Jane Goodall (right) signs a book for Global Futures student Reilly Hammond.
Jane Goodall (right) signs a book for Global Futures student Reilly Hammond.

“Hope does not deny all the difficulty and all the danger that exists, but it is not stopped by them. There is a lot of darkness, but our actions create light.” — Jane Goodall

By Peter Schlosser

In today’s world, with all its problems and instabilities, hope for a better future does not always come naturally or easily. When I look at the state of our planet, I cannot avoid the darkness–current injustices and forthcoming hardships caused by decisions that are focused on short- term gains at the cost of our future–and I know the immense amount of work it will take to create the cultural shift necessary in many places to live in balance with the Earth’s systems. This situation needs strong leadership on many levels and exemplary actions toward a future that will allow the next generations to thrive rather than be confronted with a diminishing set of options.

One of these leaders with the capability to inspire hope is Jane Goodall. The diminutive 88-year-old primatologist is an ever-shining beacon, a source of light and inspiration for many across the globe. Jane is the paragon of hope.

Last month, when she was visiting the Jane Goodall Institute Gombe Research Archive, housed in the Rob and Melani Walton Center for Planetary Health, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Jane and members of the Jane Goodall Institute. Despite following her career and hearing her speak virtually during our 2022 Earth Week activities, it was the first time I had ever met her.

When I was a child, Jane was just beginning her work in the Gombe. The story of a woman living among chimpanzees was newsworthy in the 1960s, and I was excited by the idea of anyone living among the primates in the rainforest. But more importantly, she fundamentally changed the way we conduct scientific research. In the 1960s, as a scientist, a researcher could not have empathy or identify with their subjects. They were taught to keep their distance to maintain objectivity. That is not how Jane saw it. She even went as far as to name her subjects: David Greybeard, Goliath, Fifi and many others.

The distant, objective scientist does not serve us. We have to drastically change the notion of how we conduct science to make it relevant for the future of our planet. Jane was a systems thinker before it was popular, and the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory is designed for the connections innate in Jane — bringing together humanities, engineering, social science and physical sciences to address the problems that humans have created so we can live in balance with Earth.

Meeting with Jane, and reading her latest book, I am reminded that hope is a noun–a feeling–but hope is also a verb. It is difficult to do nothing and to hope for a better future. Hope requires commitment and resolve. Just as importantly, hope is contagious. In the words of Jane, “Together we can. Together we will.”

Peter Schlosser is the vice president and vice provost of Global Futures and director of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory at Arizona State University. This article first appeared in the Global Futures: Now newsletter in January 2023. Sign up for the newsletter at globalfutures.asu.edu/gfl-newsletters.