Testimony by Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE
October 2, 2003
Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than any other animal, sharing approximately 99% of their DNA with ours. They are capable of intellectual behaviors once thought unique to us. They use and make tools, can plan for the immediate future, can recognize self, have a sense of humor. They show emotions that are clearly similar to those we call happiness, sadness, anger, fear, despair and so on. They show compassion and altruism on the one hand, brutality and a form of primitive warfare on the other. Anthropology textbooks often refer to chimpanzee behavior as a possible model for the behavior of our Stone Age ancestors. Certainly they help us to understand that there is no sharp line dividing humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. At the same time, just because chimpanzees are so like us, more so than any other species, understanding of their behavior helps us to pinpoint ways in which we are, indeed, unique and may help us to better understand our own behavior.
During the six million or so years of our time on Earth, we humans have developed an extraordinarily sophisticated spoken language and remarkable intellectual powers. In chimpanzee society “might is right” although we see some precursors of moral behavior, as when a high ranking male intervenes in a fight on behalf of the weaker of two subordinates. We humans have gone further along this path. Unless we are physiologically damaged we each have the capacity to control our baser instincts through a sense of morality. All peoples have developed rules and/or laws designed to punish anti-social behavior. Yet anti-social behavior is rife around the world, within and between communities. Wars continue to be waged and despite the lessons of World War II, some of them include genocide.
Within a chimpanzee social group, aggressive acts are typically followed by submission of the subordinate to the aggressor who then reassures the supplicant with a pat or embrace, thus reducing tension and restoring social harmony. Interactions between members of different social groups, by contrast, are brutal. Chimpanzees show pronounced xenophobic behavior, and males of one community may hunt and attack “strangers” – including females. Such aggression seems triggered by competition for territory and the acquisition of more food resources for their own females and young. In this way we are more like chimpanzees than we care to think.
Unfortunately, we have become better at killing: the simple, chimpanzee-like tools of our remote ancestors have evolved into all the marvels of modern technology. And while on the one hand this has led to inventions such as the countless life saving practices of modern medicine and today’s electronic communication, on the other it has led to ever more efficient ways of waging war, including the invention of nuclear weapons and other forms of mass destruction. We now have the power to destroy life on earth as we know it. This power, coupled with current political and social tensions makes the world a very dangerous place.
Animal and plant species are becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate as a result of habitat destruction – deforestation, desertification, filling in of wetlands and massive pollution of air, water and soil through chemical fertilizers and pesticides, industrial emissions and so on. The reckless burning of fossil fuels threatens the ozone layer and is causing global warming. Over-fishing has led to the depletion of fish stocks in the oceans. Ground water levels are sinking and the level of many rivers has dropped dangerously as water is diverted for irrigation and so on.
It was when I realized that the chimpanzees in Africa were facing extinction due to habitat destruction, the live animal trade and, in West and Central Africa, the illegal commercial hunting of wild animals for food (the bush meat trade) that I left the forests of Gombe to begin raising awareness of these issues. Since October 1986 I have spent approximately 300 days a year “on the road”. It soon became clear to me that many of the problems faced by Africa and other developing countries – overpopulation, habitat destruction, desertification, hunger and crippling poverty – are due, in part, to the demands made on their natural resources by the developed world. Everywhere the elite are enjoying unsustainable lifestyles and getting richer at the expense of the poor nations. Unbridled economic growth in the developed world and elite societies everywhere, runs in parallel to the impoverishment of the developing world. The gap between the rich and the poor that is growing ever wider fuels discontent, resentment and anger.
It is desperately urgent that we strive to achieve a more equitable world which, in part, means placing strong, legal constraints on the desire for power and uncontrolled economic growth of the wealthy nations, and a curb on selfish nationalism. There has never been a greater need for arms treaties.
And we must realize that it is not only the dispossessed and oppressed who are angry and resentful, but those countries who are left out of decision making process. Modern electronic communication provides such people with information about plans made by the super powers that will affect their lives, as well as providing graphic information as to how “the other half lives”. I repeat, the world has become a very dangerous place.
It was to address such issues that the UN was formed after World War II. And while the UN has many failings, it is the only organization that provides a platform for all nations, including the smallest and weakest, to make their voices heard, to give input into decision making, to protest bullying behavior on the part of wealthy nations. We must work to build the strength of the UN, particularly now when there is a secretary general with the ability, the wisdom and the great leadership abilities of Kofi Annan. He is not only respected, but loved by many around the world.
One of the most important steps we could take, as we stand at the start of a new century, is to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The devastation inflicted on people and the environment with the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II was a crime against humanity. The extent of the damage on people and environment caused by the atomic tests on the Marshall Islands is only now becoming apparent. Survivors of radiation and their offspring have suffered unbelievably, in both Japan and the Marshall Islands, and still suffer today.
Yet the Bush Administration has declared its intention of relying on nuclear weapons as a core component of US national security, exploring the development of new nuclear weapons, and may resume nuclear testing. Indeed, we stand on the brink of a new nuclear disaster. The natural world, already harmed so extensively in so many ways, might well be unable to withstand a further massive onslaught. We understand increasingly how ecosystems are comprised of interconnected parts – damage or loss of some parts can lead to irreparable damage to the whole. And I believe that natural world is important for our psychological development, our mental health, and our spiritual growth. It is desperately important that we think about the impact on future generations of decisions we make today. We must think of our children, and children as yet unborn, and the increasingly damaged environment that we are creating.
There is still hope, but only if we each take responsible action to make the world a better place for all living things. We have the potential to change course and to take control over our destiny. We have the power to destroy or heal the world. Pray God we chose to heal.
Biography: Jane Goodall is known internationally for her long term study of chimpanzees in Tanzania, East Today, however, she is increasingly recognized as an advocate for conservation of the natural world and a variety of environmental and humanitarian issues. Her program for youth, Roots & Shoots, is operating in more than 60 countries around the world, and involves more than 4,500 active groups from pre-school through university. Since 9/11 Roots & Shoots has developed a strong Peace Initiative, designed to help youth understand the different cultures and religions of the world, and to break down the barriers we have erected between religions, cultures and countries. Dr. Goodall, who was made a Dame of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II earlier this year, was appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, as one of nine UN Messengers of Peace in April 2002.
“The Limits of Unilateralism” presentation at the U.S. Congress October 2, 2003 was hosted by the House of Representatives Bipartisan Task Force on Non-Proliferation in cooperation with the Bipartisan Security Group, a program of the Global Security Institute. For more information about the Task Force, please contact Ramsey Hoguet (Rep. Markey) at 202-225-2836 or Jordan Press (Rep. Shays) at 202-225-5541. For information about the Bipartisan Security Group, please contact Ambassador Robert Grey at 202-543-9017.