March 20 (UPI) -- Noted wildlife researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall believes every individual can make an impact to prevent climate change and other environmental issues.
Speaking at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., Tuesday night, the 84-year-old Goodall -- who's spent nearly 60 years researching chimpanzees in Tanzania's Gombe State Park and advocating for wildlife conservation -- told a sold-out crowd there's still hope for the Earth if humanity acts quickly.
"We have a window, but I don't think it's a very big window," she said. "What's so desperately important is we get together and try to make a difference.
"There's way more awareness all around the world about environmental problems than there was."
Goodall said although she professionally began researching chimpanzees in 1960, her love of animals dates back to her childhood when she read books like Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan and the Apes, which at the age of 10 inspired her future career.
"That's when my dream began," she told UPI. "I will go to Africa, live with wild animals and write books about them."
Goodall's dream came true at age 26 when she went to live with chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania, where she made a groundbreaking discovery that chimps form and use tools -- behavior up to that point which was believed only to be seen in humans. She has since launched The Jane Goodall Institute to continue research and interact with communities to aid wildlife conservation.
Goodall said in the decades since her career began, she's seen forests that once covered Africa shrink as logging activity and populations grew.
"The commercial hunting of wild animals for food started and so things suddenly began to get much, much worse. The forest became fragmented and chimpanzee numbers dropped," she said.
Goodall warned that climate change has disrupted the patterns of rainy seasons in Africa, no longer presenting periods of short rains and long rains.
"There's still heavy rains in February, March, but it's just unpredictable," she said. "So this is eventually going to have some effect on the plants when they ripen, so we need longer term research to be sure about what the changes will be, but there will be changes."
Goodall believes engaging surrounding communities and educating youth are pivotal aspects of conservation. To those ends, she's launched the TACARE program, which works in a holistic way with villagers to make them partners in conservation efforts. Another key program is called Roots and Shoots, which encourages the young in dozens of countries to identify and address environmental problems.
"One of the most important ways of conserving habitats is to work with the people around the habitat, the villagers, the communities, because very often they're very poor and they don't have good health or education facilities," she said.
Goodall travels about 300 days of the year to teach people how to limit humans' environmental footprint.
"There's lots of things that people can do in our everyday lives. Every day we walk the planet, we make some difference," she said. "And we can choose what we buy, what we eat, what we wear. Where did it come from? Did it harm the environment? Did it result in animals suffering? Is it cheap because of child slave labor?"
The goals, she said, can't be achieved without first working to alleviate poverty.
"When you're really poor, you have to buy the cheapest, you have to cut the trees down in order to try to grow food or make charcoal," she said. "We also have to change the unsustainable lifestyle of all of us and tackle the problem of human population growth. The planet has finite resources and we've been using them as though they will go on forever, they won't.
"Every individual matters. Every single one of us has a role to play," she added. "Every single one of us makes some impact on the planet every single day."