It was with joy that this year I attended a Web Summit where the environment was at the center of attention. Not that technology was second to none. On the contrary, this year’s edition, entirely held online, made known in many of the conferences how much technological evolution can favor the planet and, consequently, humanity.
From the three days of Web Summit, two sessions captivated me and spoke particularly to the heart and the causes I have been advocating. The first about a plastic-free future and the second with one of the most emblematic women of our time, with regard to the defense of nature and animals: Jane Goodhall.
Bali and a plastic-free world under discussion at the Web Summit
“Grabbing a plastic-free future by the bottle” is the name of the session that brought together Dianna Cohen, founder and CEO of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, singer and songwriter Jackson Browne, and Melati Wijsen, a young Balinese activist and creator of the Bye Bye Plastic Bags project.
In May last year, I was invited to give a lecture on pollution and the effects of tourism. Just arrived from Bali, Indonesia, I took to the stage of that university in Lisbon what I had seen in that country. The level of pollution and the measures already implemented to fight against plastic use.
Melati Wijsen and her sister were behind this revolution when, seven years ago, they launched Bye Bye Plastic Bags and started working to ban the use of plastic bags on their home island, leading to a real environmental and cultural revolution. Work that now covers other areas and already extends beyond borders, bringing together young people from all over the world.
This year’s Web Summit invited Melati to talk about this and how an idea can be a catalyst for profound changes.
“The idea [of ridding Bali of plastic pollution] started with my sister when we were sitting on the couch at home,” said the young Balinese. “We didn’t know how we were going to get there; we didn’t have any business plan or strategy. Just an objective that we knew that another 40 countries around the world had already implemented. So we thought: Come on, Bali! Come on, Indonesia! We can make it too!”
Thus began Melati’s journey, managing to mobilize several people to the point that Bali is now a plastic-free island.
“This shows that, no matter how overwhelming plastic pollution may be, we have to start this conversation and lead to policy changes. We are talking about implementing solutions that are accessible to the masses so that we can all participate in this change, and nobody is left behind,” underlines the young speaker.
The teachings of Jane Goodhall
Melati’s conversation was very inspiring, but the conference I was most curious to see at this Web Summit was that of the great Jane Goodhall. The primatologist who dedicated 40 years of her life to studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, in Africa (an experience that generated books and films known to all), came to this edition in the company of Pieter Van Midwoud, from Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees.
Both (Jane through her Jane Goodhall Institute) jointly have a project to implement tree corridors in Uganda.
Who is Jane Goodhall in the words of Jane Goodhall
“My dream of going to Africa didn’t start with the intention of becoming a scientist, nor study any animal in particular. I grew up during the war; there was no television. I read books and got inspired by Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan. I was ten years old when my dream of going to Africa, living there, and writing books about animals was born.
I always had the most outstanding support from my mother, who always told me that if I wanted something very much, I would have to work hard to achieve it, take advantage of every opportunity, and that if I didn’t give up, I would be able to find a way. This is a message that I have taken to young people all over the world.
I managed to get to Africa, and I met the famous paleontologist Louis Leakey, and it was he who suggested that I study chimpanzees.
I hadn’t gone to college, and he, a year later, told me that I had to get a Ph.D. I took the course, and it was the happiest day of my life. I was in the rain forest building a research station.
Then I left because I came to the conclusion that things were getting worse, and if I could do anything to help, I had to try.
I’m almost 87, and I know that I will spend the rest of my life fighting for justice, for the inclusion of animal welfare, for the rights of young people, and for empowering them to make the world a better place.”
At the age of 87, Jane continues with a jovial and captivating look that attracts attention. The work she does with her institute, her opinion on Covid-19 and its relation with the growing disrespect for the natural and animal environment, or the role we all have in the future of the planet, were just a few of the topics covered.
“I think education is the key, and we need to understand what we are doing to the planet and, at the same time, we need to be inspired and understand how we, as individuals, can fight what many consider to be inevitable,” said the United Nations messenger for peace, adding: “If we continue with business as usual, then, as a species, we are doomed. In some places, we are already using precious natural resources faster than nature can replace them.”
For Goodhall, “Covid-19 was a wake-up call for many people. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have no alternative but to confront an even greater threat to our future, which is climate change. And it’s up to us to do everything we can, every day, to fight it.”
I finished this Web Summit with a full soul because I realized that so many people dedicate their time and lives to develop projects that deal with the emerging problems of climate change and pollution.
You may now be thinking: “what the hell does this has to do with travel?”… The truth is that we travel to see the world and the people who fill it, and I always thought (and think) that we have a role, as travelers, to show the best on the planet, as well as the best way to preserve it.
So today, I bring you these two inspiring women. Two generations so different but who dedicate their lives to the greater good, which is theirs, mine, and all of us.