‘To reach the billions’

You probably know the feeling: you use energy-saving light bulbs, you eat biological food, you leave the car once in a while or you do something else for “the planet”, but meanwhile you are thinking: “What is the difference I can make?” Of course you know that if we would do these things with billions at the same time, it will make an impact. But you don’t know and don’t see those billions. You do know the neighbor, and he doesn’t have solar panels on his roof, either.

As the Dutch research journalist and foreign correspondent Joris Luyendijk once wrote, sustainability has become some sort of a hobby these days, “as one lifestyle choice of many: oh, you have arranged your consumption in such a way that the earth will not be wrecked? Well, if that makes you happy, then good for you, but my hobbies are gaming, yoga and Indonesian cuisine.”

But when you meet Jane Goodall who travels around the world for 300 days a year to reach those billions, the embarrassment over your own cynicism comes creeping in. Me, a 26-year-old, sitting across a women of 78 who clearly shows signs of fatigue. She became world-famous thanks to her work as scientist in the jungle of Tanzania where she studied the chimpanzee population for 40 years, and now she travels the world with an important message: there is still hope for the next generations, and you too can make a difference. She doesn’t do holidays or weekends. “How can I waste a day if I can do a presentation for 5000 people?”

An intense conversation follows about the necessity of change and the power that young people have to make it happen. “There is a large movement of young people who want to live a different life, who want to live in harmony with the planet and who search for ways to establish such a lifestyle. That’s where my hope springs from. But at the same time the state of our planet is deteriorating faster and faster. I have a deep sense of despair that makes me want to keep traveling and talking with as many young people as possible.”

sAlthough she is visibly tired Jane emphasizes every one of her words with an enormous passion and energy. “It’s all about reaching that critical mass of young people, who go out to become the next CEOs, the next politicians, the next teachers, parents, judges and doctors who think different.”

“Everybody makes a difference. Every day you are able to make an impact on the world and it is up to you what kind of impact you want to make.” Nobody believes as strongly in the power of the individual, the power of you and me to set change in motion as Jane Goodall. “If you and me make different choices, only you and me, that won’t make that much difference. But if you get millions or billions of people to think: How can I live today in such a way that I limit the damage to the planet in the future as much as possible?, yes, that is the way to real change.” That entails more than just using that energy-saving bulb. Jane is the living proof of what you can achieve if you really put your heart and soul in it. Having no money for university and working as a waitress she saved up her tips to travel to Africa to study the chimpanzees there. She followed the motto of her mother: “If you really want something, you work hard, you seize the opportunities you get and you never give up, then you will always find a way to make your dreams come true.”

Still my cynicism isn’t silenced completely. There is no way to reach those billions personally, right? Although it sounds impossible, it is exactly what this woman is doing. A small calculation: Jane approximately gives 8 interviews and presentations per day. Let’s assume that she reaches approximately 20,000 people on average with each interview or presentation (with a tv interview she reaches 200,000, but with a presentation ‘just’ several hundred). 20,000 People times 8, times 300 days per year. That adds up to 48 million people. After 40 years of research she started this mission in 1986, which means she’s doing this for 26 years: 48 million times 26 is… 1.248 billion. Wow. And I didn’t even add the dozens of books and films she produced.
Next time you are screwing in an energy-saving light bulb, please think about this very special 78-year-old woman and the billions of people she reaches. Yes, it does make a difference.

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