When she was asked by the New York Times recently whether the Earth would be a better or worse place by 2050, chimpanzee expert, UN Messenger of Peace, and author of a book titled “Reason For Hope,” Jane Goodall had a surprisingly bleak response:
“I see the world in 50 years, perhaps 100, as a dark place,” Goodall said.
What’s terrifying about Goodall’s vision isn’t how dystopian it sounds, but rather how prescient it’s already proven to be.
From the spread of deadly, antibiotic-resistant superbugs to the destruction of habitats that are home to critical life-prolonging drugs, Goodall was right on the money.
Here are three main predictions Goodall made that are already coming true, along with her reasons for continued optimism:
People will be fleeing their homes if we don’t take action on climate change
“Environmental refugees,” Goodall told the Times, “will have fled their destroyed homelands, flooded by the rising seas or buried by the encroaching deserts. Many people will be starving as they fight for access to water and land.”
This is already happening — 22 million people were displaced by natural disasters in 2013 — but it’s not too late to stop it.
A recent study found that if developed countries like the US and UK cut the amount of pollutants they released in 1990 in half, we could prevent the planet from warming further than the 2 degree Celsius limit scientists have proposed. While this sounds like a lofty goal, there are things we can do on a local scale to help.
Preserving animal habitats and forests is one way of combatting the problem, said Goodall on Wednesday. These lush green areas act as carbon sinks, absorbing vast amounts of the pollution we add to the air. In Tanzania, Goodall worked with local governments to turn the area where she did her groundbreaking research into a national park.
Infections will be harder to control — unless we stop overusing antibiotics
“Medical science will be unable to cope with new infections,” Goodall said, “as bacteria build up resistance to more and more antibiotics and the tropical forests where so many medical cures are sourced are destroyed.”
Last year, 23,000 Americans died from bacterial infections that didn’t respond to antibiotics. Certain strains of “nightmare bacteria” kill up to half of the patients they infect, and cases are becoming increasingly common across 42 states.
Yet one of the biggest users of antibiotics in the US isn’t doctors or their patients — it’s agribusiness.
Between 2009 and 2013, sales of antibiotics for use in livestock jumped by 20%.
One way to work against this dangerous trend, said Goodall, is simply to cut back on the amount of meat and animal products we eat. Goodall, a vegetarian, suggested we think more often “of the consequences of the small things we do,” such as “what we buy and where it comes from.”
“We can make ethical decisions,” she said.
Continued deforestation will have devastating impacts — but we’re already beginning to slow down this trend
Goodall also predicted the destruction of the rainforest, which had long been accelerating since she initially spoke about it to the Times in 2012. Each year, we lose a chunk of rainforest the size of Panama (18 million hectares, up from 13 million in 2010) to deforestation, the vast majority of which is caused by logging and farming.
This kind of destruction is showing its first signs of slowing.
A March report from the UN Food and Agriculture organisation, for example, found that we’d lost 25% fewer trees between 2011 and 2015 than we had during the previous 10-year period. Experts say the slowing trend owes at least some credit to the work of organisations like the Jane Goodall Institute.
By helping increase local communities’ access to education and basic resources like clean water, these groups aim to help reduce poverty and empower people in the areas near wildlife to help conserve it. And it seems to be working.
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