Direct Connection: Global Resources, the U.S. Economy, and National Security
JILL SIGAL: Good evening. I'm Jill Sigal, with Conservation International.
Before we proceed to our last session with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations; Peter -- (laughter) -- Peter Seligmann, chairman and CEO of Conservation International; and Harrison Ford, vice chair of Conservation International -- (laughter, applause) -- we would like to show you a short film titled "Direct Connection."
Many of the themes in the film -- the importance of natural capital, the impact of resource scarcity on human well-being and the direct connection between international conservation and America's economic and national security interests -- have been discussed throughout the day. We put together the film to help us raise awareness of the importance of these critical issues and to inspire action. "Direct Connection."
MR. : -- provide the essential services of nature to human beings is fundamental to our global and national security. As the earth's population grows, we know that we will stress nature's ability to support people. Competition for natural resources can lead to instability, conflict and mass --
(Video stops.) (Laughter.)
SIGAL: Again, "Direct Connection." (Laughter.) From the beginning.
MR. : There is a direct connection between international conservation and America's economic and national security interests.
ROB WALTON (Chairman of the Board of Directors, Wal-Mart): There is a direct connection between international conservation and America's economic and national security interests.
Hello. I'm Rob Walton, chairman of Wal-Mart stores and chairman of the executive committee of Conservation International. With the world's population expected to grow from 7 billion to over 9 billion over the next 40 years, doubling global demand for food, water and energy, the United States and the rest of the world face enormous challenges. We must ensure that viable natural resources are protected and that ecosystems that supply us with essential goods and services such as fresh water and food are responsibly and sustainably cared for. International conservation plays a vital role in protecting these ecosystem services and is an investment in American workers and U.S. competitiveness.
For example, many international conservation programs help stop the illegal extraction of natural resources that unfairly compete with American products. Stopping illegal logging alone could have a benefit to the U.S. economy of at least $500 million annually.
WESLEY BUSH (CEO, Northrop Grumman): There is a direct connection between international conservation and America's economic and national security interests.
I'm Wes Bush, CEO and president of Northrop Grumman, and board member of Conservation International. The ability of our planet's ecosystems to provide the essential services of nature to human beings is fundamental to our global and national security. As the Earth's population grows, we know that we will stress nature's ability to support people. Competition for natural resources can lead to instability, conflict and mass migration, and leave populations vulnerable to radicalization. If we fail to act, this stress on our sources of food and fresh water will translate into a threat to our national security.
But we can make a difference, through science-based efforts, to ensure the health of our ecosystems that provide us with renewable natural capital. A failure to make these investments, which have very high returns, would have terrible consequences, burdening future generations with a level of risk that simply is not acceptable.
Secretaries of State Baker, Powell and Clinton; General Zinni, as well as the United States National Intelligence Council, all have publicly recognized that the security challenges of the future include the threat of resource scarcity.
International conservation secures vital natural resources and protects ecosystems and the essential services they provide to people. This is a national security investment that supports regional stability. It cannot be deferred. The security of our children and grandchildren depends upon us acting now.
HARRISON FORD: There is a direct connection between international conservation and America's economic and natural security interests.
I'm Harrison Ford, vice chairman of Conservation International. Billions of people are threatened by vulnerable and depleted ecosystems. The ability of our planet to keep up with the needs of people for food and fresh water is diminishing. Fresh water, natural pollinators, fertile soil and sources of lifesaving medicine -- these ecosystem services cannot be replicated at any cost. They are essential for the benefit of humanity.
Most major U.S. companies have undertaken sustainability efforts with real metrics and real investments to achieve their objectives. These programs have continued even through the economic downturn, when many other investments were curtailed.
But these companies cannot do it alone. continued leadership and support for international conservation programs from the U.S. government is crucial. It might be tempting to defer these investments because of a smaller federal budget, but the risks are too great.
MR. : Protecting nature's assets is of strategic importance to our economy, our national security, our well-being.
SIGAL: Please welcome to the stage Richard Haass, Peter Seligmann and Harrison Ford. (Applause.)
FORD: There is a direct connection between international conservation and --
MR. : (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. : This -- all had gone so well.
RICHARD HAASS: This is like "Cool Hand Luke." What we have here is a problem of communication. (Laughter.)
FORD (?): It's just the system.
MR. : True. (Laughter.)
Before I say something about my two colleagues here, I really want to say I think this has been an extraordinary day, an important day, given the amount of time devoted to these issues, but also the breadth and depth, sheer quality of the conversation. And if we've helped highlight and illuminate some of the issues and, to use the words we just heard, underscore the connection between worlds which are often treated distinctly or separately, then I think we've accomplished some good. But I really do think that going forward, to the extent people with various expertises and various backgrounds and the rest -- to the extent they work together, it's not only desirable, but it's probably essential.
And as -- I think it was Peter or -- remarked in another setting today, and I think it came out in the first meeting this morning with the assistant secretary of state, that this issue has got to get mainstreamed. And to the extent that it is ministers of the environment and the like -- and I don't mean to put them down -- but again, until it is mainstreamed and -- (inaudible) -- the responsibility is shared by people who have real responsibility for the economies and for national security, I don't think we will get where we want and need to be.
What we're going to do now is essentially have a conversation amongst ourself privately -- (laughter) -- completely off the record -- (laughter) -- and then we'll open it up to you all.
PETER SELIGMANN: How about those Knicks?
HAASS: Yeah. No, I don't want to talk about that. (Laughter.) We're not going to be -- no, that really would get me indiscreet. I have a whole theory about how the ownership in sports ought to be licensed. And -- but we don't want to -- we don't want to go there.
Let's -- all right, let's stick to the subject at hand, because it's an important one. And let me start with Peter. And, essentially, say something about how it is and why it is that Conservation International came to put -- to frame the issue in this way, because it's not the way you framed it probably for your first two decades. And then you came to frame it this way, so why don't you -- in that change, I think, is -- it's an important narrative.
SELIGMANN: Well, first, I just want to thank all of the people that have spoken today and asked questions and really discussed these issues. You've done a brilliant job. And for me, the most exciting thing about this gathering today is how much we all are learning from each other.
We haven't really figured out how we scale it up, and I really do think that we need to focus on that. But before we get into those challenges, you know, I -- as I mentioned earlier today, I actually, you know, maybe five or six years ago was, you know, in one of those places where you're figuring out the impact you've had, and I was looking at all the thousands of partnerships with businesses that CI has entered into and with NGOs and calculating the hectares of biodiversity hot spots were protected. And the numbers got bigger and bigger, and then you do these big marine reserves, and all of a sudden we were talking about hundreds of millions of hectares of biodiversity hot spots that were under some kind of protection through partnerships that we had had.
And when I calculated the amount, I realized it was a strip of land 30 miles wide that wrapped around the equator, and I was actually really -- thought that was pretty cool. And then I happened to look at a globe, and I saw that it was actually like the perforated line right around the center of the globe. (Laughter.) And I thought, well, actually, that's not that much. That's -- you can hardly see that. And thinking a little bit further about it, I began to think about the change in extinction rates in the 25 years or 20 years that CI had existed that had accelerated, and we were at maybe a thousand times normal, and fisheries collapsing and climate even weirder than when we started.
I mean, it was basically -- I looked at it and thought, all this effort, all these great people involved with the organization and involved in conservation, and I thought, you know, we're actually failing. We are failing, and we're failing at an accelerated pace. And so my thought at that time was, you know, it's not about protecting biodiversity anymore. We're at a place where actually what's threatened is our ability to live. It's the health of our environment. It's our pollinators; it's the sources of fish, of fresh water; it's annual events that are causing terrible damage to communities and to people.
And so I thought, we need to actually rethink what we're doing. And rather than focusing on conservation being on this track and development on this track, we have to recognize that development -- you know, energy, water, food, health, livelihoods -- needs to insert a conservation ethic into it if it's actually going to be lasting. And that meant our partners had to be not the partners that we traditionally, you know, agreed with, but it had to be how do we actually get the conversation to be different, so that the powers, the forces, the energy of development and development -- the institutions could understand, embrace and recognize that it was in their enlightened self-interest to talk about the conservation of nature as an essential part of their DNA.
From there it became clear that we couldn't do that with the mission we had. We had to transform the mission. We had to transform our staff. We had to change the entire organization. And what I did not anticipate was how difficult that would be and how painful that would be. But we went through that and it was a matter of choosing who are the global agents of change, which institutions that, if they were to make that transformation and actually understand the need for making conservation part of their development DNA, could have the biggest impact, so we could innovate and demonstrate and then really amplify. And that was the transformation we went through.
HAASS: Let me ask you one follow-up question. And do you think you're making traction now? Have you basically -- any time an institution changes its mission, its culture, it's painful for all concerned. And so the question is, if you were disappointed with some part beforehand, which led you to pay that price or take that risk, is it your sense that this is beginning to have -- to have the effect you wanted and justify the effort?
SELIGMANN: Completely. I'm thrilled with how much we've learned. I mean, it's very interesting listening to Beth Keck talk about Wal-Mart. And I know that story really well because I was involved in that story from the very beginning, but it's worth illustrating it. I think it's worth giving it from my perspective, since I was right in the middle of it.
I was on a diving trip with Rob Walton, and we were off the coast of Costa Rica. And we watched a Taiwanese fishing vessel go by filled with shark fins. And I said, OK, we're going in tomorrow morning, we're having lunch with the president of Costa Rica, and I'm going to mention this to him. And he's going to look at me and he's going to nod his head; he's going to say, you're right; but he's going to see, kind of, "environmentalist" written across my forehead.
I said, but Rob, if you will say something about you're looking for a sustained source of fish for your marketplace, he's going to see dollars -- (laughter) -- and we will begin an important conversation.
And Rob said -- and Rob is not a very loquacious guy -- he said, OK. (Laughter.) And so we had that --
HAASS: Just one word, "OK."
SELIGMANN: Yeah. We had that conversation. And afterwards we continued discussion and I basically said to Rob and suggested to him -- I said, no matter what you do personally -- because this was all about his personal and family engagement in conservation -- I said, no matter what you do personally, if you get Wal-Mart -- if you get Wal-Mart to become involved and committed to sustainability, that is actually going to change the world.
And he said, I'll introduce you to the CEO and you can make the pitch. And from there it kind of happened.
But what was most important for me when we got involved in the conversation with Wal-Mart -- and this is really kind of answering your question -- what was most important to me was -- and most exciting to me -- was how much we learned from that conversation with Wal-Mart. When they agreed to the meetings that we had -- and we invited many NGOs down, environmental NGOs, to Bentonville to begin a conversation. Many said, no, they would not go. Some did.
What we found when we got together with the people at Wal-Mart, with the buyers, who were young people, they said, are you telling us that we can come out of the closet as environmentalists? (Laughter.) And Lee Scott said, yes, that's what I'm telling you. And then what I found was the enthusiasm of those individuals to actually change the game, and that they understood that it had to be in the enlightened self-interest of the company. And that's what transformed it. It was seeing that they got it. And I've seen that with Wal-Mart, with many companies.
HAASS: (Inaudible) -- you're actually making the case. I hadn't thought about it quite this way before, is that sustainability for these companies is not something they promote, but it actually then becomes a business model. Or to put it another way, supporting these causes is not corporate social responsibility, but this is now corporate corporate. This is now --
SELIGMANN: It's DNA.
HAASS: This is their business now.
SELIGMANN: Yes. It's totally -- it's in their DNA because it's in their enlightened self-interest. It reduces waste. It secures supply chain. It makes customers happy. And it really attracts great employees.
HAASS: So Harrison, here's a question I've been dying to ask you all day. You could be doing "Blade Runner 14" -- (laughter) -- "Raiders of the Lost Hardware Store," but instead you're doing this. So the question is, essentially, how come?
FORD: (Chuckles.) (Laughter.) Stupid, I guess. (Laughter.)
No. Well, I've been involved with CI for over 20 years. I came along when we had 35 people on staff and an annual budget of $5 million. And I met a group of people who -- many of who or most of who are still involved with CI -- who introduced me to a utility that I had not enjoyed in my life. And that is allying myself with people that want to make the world a better place.
And I had -- I had an unfortunate excess of capital happen.
HAASS: That's a problem I could help you with. (Laughter.)
FORD: I -- well, fortunately, it's not a problem anymore. (Laughter.)
But I saw -- I saw this group that could have great effect on the world and make the world a better place for -- you know, now and in the future.
And I've been with them for 20 years, and I've been -- the treat of my life is to be in a room like this, to be a room with the people that you had on the stage today and to be able to learn from them and to experience their investment in our future and really, you know, be deeply moved by that commitment, that understanding of what they can do in their lives and their businesses to make the world a better place for us and our kids, my kids, your kids.
And so I have been happy to be involved, and I've been overjoyed with the kind of successes that we've had. Peter talked about changing our mission as we went along. And yes, there have been adjustments in our mission and how we -- how we talk about what we do, but we've always -- we've done the same thing from the very beginning. And it is to, if I may say so --
SELIGMANN: I might disagree, but -- (laughter) --
FORD: Well, we have tried to give people economic alternatives to unsustainable development because we knew what that would do to the world, the natural world. And linking it now in this -- in this latest iteration of CI's mission to human well-being has been a bit of genius, I think.
And it all was encapsulated in this one brief statement that I think we've come to recognize a certain power in, and that is: Nature doesn't need people; people need nature. And from that, you can extend it all different directions. You can then -- then you can talk about natural capital. Then you can talk about sustainability. But basically, that's it. We require the natural capital, the renewable sources of natural capital in order to -- in order to prosper, to live, to innovate, to educate, to do business, to stay out of conflict -- all of those things. So it all drives from that. And I think it's the same thing, only better.
And the success we've had with businesses, our engagement with business I think has been key to our success. At the time when we first started, environmental groups considered business to be the enemy in most cases. And they weren't -- they weren't in dialogue with business. And Peter and our leadership at the time rightly understood that these were the -- these were the people that were -- that were in charge of using our resources to a certain extent, and we had to be able to educate them, we had to learn from them, we had to find out what they needed to know in order to practice their business in the best way.
And we've seen at the same time a growth of consumer interest in the responsibility of the people whose products they buy, the places they buy them, and they've held business to a higher standard than, I think, ever before.
So this combination of, you know, science, ethics, which is what -- which is, I think, a big part of it, and business has been really successful. And what I've seen is that the business community -- at the same time we talked about the difficulty of, you know, getting 197 countries together to talk about an issue and then getting a treaty and getting a treaty ratified and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, going on and on and on, and that the level of efficiency there is, you know, not so great, but business goes out, recognizing their enlightened self-interest, and adopts practices like that, gets things done. And that's why I'm so pleased about our partnerships with business.
SELIGMANN: So let me throw that question back to you. You can relax. It's an easy question. (Laughter.) So --
HAASS: I'm on the home turf here, huh? (Laughter.)
SELIGMANN: Yeah. So I was talking to people that work for you, and they told me -- (laughter) --
HAASS: Well, now this is off the record -- (inaudible). (Laughter.)
SELIGMANN: Yeah. And they were telling me that years ago, when you would talk to them about kind of social issues or environmental issues, it was basically -- you know, that's fine, but, like, let's stick to the hard stuff, right? And so what happened? (Laughter.)
HAASS: I see Jessica Mathews here, and we used to share an office. Must have been what, 15 or 20 years ago, and Jessica would be doing her typically thoughtful work on issues like energy and the environment, and I just wasn't there. I will admit it.
But why am I there now? A couple reasons. One is that you would have to be -- I don't know if it's deaf, dumb and blind, but you would at -- you would have to be unobservant not to notice that this is a major issue in at least two ways and possibly a third.
One is just as a source of conflict, that whether it's water or resources, whether it's living resources or resources in the ground or what have you, in a world of scarcity, in a world of population now going north of 7 billion -- you know, it's funny. There's so much literature about how countries don't go to war over territory anymore. Well, guess what? Don't worry about it if that's your field; they've found lots of other things to substitute for it. And so there's no shortage of this as a source of conflict.
Secondly -- it's actually part of the book I didn't -- I just finished -- when I was thinking about the difference between the 21st century and the 20th century, 20th century, when you think about it, was a history -- was a century of three great wars, two world wars and a Cold War. And what it had about it -- well, these are the great powers of the day jockeying, and the two wars -- the first two wars were obviously terribly destructive, and the third one could have been but fortunately, for the most, part wasn't.
When I -- when I look at the 21st century, at least for the next several decades, I actually think history's much more likely to be driven not by strong states but by weak states. It's states that can't provide sort of for their own population or can't provide the security that their population needs, so you have massive flows of internally displaced or refugees. Or you have -- you know, I love the story of the -- you know, I don't love Somali pirates, but I love the story of it. You know, basically they made a career change. Why? I -- it wasn't that they were intrigued by the stories their mother read them when they were boys -- (laughter) -- but their traditional pursuits were suddenly unavailable when fishing literally evaporated, and they had to find other ways of using the resources they already invested in, i.e., ships. Suddenly piracy made a good deal of sense.
Or, you know, more broadly, you see countries, you know, that are weak. Well, then they can't protect forests or what have you, which -- you know, and then all of which brings you to the last point. The reality of globalization is that all of these things are not simply things, you know, we read about in the paper or watch on the news, to the extent the news still covers international affairs, but rather these are things which, like it or not, come here, that are -- we're not a giant gated community, and whether it's the food we eat or the air we breathe or, increasingly, the vulnerability we have to extreme weather events, what -- all of these things now matter.
So even if you're not particularly internationally oriented, whether it's either humanitarian or economic or security concerns, no, even if you're none of these things, then sheer self-interest gets you to the point where you've got to care about these things, because it's just -- they're not -- even if they happen out there, they're not going to stay there. But they're going to get on the conveyor belt of globalization, and one way or another, they're going to affect here.
So years ago we said that the lines between what's domestic, what's foreign policy, what's internal, what's -- those lines meant less and less, and this is the reality. So I think if you're in this business now, if you're in the national security business, this has now got to be part and parcel of what it is you do no less than essentially the traditional foreign policy agenda.
I wouldn't say uniquely about this. I'd say it, for example, about concerns about infectious disease or noninfectious -- the noncommunicable diseases -- that there's whole new foreign policy agenda that you've got to get involved in, and that's -- and this is simply an important part of it, whether it affects economic security or national security or U.N. security or whatever, but it's gone, if you will, from a cause of, you know -- or kind of a set of concerns because of values. It's still that, but now it's something much more traditional, much more mainstream, which is, you know, why people like me, I think, have been attracted to it as a set of issues and why I think it's important that a place like the Council on Foreign Relations -- you know, we're 92 years old, we've had a traditional agenda for much of our existence, and I think it's important that essentially, you know, we now tackle these issues, which is a long-winded answer of saying why I'm sitting up here with you two guys.
SELIGMANN: We'll welcome --
HAASS: (Yeah, that ?) --
SELIGMANN: Thank you.
HAASS: Your dues just went up.
SELIGMANN: Yeah. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Well, let's turn from the kind of how we got here to where we go from here. What I'd like to do is actually for a few more minutes -- then we'll open it up -- is talk about, OK, so we all now have some awareness and all that we didn't have. We have some understandings we didn't have. And the real question then is, what do we do with it?
And you know, today and things like this are part of it, but what's your realistic now set of goals, and what's the -- what's the execution/implementation plan? How is it -- as much as today was interesting and enjoyable and I learned a lot, I don't want to repeat it five years from now. So how does one advance the ball here, if you will? What's a realistic agenda in some of these issues? Because it can't simply be going back to -- whether it's 193 or 197 countries, just getting them around some enormous table, in some enormous auditorium. That ain't the answer. That's process without product. So let's not kid ourselves.
So the real question, then, is, you know, I've got some ideas from the diplomatic -- but I'm curious, you know, whether it's for affecting elites, business elites or government elites, what have you, or affecting popular opinion, which then indirectly creates a context for elites, what is it that makes sense to do now?
SELIGMANN: So I think that it's important to have some demonstrations of effectiveness, and what I mean by that is, we all discuss, we understand, we agree that natural capital is an essential ingredient for a lasting, stable society. And we also know that protecting natural capital cannot mean destroying energy supplies, water supplies, food supplies or livelihood. I mean, in other words, we're looking for -- we know we have put those together, which means that we really -- I think, in my simple-minded way, there are three ingredients that have to be mixed together, and we have to have the demonstrations of how it's going to work. One is, we have to identify and value, understand and protect natural capital, the sources of our water, our food, et cetera.
Two, we really need to focus on production, on sustainable production. It means that when we talk about where we get our fish, where we get our minerals, how we get our energy, how we get our food, et cetera, et cetera, production needs to be done in a way that doesn't undercut natural capital, and we need to really focus on that. And that's -- a lot of that's happening right now.
And thirdly, we really need to make certain that we create a system of governance that creates the right incentives, the right policies, the right laws and the right enforcement mechanisms, so you can make those all happen.
And it cannot be a discussion at the United Nations, which is a great institution for bringing together conversation. It really needs to be at the level of -- at some -- at a smaller level.
HAASS: Is there a way, though -- can I just push you a little bit and say, OK, if you were going to come up with a couple of slightly more granular things, can you -- like an example or two of what you think would really make a difference? Because we -- I think we all agree that the answer may not be the U.N., the --
SELIGMANN: Yes. Yes.
So I think it was mentioned earlier -- I think it's worth repeating -- that there are 15 isolated island nations in the South Pacific that have come together and said that we are all kind of in essence selling what we got. We can't manage what we got, we have no control over -- we have no navy and no coast guard, and so we're watching a decrease of our assets, and it's out of our control.
And so these 15 nations have said, you know, we're in a sea that's getting more acid. We're getting in a sea that -- where the sea level's rising. Why don't we get together as a united front, create this Pacific Oceanscape, 15 island nations working together. We have 60 percent of the global tuna population. Everybody seems to come to visit with us to get our fish and our minerals and our energy. Let's create an OPEC of tuna or OPEC of the oceans.
And that is a huge step forward. It's a step forward, and they're basically saying, we have a right, an obligation and a capacity to actually protect (what we got ?), but we need to have some support.
So how does industry engage so that industry acts -- becomes a partner in this? And I think that one of the most important things that's happened today is that through social media, a company does either a partner or a predator because social media shines a light immediately on bad actors. And I think that's a different -- sets a really powerful and really important -- so then you got the private sector joining in with governments, and you begin to look for solutions. And that's actually what we're -- what we're seeing.
And then you take it a step further, and the step further is that the benefits of managing the Pacific Ocean fisheries more intelligently don't just (accrue ?) to the countries that are there. It's a source of protein, globally. And so it's in the self-interest of different governments -- Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, the United States, for example -- to collaborate on a shared agenda.
So that's a demonstration of something that happens. It would never happen if it were a hundred nations. It happens to be 15 nations that share kind of a common background.
The same is true in Africa. If you go to sub-Saharan Africa -- so CI's lucky. We have two board members that are heads of state. One is the president of Kiribati, who's leading this Pacific Oceanscape. The other is the president of Botswana, Ian Khama. And he's leading something called the Gaborone Declaration. And what he's basically saying to his neighbors and his colleagues that run nations in sub-Saharan Africa, we have never valued our natural values, our natural assets. We basically exploit, watch that asset value drop. And he's saying, what does it happen to our future? Let's put at asset value. Let's manage this as natural capital as this -- as if it were something we understood, valued and wanted to increase in value. And so President Khama has called a meeting, gathered 10 heads of state. They've signed an agreement to begin an annual process of doing wealth accounting of their ecological values and doing a transparent audit on an annual basis so the world can see how they're doing. Those are concrete steps.
HAASS: I got a few ideas too, which I'll talk about in a second. But Harrison, let me ask you a different question. What we've seen in the last couple of weeks in America to me is quite interesting on a couple of issues, where it shows to me the potential for public opinion to move. We've seen it on the issue of gay marriage. The numbers today are quite different than they were. We've seen it on immigration reform, rather dramatic.
So I guess the question I would have is, what's your sense for -- if one wanted to change -- and I do want to say one other thing: At the end of the day politicians are not impervious to context. They are, if anything, highly sensitive to context if they want to continue in their chosen line of work. And -- so one question is then, you know, you've talked about, you know, the idea that nature doesn't need man, man needs nature; what is your sense about the potential to really change public opinion on this issue and this country so the politics then change?
FORD: Well, there's a bottleneck right now, and it's -- and it's the business model of journalism. Right now it has become the business model of journalism to divide us into fractious groups and to service our already strongly held opinions with ideological, you know, nonsense on both sides so that -- so that they've created a, you know, sort of cottage industries on both sides of the question. We need to come together as citizens of this country, world citizens. We all have to say, it's much more important to understand that we've got to come back to this -- avoiding this nonsense and work together, businesses and political groups and nations. And we've got to -- we've got to do that.
And the kids -- and that's the -- that's the positive side of social media, I think, is that the -- this is maneuverable. This is -- this is something that can happen, and it can happen pretty damn quick.
So, you know, I'm very encouraged by the -- by the possibility -- by the -- you know, the real volatility of the world that we're in is going to call -- is going to be a call for action. And -- or it's going to be an immediate string of disasters. And I think people know that and require us, who are, you know, the -- supposedly the responsible members of society to get things done, stop wasting time, stop trying to solve problems with conflict but solve problems with agreement.
SELIGMANN: Can I just add to that that -- it actually reminds me of a -- of a conversation that I had with -- I've had a -- repeatedly with different heads of state probably 10 or 15 years ago, where I go in and, very impassioned, talk about the loss of biodiversity in the countries. And these are all intelligent people, and they nod their heads and say, that's really great, it's really important, but it's, like, number 25 on my list; it doesn't really get up to the top.
And that's why we went through this transition at CI. It's like, how do you actually -- that's why we're having this conversation. It's how do you actually get the conversation to a place where it affects people? It affects where their food comes from, the water comes from, their security, their livelihood. I mean -- and that's the good news: We're all having that conversation now.
What we have to really figure out is what's the language? What are the words that we can use that people will actually understand? I mean, you know, sequestration, climate or biodiversity -- I mean we have picked the words that nobody in the world could ever hug or understand. (Laughter.) We need to find language that actually resonates and hits the heart, I mean, and that's what we have to look for, because that's what we're dealing with. We're dealing with people and their well-being.
HAASS: For the record, the heart's on this side, which might be part of your problem. (Laughter.)
SELIGMANN: I have a very short arm. (Laughter.)
But that's why -- that's why language that doesn't divide but language that invites in is so powerful. That's why direct connection got us past a bottleneck of funding for international conversation -- conservation, because we didn't go in to the Hill talking about climate change, which they're still -- that's a difficult issue for some people, less so in the last six or seven months, I must say. But it's just establishing simple, straightforward language.
And we spent a lot of -- and the conservation community -- it used to drive me crazy until I just gave up on it. (Laughter.) We spend -- the -- our language is contrived to talk to ourselves. (Laughter.) And people outside of our community -- what the hell are they talking about? They're full of acronyms and references and stuff that doesn't -- we need to be able to talk plain language to the world and to ourselves, and that -- I saw that today on the stage here, people with great understanding and deep wells of knowledge talking plain talk, and it was so encouraging and enlightening.
HAASS: Let me just say a couple things, and then I want to open up. One is -- (inaudible). One is on U.S. foreign aid policy and in general, the foreign policy to make this a higher priority. And one way we would do, for example, to designate certain types of excess defense articles, make that a much higher priority, to help countries with ships that we may not need as much so they can patrol coastlines or whatever but basically to look at -- if you really wanted to have a dimension of your foreign policy that was there to build capacity so countries could better look after forests, could better look after coastlines and so forth to deal with these -- better patrol fishing areas and so forth, that would have certain consequences and amounts but also the kind, if you will, of assistance that was furnished. And my hunch is it hasn't been, shall we say, a priority. What it's been more: Gee, if we happen to have the next Coast Guard cutter we don't need anymore, we can make available someplace. But one would be probably to raise it up, I would think, in the list of priorities.
The second -- and I know there's some intellectual work's been done on it -- is to rethink a little bit certain approaches to GDP, or at least if not to rethink it, to have a companion approach but that basically factors in questions of sustainability more so -- you get a degree of credit, if you will, for longer-term things.
And then certainly it's something you were getting at with your African and your other initiatives in Kiribas, which are alternatives to the large version of multilateralism, which ain't going to happen, and whether it's regional approaches or selective functional approaches, either biting off part of the problem or choosing only a small number of protagonists. And the number that's always used is, you know, 15 countries produce roughly 80 percent of the world's carbon. Well, quite honestly, if we can get an agreement among the 15 or many of them, and even if we don't have the other 180 or so countries, we can live without it, at least as a first step. It just makes it much more manageable.
That's happening in trade, dramatically, where the Doha Round is essentially dead but trade for the moment actually is -- trade agreements seem to be experiencing something of a revival. And that ought to be the goal here, which is to figure out all sorts of, again, approaches involving select countries and -- (inaudible) -- also actors other than countries and select slices of the issue rather than basically necessarily trying to come up with something that involves everybody and solves everything, which seems to be a -- in that case, you know, the enemy -- the perfect, if you will, or the comprehensive becomes the enemy of the desirable and the doable. And that ought to become something of a cottage industry. It's actually a place where outsiders -- and many in this -- people in this room or who are outsiders can actually provide some intellectual content and some creativity to insiders. I actually think it's one of the comparative advantages of people here.
Let me open it up and -- to people in the room. And again, same rules. Just wait for a microphone, let us know who you are, and keep it as short as you can, and we'll do our best to avoid the difficult questions. (Laughter.)
Allan. And I know some of you but not all of you. I apologize.
QUESTIONER: Allan Wendt. China appears to be a rogue player on the world scene as regards the environment. What can we do about that? Will natural incentives eventually encourage China to be more environmentally cooperative, or is there something more the international community can do in the meantime?
HAASS: Want to take it first?
SELIGMANN: Yeah, I'll take a crack at that, because I don't really see it the same way that you see it. I think that China is dealing with an extraordinarily difficult challenge, and the challenge is the expectation of economic opportunity linked with, you know, 1.4 billion people with massive movement from rural areas to urban areas and experiencing tens of thousands of real, challenging environmental incidents on an annual basis that really are disruptive to -- and chaotic. And it's kind of a hard package to control. So I think the reality is that's -- they're dealing with extraordinarily difficult situation, number one.
Number two, I think that they understand as well as any country that I have dealt with the potential devastation and impact that environmental damage can cause to their stability and to their nation. It doesn't mean that they have the answers, but it means that they understand that they are in a very challenging place. They're clearly well-aware of the dependence upon the Tibetan Plateau as kind of the -- you know, the water tower of Southeastern Asia and of China, and they're very concerned about the climatological impacts, about the seasonality of water flows.
So I see them as actually being well-aware. We have actually taken senior-level people from China to Costa Rica and to Brazil to actually learn about concepts like payment for ecosystem services, and they're investing annually billions of dollars into similar strategies where downstream beneficiaries pay upstream owners of forests -- I mean, water owners downstream pay upstream owners of forests not to clear forests. So I see them in a real conundrum, actually.
And finally, I would say that there is a very important conversation taking place in China right now that I personally am involved with through something called the China-U.S. economic forum on what are the key sustainability issues they have to address, and very importantly, how do they secure long-term supplies of resources if they do not encourage sustainable behavior in their supplying nations and partners -- because what they understand is that in 20 years, if they've extracted all the resources from different countries, they got no place else to go. So I wouldn't see them -- I don't see them as a rogue state in this at all. I see them as a really actively engaged nation that's dealing with bigger problems than most nations.
HAASS: I'll give a slightly different answer because I'm a little bit more sympathetic to the question, probably, then Peter is. But I do think the starting point is that they've got a real dilemma. The word "dilemma" is overused. The Chinese have a dilemma. The lubricant of Chinese society for three decades now has been rapid economic growth, and that's provided a legitimacy and ballast for the ruling party and for the political system.
That is unsustainable for many reasons, one of which is the environment. And for the Chinese then, there are certain cases now for slowing things down, given environmental issues. And by the way, the -- if you read Liz Economy's book, "The River Runs Black," the environmental movement has also become a kind of backdoor political movement. It's become one of the ways people in China have attacked the authorities for mismanagement and mishandling of responsibilities. So there's political risk here. And on the other hand, the Chinese are worried that anything that slows economic risk makes the precariousness, if you will, or the uncertainty about the present and future that much greater. And, you know, again, the word "dilemma" is overused; I think the word "dilemma" applies here.
So I think domestically -- you know, I don't know which way the new leadership will go. They'll probably try to find their compromises and do all that. But I don't think it's going to be easy for them because they are on -- under tremendous pressure to basically expose more people to the advantages of middle-class standards of living.
Internationally, China -- the line one tends to get from Chinese authorities is we're still a developing country, we ought not to be held to certain standards, we can't be expected to accept certain obligations or responsibilities or limits now. You didn't when you were at a comparable stage. So what -- it's hypocrisy. So my hunch is China will, you know, on certain levels will not be the partner here or in other situations that we want.
But again, I do think there is an understanding there that what they're on is an unsustainable path, and they have a stake. And again, I think they're going to have -- they're going to be struggling with it. And it's too soon to know how the new crowd is going to deal with these trade-offs -- (inaudible). So -- and I -- you know, and there might be some real possibilities for progress, for example, with certain types of technology transfer going to China. We have a -- you know, we have a stake in them taking certain paths and not taking others. And I think therefore it does open up certain possibilities for collaborations in this -- in this area. But it ain't going to be easy.
SELIGMANN: Can I just add one thing to that? Because I actually -- at CI we have -- it's a fairly large organization. And there are some people that really love to go to the U.N. meetings. I'm not one of those people. I hate going to those meetings. And Harrison and I actually went to Nagoya to the convention on biodiversity meeting, and you went for three days; I went for one day. And that was a global gathering to talk about biodiversity targets for conservation. And there were marine targets set and there were terrestrial targets set.
And about four months later I went to Beijing for meetings with the State Oceanic Administration. And when I sat down with them, I said, so what are we talking about? And they said, well, we actually just signed this convention on biodiversity, and we need to increase our marine conservation areas from 1 percent of the coast to 10 percent. We don't know what to do, and we'd like to have some guidance and participation. For me, that was really surprising. But it was seen as a commitment that had been made.
So I think there's actually opportunity, and I think that there is a transition taking place. The new leadership, just opening speech, said, we're going to have to balance economic growth with protection of the environment because if we do one and not the other, whichever one we pick, we're in for disaster. So, you know, that's an important conversation going forward.
HAASS: (Hattie ?).
QUESTIONER: My name is Hattie Babbitt, and maybe I should have asked the last panel, but I want to follow up on Richard's question about how it is that we advance the ball from here. I thought the -- particularly with regard to American businesses. I thought the preceding panel was an interesting one in terms of what -- particularly what Wal-Mart is doing.
But if you look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and you look at U.S. businesses, the same people who are putting ads in magazines about their new, green approach to production are sending checks to the U.S. chamber. And it'd be very nice to hear from you how we're going to advance the ball to solve that little problem.
MR. : Boo! (Laughter.)
HAASS: (Off mic) -- I doubt you'll have a -- I can't speak for them, but we might not all see the problem or the challenge the way you frame it -- (laughter) -- to say the least.
SELIGMANN: You -- I mean, it's -- I understand what you're saying. I understand the -- I understand the importance of the question.
Fortunately, in all chains, there are leaders that step out and begin to kind of push in different directions. And I think that what we are seeing right now very clearly is the emergence of those leaders. And some of the companies that spoke, they represent those leaders. There are many, many, many more that are out there.
And I think what we're seeing is a recognition of corporate America that it is in their enlightened self-interest to be engaged in the sustainability issues. And I believe that the chamber will be dragged along and will actually become -- will become part of that.
One of the questions I had for the preceding panel that I did not ask because I just didn't -- I mean, I'll ask it -- I won't ask now, but I will pose it, is I would love to see the public affairs offices of companies joining with their sustainability officers in making -- pushing for policy adjustments in the U.S. government with the same vigor that they're pushing for changes in their sustainability engagement. And I think that that's going to come really soon, and I think that will effect what you're talking about.
HAASS: Yes, ma'am, all the way in the back.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. I'm Genie Nguyen from Voice of Vietnamese Americans. I'd like to thank Conservation International for all the good work you do, and I'd like to thank you and the Council of Foreign -- (inaudible) -- today for the -- this symposium. It's very important. It's very important to us, the Vietnamese and the Southeast Asians, because we're facing that every day. The livelihood is very (emergent ?).
So my question is, has CI been to Vietnam, to Southeast Asia, and is there a plan to talk to all these governments and NGOs? Can we somehow work with you to advance your mission? Thank you.
SELIGMANN: Yeah, it's -- the answer is yes. We have worked in Vietnam. We are very actively involved in the Mekong. And it's actually part of our transformation as the institution. When we first were involved in Southeastern Asia, we were looking at biodiversity and at the threat -- threats to particular species. And we found it very challenging to get any traction.
Now we're working very significantly in Tonle Sap, which is a huge freshwater lake in Cambodia that -- the government has become very engaged and interested in our work and is collaborating, because it provides, you know, 40 percent of the protein for the country. And it's gone from being a, let's take care of this nature, to, we actually need to take care of the dynamics of this lake and this health of this lake that's so essential for our fresh water and for our food.
It ties in very closely to China, of course, because the seasonal flows of the Mekong are what really create the fertility and the productivity of Tonle Sap. And so it's a multinational engagement that involves Vietnam.
HAASS: Can I ask a slightly related question? I mean, Asia right now -- here, let me put on my traditional security hat. I look at what's going on between China and Japan over the disputed islands; I look what's going on in the East China Sea with China and several -- Vietnam, Philippines and others, and you see the potential for good, old-fashioned conflict.
And so one question I have: Is there any way that conservation issues to create seascapes, protected -- is there any potential, in a funny sort of way, for this set of issues to actually be used as a wedge that would have positive security ramifications? Or is that a bridge too far?
FORD: No, that's actually the -- we started with that in our oceans program. When we -- when we got into the ocean -- and we were late putting our foot in the water --
HAASS: So to speak.
FORD: -- some seven years ago? Seven years ago, we recognized that we were working up to the edge of the -- of the ocean, and things that were happening on land were affecting the health of the ocean. And we talked about the fact that there is no natural mechanism of governance.
And so we -- in our Seascapes program, we brought together rival nations and mostly rivals on the basis of fishing to get them involved in mechanisms of regulating the fishing that they -- that was transboundary. And so it really is a way of -- their environmental interests and the security of their -- of their -- of their food chains is a way to create binding cooperation between nations. And so that's -- I think it's a -- it's a really viable mechanism, and we've been involved in it from the beginning.
SELIGMANN: Many years ago, we started working on binational peace talks where there were conflict areas, whether it's between Ecuador and Peru or whether it's, you know, Botswana dealing with Namibia, dealing with Angola, who's going to turn on or turn off the Okavango River, and how do you ensure that there's a sustainable flow; you know, in the border zones between Suriname, Guyana, Brazil, same conflict.
In the South China Sea, where there is clearly a very hot button right now with the Philippines, Vietnam and China, traditionally, the -- what I've learned and been told is that the most dangerous moments are when there's political change, because when there's a political change, you have to really show how tough you are so you can get elected, and you cannot give up anything. And so right now is the political change in China. It's basically, you know, this is ours.
HAASS: (Not ?) limited to electoral systems. North Korea may be an example of the -- (inaudible) --
SELIGMANN: No, OK, OK, OK. Well, I'm not even sure -- I'm not sure that the process is election anyway. But it's when there's political change.
HAASS: Sure -- (inaudible).
SELIGMANN: And so it's transition. And what everybody wants to get through and I think is true also in the South China Sea is, can we get through this moment, and then can we get back to kind of kicking the can down the road? Because when you kick the can -- there's no head of state that can give away land and continue to be a head of state. And so you end up with this conflict that you basically want to get -- you want to kick the can down the road.
So basically what we've been -- in the conversation we're having in the South China Sea is, is there a common agenda? And is the common agenda the agenda of, let's care for these resources that we're going to have to share as soon as we can kick the can down the road again?
HAASS: To give -- you can -- (inaudible) -- if you give politicians a bit of protection --
HAASS: -- and some kind of a (cloak ?). And maybe that's too optimistic. I don't know. But it's worth thinking about.
SELIGMANN: Well, we have just created a Center for Environment and Peace, and that's one of its principal issues and interests, is how do you actually create this common agenda?
HAASS: We're running a little bit short on time. We've got time for one or two more.
Jessica. Jessica Tuchman Mathews.
JESSICA MATHEWS: In the spirit that Peter talked about all of his achievements having fallen behind the pace of degradation and not wanting to be a wet blanket, still think it's important -- I have heard much too often today the sense, I feel -- it feels good to me; I feel a bounce; I'm feeling optimistic; the kids are better-informed -- my kids were better-informed and used to be on me all the time about buying eggs in plastic boxes and stuff, but they grow up, you know? And then they're not great agents of change anymore.
I think, on the -- on the environment security issues, if your -- if your criterion is change relative to the -- to the size of the threat, then there are two issues to think about. One is climate. And there, I think, it's undeniable that in the last -- I started working that issue in 1982. In this period we have blown through two degrees. It's gone. A lot of people still talking about it, but it's gone. So you have to call that that a gigantic thing, right?
MR. : Yes, ma'am.
MATHEWS: And on resource management, we haven't on most cases done the one thing that has to happen, which is pricin
And so the answer to your question, Richard, seems to me to be pretty clear. What do we have to do to move the ball forward in five years, so that we're not here in five more years, having sort of the same conversation? One is to change the capital counts, as you mentioned, and as Katherine did earlier today, because that changes everything in how governments act.
And the other is for the United States to act on climate. It's not -- China will follow. China's ready to follow. China's doing a lot more than we're doing. Everybody else, except Russia and India, are on the path. But the -- this thing we call an international problem is a domestic problem, right? So the --
HAASS: That's a big insight, the last part of that, which is that rather than thinking that international problems are necessarily solved through formal negotiations, if the United States, through -- whether, you know, the regulatory approach of higher CAFE standards or carbon taxes or what have you, that might be a far more significant diplomatic gesture than anything --
MATHEWS: It is. That's my point.
HAASS: OK. (Inaudible.)
MATHEWS: That's my point, that it's not a 186-country problem. It's not a 15-country problem. It's not even any longer a two-country problem. It's a one-country problem.
HAASS: OK. We have -- we can't end on that. That's too depressing. (Laughter.) You're right. So we're going to have one more --
SELIGMANN: But I want to -- I want to respond to that, because it is -- I think that you need to kind of swing that up a little bit at the very end. And the way you swing up is that you've got 50 countries that have signed up to do natural income accounting, you've got 10 countries in Africa that are now engaging in that -- pricing externalities -- that's what they're talking about. You've got businesses that are now looking at how do they actually change their accounting standards.
So in other words, what you're talking about, which had been conversation for a long time -- there's actually movement and action taking place in that. And it's not instantaneous. It's not going to happen in a month. But it's a process that's begun, and so in a year we're going to see some real changes in some -- in that. And what is needed are demonstrations, and those are the demonstrations that are emerging.
And the other kind of up note that I would add to that, which I think is extremely important, what you need to kind of, you know -- you know -- you know, open up, you know, to hearing, is that, you know, I spent -- I live in Seattle. I spent a decade -- I spent more than a decade having conversations with Bill Gates about why environment was important. And for that entire decade, I got no place. It was -- it was, that's not our issue. We're interested in poverty. We're interested in hunger.
We went back to the foundation five years or four years ago and had a conversation again with the foundation and said, your investment in smallholder farmers, which focuses on seeds, on farming technologies and on access to market for product from these small farmers, which are mainly owned by and run by women, but -- that is a great, wonderful investment, but it is doomed if you don't -- it's -- if you don't secure the source of fresh water, pollinators and soil for those farmers. Those are externalities. That's an ecosystem service issue.
And for the first time the foundation said, we get that. You're telling us that we're going to -- our investment's going to tank if we don't do that. I said, that's what you have to understand.
They said, prove it.
Tanzania, for two years proving it -- and now major investment by the foundation in creating something called a vital signs network to demonstrate the direct connection, again, between ecosystem health and services, and agricultural productivity. They participated in the Gaborone summit, and they've come back to us an said, OK, we now have to make certain that these countries are actually getting the support they need -- technical, financial -- to be able to build into their accounting systems a way to value natural resources, because it's essential for addressing hunger, food, livelihood issues.
So that's the kind of transformation that is taking place. It's not taking place at the pace that we wanted it to take place when you and I were working together in 1980 on this stuff. But it's happening now, and I think that that's why it's -- you know, we should be enthused and excited about the transformations that are taking place.
HAASS: So now for two reasons we're going to have to end it. One is the hour. The other is Peter's pushback raised the positive level of the -- (laughter) -- and I can't risk -- I can't risk plummeting -- my spirits won't take it.
So again, I apologize to the many people who's -- who were not recognized to get their questions in. There's simply no way to accommodate it. I want to -- just give me 30 seconds -- I want to thank not just Peter and Harrison for participating in this panel but for all the work CI does. And I also want to thank all the people, not just who came today, and all the people who made today possible, Jim Lindsay and others on the council -- (inaudible) -- and others on the CI side. A lot of work went into this, and I'd like to think a lot of good will come out of it. So thank you very much. (Applause.)
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