this environment, “it’s relatively easy for a pathogen such as a virus to spill over from one animal to one person, where it may bond with a cell in that human and create a new disease, such as the pandemic we’re suffering from now, COVID-19.”

She also warned of the dangers of industrial agriculture and the impact of pesticides and herbicides on food and the soil, and the impact of climate change on biodiversity.

In terms of what must be done to stop a further climate crisis from taking place, Goodall suggested several steps, including reducing “the unsustainable lifestyle of so many hundreds and thousands of us on this planet who have way more than we need. There’s often way more than we want.”

“We have to think about the choices we make each day,” she said, explaining that even the decision to purchase more expensive food produced in ethical and environmentally sustainable ways can make a difference. It might cost more, she said, but argued that it would thus be valued more and wasted less.

She also advocated for an end to the use of fossil fuels, and pesticides and chemicals in food production and preservation. She called for water programs to be created in areas with shortages, and for more education for women. She also urged the empowerment of local communities so they can manage their own resources, rather than leaving it all to major companies.

“Together we can create this better future,” where humans and animals are respected not for what they can give, but for who they are, Goodall said.

In his remarks, Turkson echoed Goodall’s statement that human behavior is at least partly responsible for the onset of pandemics, citing a study from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform which reported that the same human actions that lead to the loss of biodiversity also cause an increase in pandemics.

“So, the relationship between the two is very important and significant,” he said, adding that the concept of biodiversity is present in the bible from the beginning, when God created the world in the book of Genesis.

“Today there is a devastating destruction” of the world’s ecosystems, which is putting this biodiversity at risk, he said, adding, “when nature is sick, humanity itself is very sick,” as is evidenced by the growing gap between rich and poor, and many people’s lack of access to proper healthcare.

He outlined four goals leading up to the COP15 conference on biodiversity, which he said are to increase protected areas so that biodiversity can thrive; to value nature’s contribution to people by adopting the sustainable development agenda; to share fairly and equitably the resources obtained from genetic resources; and to check the ways in which the achievement of these goals is being implemented.

“Human beings must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibrium existing between creatures and the world itself,” he said, saying this is also related to Catholic Church teaching “about resting on the seventh day, which is for human beings also to preserve creation.”

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