by Rick Ridgeway
Heart of Winter 2010
Three years ago, on a cool and clear January morning, I found myself sitting on a bus next to Jane Goodall, as we were whisked through Paris by a police escort with sirens blaring. About 300 of us arrived at the Élysée Palace – ministers and presidents from myriad countries, executive directors from the world’s leading NGOs, CEOs from large multinationals – and were escorted to an 18th-century ballroom. Jacques Chirac, then president of France, welcomed us to the celebration of what was a frightening landmark: the report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
That morning we heard dire predictions of sea-level rise, declining snowpack, desertification, food shortages, population displacement. Many of the persons who spoke either stumbled in French, or apologized for having to speak in English. Except Jane Goodall. Chirac invited her to speak last, and after she looked calmly around the room she said, “I don’t speak French,” and then added, “and I’m not going to apologize.” She wasn’t being rude; it was her way of saying the topic at hand was far more important than what language it was spoken in. Jane reminded everyone that the most damning change of all to our planet was the predicted loss of biodiversity due to climate change. The report we were handed told us that if temperatures go up 1.5-2 degrees Celsius, and if nothing were done to adapt to that rise, 20-30 percent of the wildlife assessed would likely be at increased risk of extinction by the end of the 21st century. If the temperature rose by 3.5 degrees – well within what is now the predicted range – 40-70 percent of all species assessed would be gone. It would be, she said, the sixth mass extinction on earth.