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In Seeds of Hope, Goodall combines new age tree hugging with powerful political criticism of multinational corporations for their exploitation of agriculture and the developing world. She starts off discussing her close relationship with trees from the days of her youth. Not only do they hold great meaning for her, but she also talks to them and envisions them talking back to her. She continues that theme with a full embrace of spirituality, the wisdom of nature, and our need to be respectful of the plant and animals worlds. It is a very personal form of expression which is enhanced by the performance of the unabridged audiobook, which is performed by Goodall herself. She brings plenty of emotion to her reading, and her British accent is distinctive. Her anthropomorphism can distracting. For example, at the end of the book, she talks about the tree called "Survivor" that was at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and which was nurtured by volunteers, so that it has been kept alive. She brings in the strong emotions that most will feel about that event, but when she describes the tree as "brave." Some readers may take to this way of writing, but it can undermine the credibility of her political critique.
Nevertheless, Goodall does at least present a strong case that the exploitation of the rain forests, the creation of genetically modified crops, and many of our ways of using the planet are deplorable. She also provides many examples of different ways of doing things that would be much less destructive, are sustainable, and still enable us to live as we want. One small example is the farming of tea in India. She explains how harmful pesticides are used on the tea bushes in most plantations, meaning that the workers are exposed to the powerful chemicals. Furthermore, the plants are not cleaned before they are harvested and the leaves dried so the chemicals may still be present when consumers drink the tea. But, she explains we can avoid those dangers and support much better farming practices by buying organic tea. These are alarming claims for tea drinkers. Maybe they can help change farming practices in other nations by purchasing organic tea, but the main tea manufacturers do not give many options. For example, PG Tips does not have an organic variety, but Twinings does, and it is fair trade as well. Whether such individual switches in purchasing do much to pressure manufacturers is debatable, but at least purchasers can feel better about their own choices. Is it really true, however, that non-organic tea is dangerous? That's hard to know: an internet search reveals plenty of discussion of the issue, but few hard facts. It would indeed be somewhat surprising if the most popular drink in the UK, regulated both by the UK Government and European laws, was really toxic.
Whether all her claims about the dangers of modern farming are true is something readers are going to have to research for themselves, but they are at least plausible enough for readers to want to check up on what Goodall says.
Link: Jane Goodall "Roots and Shoots" blog
© 2014 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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