‘The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times” by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams is the second in Celadon’s Global Icons series, in which Abrams enjoys probing conversations with some of the world’s most influential and beloved figures. The first was the delightful “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (2016). In the present volume Abrams travels to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to meet octogenarian naturalist Jane Goodall, Dame of the British Empire and United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Hope is in some ways less straightforward than joy. According to Hesiod, when Pandora took the lid off her infamous jar (sometimes translated as a box) and liberated all the evils of the world, only hope remained. “The first question is whether Hope stayed in the jar, or was released,” writes Peter Fiennes in “A Thing of Beauty: Travels in Mythical and Modern Greece.” “And if Hope did stay in the jar, then is that jar accessible to us, to be dipped into for sustenance and succor whenever we need it?” Nietzsche, in contrast, viewed hope as an exquisite torture, a bitter punishment that stops us from seeing the world the way it is and thus prolongs our mortal agony.

It was this last interpretation of hope that tugged at me as I read Goodall’s words, for Goodall does have hope, and has it in abundance. Hope that we will all act together in a timely manner to divert the worst atrocities of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) – climate change caused by us humans.

Somewhere between 97 and 98 percent of publishing climate scientists currently support the consensus on ACC, yet in the United States the subject is still predominantly a matter of political opinion. Nine years have passed since Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), that most steadfast of climate change deniers, wrote that “God is still up there, and He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth remains.” According to an analysis from the Center for American Progress, there were still, as of March 2021, 139 elected officials in Congress “who refuse to acknowledge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change.” Between them these same 139 members “have received more than $61 million in lifetime contributions from the coal, oil, and gas industries.”

In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II was caught on a mic recently saying that she had “been hearing all about COP,” the 26th U.N. summit on climate change. “I still don’t know who’s coming,” she said, adding that it was “irritating when they (the world’s leaders) talk but they don’t do.”

So, can Goodall’s book make a difference? It’s hard to know, but it’s clear that her view of hope is robust. “Hope,” she says, “is what enables us to keep going in the face of adversity. It is what we desire to happen, but we must be prepared to work hard to make it so.” Her voice is reminiscent of that of the accessible and practical 16th-century nun St. Teresa of Ávila, or the 19th-century St. Therese of Lisieux, whose teachings are still prevalent today. Abrams gently draws from Goodall the philosophy that continues to sustain her. Contrasting it with optimism, which she defines as the feeling that things will be all right, Goodall regards hope as “a stubborn determination to make (things) work.” She bases this on four observations from her decades as a naturalist and an inspirational speaker: the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people and the indomitable human spirit.

When Abrams asks her, “Why do you think it is that so many people say you give them hope?” Goodall replies: “I honestly don’t know – I wish I did. Perhaps it’s because people realize that I am sincere. I unflinchingly lay out the grim facts – because people need to know. But then, when I lay out my reasons for hope, as I have in this book, they get the message and realize that there really could be something better if we get together in time. Once they realize that their life can make a difference, they have acquired a purpose. And . . . having a purpose makes all the difference.”

Goodall does indeed lay out the facts, and they are grim, but she also tells numerous stories of resilience and ingenuity, and she steadfastly believes in the power of the young. Her message is contagious, her gentleness persuasive, her wisdom deep, and if this little book were to be gifted in households across the world this holiday season, then perhaps her message of hope would grow roots and shoots and unite us in her rallying cry: “Together we CAN! Together we WILL!”

Katharine Norbury is the author of “The Fish Ladder” and the editor of “Women on Nature,” an anthology of women’s writing about the natural world in the east Atlantic archipelago. She lives in London.


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