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Jane Goodall, Earth Day, and NatGeo
April 22, 2020  | By Mike Hughes

Last month, Jane Goodall – who will be the star of many Earth Day programs Wednesday – received some jolting news: She would be relaxing at home for a while.

“At first, I was frustrated and angry,” she recalled in a videoconference Sunday.

Some people wouldn’t have been upset by this sudden “vacation.” After all, Goodall is 86, an age when many people are accustomed to leisure time, and she’s relaxing in a pleasant place: the grand home (in an English seaside resort town) where she grew up. It was part of a fine childhood, the place where she even gave names to the trees.

And her beautiful home is a place that she rarely sees. Goodall – who pioneered the close-up study of chimps – has been averaging 300 days a year, talking to groups worldwide. Coming up were Belgium appearances March 12-14. Then – just as she was leaving home – she learned the events were canceled because of the pandemic. So were her Earth Day plans in the U.S.

The shutdown has changed Earth Day for many people. Most years, the day is filled with clean-ups and celebrations; this year – its 50th anniversary – was going to be especially big.

Now it’s mostly an at-home day, but there’s some good news. “Our Mother Earth is getting a brief respite from progress; she probably needed that,” Oliver Jeffers, author of an Earth Day book and Apple TV+ film (Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth) said recently by phone.

Goodall has a similar view. There might be countless bad things about this shutdown, but there’s also this plus: “For the first time, some people are breathing clean air and seeing the stars at night.”

On Wednesday, they might embrace nature in their own yards, and they might watch a lot of TV.

In January, before the pandemic took hold, Courteney Monroe told the Television Critics Association about plans for a full Earth Day line-up on her National Geographic channels. The highlight (9 p.m. ET), she said, will be the documentary “Jane Goodall: The Hope. The film highlights how one truly remarkable woman became a worldwide icon in animal welfare and conservation, and how she continues to inspire the next generation.”

That next generation includes Rae Wynn-Grant, now a Geographic fellow studying large carnivores. She told the TCA about seeing the early films of Goodall living with chimps and “talking about her work, showing me what the rainforests of Central Africa looked like and all of the amazing primates.”

Goodall will also be featured Wednesday in Jane (12:00 p.m. ET, National Geographic) as well as She Walks With Apes (9 p.m ET, BBC America).

Another highlight that day will be Born Wild: The Next Generation (8:00 p.m. ET), which will go worldwide to see baby animals. “It will be an overdose of cuteness,” NatGeo’s Monroe promised.

That hour will rerun at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on ABC, which will provide some of its people for the film. Robin Roberts hosts, while Matt Gutman reports.

“In past years, people might not have been as receptive to Earth Day as they are now,” Gutman told the TCA. “(In the)‘70s, people thought it was a pretty weird thing to be interested in.”

Now the subject is everywhere. Gutman points to the rash of wildfires: “…we’re living in the midst of what seems obvious to scientists is climate change.”

Goodall agreed. She also points to the wild-animal trade -- the possible starting point of the pandemic -- as a sign of “our disrespect for animals, our disrespect for nature.”

She’s a vegetarian when traveling (which is most of the time) and a vegan at home, where she’s been for five weeks. There, she talks with her sister, takes long walks, and keeps up a flurry of video chats worldwide. “I have never been busier than I am right now.”

And she focuses on the long-range: “The health crisis will go away, but the climate crisis won’t.”

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