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Goodall has spoken about unchecked human population growth’s effects on the environment for at least two decades. And COVID-19 had already been circulating in China before her 2020 remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
There’s no evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic was planned, and two recent studies back the prevailing view that the virus jumped from animals to humans at a live market in China.
The pandemic has killed nearly 6.4 million people worldwide, but the population is still growing and is expected to reach 8 billion people this November.
Did conservationist and primatologist Jane Goodall, a longtime advocate for chimpanzees and the planet, plant the seed that convinced world leaders to unleash the COVID-19 pandemic?
That’s what one social media user alleged in a video posted on Instagram, two years after Goodall, a United Nations peace messenger, discussed unchecked population growth’s effects on the environment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2020. Goodall said many of today’s environmental problems wouldn’t exist if the globe had the population it had 500 years ago.
"They’re not even hiding it any more," reads a caption on a July 24 Instagram post. "Just wait til you find out how many world leaders are a part of the wef…"
"Wef" is short for World Economic Forum. The poster expands on his claim in the video, in which he plays a clip of Goodall’s remarks, then cuts in to ask:
"What was the population in the year 1500? About 500 million. What on earth could take place that would cause a planet with 9 billion people on it to be reduced by 95% to 500 million? Hmmm…I wonder if a virus could do that?"
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Goodall did make the human population growth comments seen in the video, but she has been making the same arguments for years. And there’s no evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic was intentionally started by world leaders, especially not because of her January 2020 comments, in an effort to lower the population. COVID-19 was already circulating in China a month earlier.
Goodall was speaking about human population growth as it relates to sustainability and protecting the Brazilian rainforest, and thus, the environment, in a panel discussion at the forum.
Her point, essentially, was that there are more people than the world has resources for, particularly in developing nations. She also said education and family planning are important to check population growth and protect the environment.
Speaking at a panel discussion called "Securing a Sustainable Future for the Amazon," Goodall discussed her Trillion Trees Project, part of her effort to protect and restore forests to help the climate. She mentioned four things activists and governments need to focus on to help: poverty, eating less meat, political corruption and human population growth. You can see the full context of her statements in the video above, but she finished with:
"Finally, we cannot hide away from human population growth, because, you know, it underlies so many of the other problems. All these things we talk about wouldn’t be a problem if there was the size of population that there was 500 years ago."
Earlier in the discussion, Goodall spoke of visiting Tanzania and helping to start a scholarship program to keep girls in school after puberty.
"It’s been shown all around the world as women’s education improves, family size drops, and it was the growing human population that was the worst problem destroying the forests in this area," said Goodall, who also described starting workshops on family planning.
At no point did Goodall advocate for lowering the population.
She made the same points in a video address to a Population Matters conference in 2019.
"I would encourage every single conservation organization, every single government organization to consider the absurdity of unlimited economic development on a planet of finite natural resources," she said then. "Already in some areas, we are using up these precious natural resources faster than Mother Nature can restore them. We can’t go on like this. We can’t push human population growth under the carpet. We must find ways to address it."
COVID-19’s origin is not yet certain, but there’s no evidence that the virus, which has killed nearly 6.4 million people worldwide, including more than 1 million in the United States, was intentionally released to lower the world’s population.
Although a possible lab leak wasn’t ruled out in a preliminary report in June by a team of scientists investigating the pandemic’s origins for the World Health Organization, two studies published this week in the journal Science say the virus likely jumped from animals to humans in a live market in Wuhan, China.
The pandemic has affected population growth, according to the 2022 United Nations World Populations Prospects Report released in July.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all components of population change, including fertility, mortality and migration," said the report, which notes that the average life expectancy fell from 72.8 years in 2019 to 71 years in 2021, mostly because of COVID-19.
Despite deaths from the virus, the world’s population is still growing — it’s expected to hit 8 billion people by November and peak at 10.4 billion in the 2080s — although the growth rate is the lowest it’s been since the 1950s, the report said.
It’s clear the pandemic had nothing to do with Goodall’s comments at the 2020 World Economic Forum, as the virus was circulating in China in December 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An Instagram post alleges that the COVID-19 pandemic was planned because Goodall spoke about unchecked human population growth’s effect on the environment at a World Economic Forum meeting in January 2020.
But the virus had been circulating in China a month before Goodall made her remarks, and she has made similar comments over at least the past two decades. Despite the pandemic’s toll, the world’s population is growing and is projected to continue to do so.
There’s no evidence the pandemic was planned. We rate this claim Pants on Fire!
Instagram post, July 24, 2022
World Economic Forum, "Securing a sustainable future for the Amazon | DAVOS 2020," Jan. 22, 2020
UN News, "World population to reach 8 billion this year, as growth rate slows," July 11, 2022
United Nations, "World Population Prospects 2022"
FORA.tv, "Jane Goodall - Overpopulation in the Developing World," Oct. 7, 2007
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, "Environmental Change & Security Project Report," 2003
Population Matters, "Jane Goodall @ Population Matters Conference 2019," April 27, 2019
World Health Organization, "Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) Preliminary Report," June 9, 2022
The Associated Press, "WHO: COVID origins unclear but lab leak theory needs study," June 9, 2022
Science, "The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was the early epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic," July 26, 2022
Science, "The molecular epidemiology of multiple zoonotic origins of SARS-CoV-2," July 26, 2022
Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, "COVID-19 dashboard," accessed July 27, 2022
Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, "What is coronavirus?"
CDC, "COVID-19 timeline," accessed July 27, 2022
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