“We have not borrowed from our children, we have stolen, and we are still stealing your futures. So if any of you young people feel like we have compromised your future, you are absolutely right.”

This is just one statement 82-year-old world-renowned animal rights activist Dr. Jane Goodall made during a public talk with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Nov. 22.

The panel, “Leading the Change - The Power of the Young,” was held at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology by The Jane Goodall Institute Taiwan.

“I think it’s the first time I’ve shared a platform with a president anywhere,” said Goodall. “I mean, I’ve met presidents, but I haven’t shared a platform like this. So it’s a first for me.”

The dialogue started with the two sharing their childhood experiences interacting with animals. Both said they were shy children, and found spending time with their pets easier than having to communicate with people.

Tsai mentioned, as a child, her dream was to become an archeologist because she felt that dealing with human beings was a very “troublesome task,” but working with the past was the opposite.

“It’s just waiting for you to discover. It doesn’t suddenly pick a fight with you, and won’t argue with you just because you hold different stances,” said Tsai. “But things didn’t turn out that way, and my life went completely the opposite direction. Now I meet many different people each day and talk about different fields.”

The president said she has learned how to interact with people through interacting with animals, and that has led to her concerns about environmental protection.

But merely caring is not enough, and raising awareness among younger people is one of the things Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Program has been focusing on since it launched in 1991 in Tanzania. The program now has 150,000 members across 130 countries, including a group in Taiwan.

Goodall said during her trips around the world in recent years, she has found that most young people are very apathetic and do not seem to care about the environment. She said that so many of them have told her, “We feel like this because we feel you’ve compromised our future and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

While Goodall agrees that the future of the younger generation has been compromised, she believes there is still much that can be done.

“I believe we have a window of time, and if we get together around the world we can start reversing a lot of these harms we have inflicted,” said Goodall. “Young people can make a difference, and young people are making a difference.”

Tsai agreed with Goodall saying that the government will take responsibility of protecting the environment in Taiwan, but making a real change still needs everyone to come together.

“After I became president, I have deeply felt that yes, presidents do have power, but this power can’t change Taiwan and the society if we don’t come together,” said Tsai. “There are many values the people in Taiwan believe are right and worth pursuing, but the next question is who is going to do something about it? It’s only through taking action can you show what your values are.”

In response, Goodall emphasized it is crucial for Tsai to help "raise" a generation of Taiwanese who will support the government's environmental efforts so that values that are not mainstream now will be so in the future.

The event was brought to an end with the two in agreement that young people need to constantly ask themselves what is the kind of life they want to lead, whether they are ready to change the way they live, and if they are willing to pay the price to protect the environment.

"Just remember you as an individual matter, and you have a role to play in this life,” said Goodall. “With every single day you live you make some kind of impact on the world, and you have a choice what kind of impact will you make."

Editor: Edward White