This Friday, students in almost 90 nations including Australia, are expected to skip school to protest against the lack of action to curb global warming.
Dr Goodall blamed an “unholy alliance” between governments and big fossil fuel companies for slowing the advance of renewable energy that could have seen many more people get off the power grid by now.
Her comments come as the climate debate in Australia has flared again within the Morrison government over coal-fired power.
Leading Nationals, including Barnaby Joyce, have been pressing the government to commit to subsidising a new coal-fired power station in Queensland that the market would not otherwise fund.
Similar arguments are continuing elsewhere, with Bloomberg News reporting at the end of last week that the Trump administration plans to slash renewable energy research by more than two-thirds in its 2020 budget to be submitted to Congress soon.
Dr Goodall said the environment typically loses out to the economy, including in democracies.
“If it’s a big decision and it involves lots of money – and it’s all around the world – the environment loses out over economic development, she said. “[It’s because of] corruption and people lining their pockets.”
Companies, though, are responsive to consumer shifts. A vegetarian for the past five decades, Dr Goodall said individuals should pay more heed as to whether the products they bought harmed the environment, involved animal cruelty or child-slave labor – or simply weren’t necessary in the first place.
“We need to get together, in what I think is a small window of time, to start healing some of the harm we’ve inflicted on the planet,” she said, otherwise “the outlook for our grandchildren and great grandchildren is bleak indeed”.
Since her landmark research into the behaviour of chimpanzees in the wild, Dr Goodall has campaigned for conservation. Her “Roots and Shoots” program to foster youth activities, started in 1991, now involves about 150,000 groups worldwide.
“It seems to be my job to wake people up to the fact that every single day, every single individual – every one of us – can make some kind of impact,” she said.
Despite being away from her home in Bournemouth in southern England for 300 days a year, Dr Goodall has no plans to give up her global campaigning.
“As long as I can I will keep doing what I do,” she said. “I’m caught. It’s a big responsibility from which I cannot escape.”
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.