How the world is saving the shark

by PSA Staff | July 16th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Tara D. Sonenshine is the former US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and a former PSA Board Member.  This article originally appeared on CNN.

How the world is saving the shark

As the summer ocean waves wash up onto America’s beaches, we find ourselves thinking, nervously, about Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” and the paralyzing fear that sharks inspire in us. Yet, paradoxically, we celebrate global attempts to protect the declining number of sharks. The world has figured out we need these species, along with all creatures of the Earth, to maintain a delicately balanced ecosystem.

Sharks, in particular, are “in” these days. Thanks to good public policy and the power of public education and multimedia campaigns featuring stars such as Yao Ming, Jackie Chan and Ang Lee, killing sharks for shark fin soup is no longer cool.

Shark fins dry in the sun on the roof of a factor in Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest markets for shark fins.

The demand has been rising for decades, threatening sharks with extinction — up to 100 million sharks are killed each year just for their fins. But we have started to reverse the trend, particularly in affluent areas of the U.S. and overseas where restaurants once proudly displayed shark fin delicacies on the menu.

In California, and other states, a ban on the sale and possession of shark fin soup has gone into effect this year after aggressive marketing campaigns by WildAid and other organizations.

Overseas, marketing and public diplomacy efforts featuring posters on public transportation systems and TV ads have been underway for the past few years. These efforts all show signs of success, on both the supply side and the demand side of trade in shark fins. Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department tracked 3,100 metric tons of shark fin being imported from the island to China last year, but this year’s numbers are way down.

Stopping the killing of sharks is part of a broader movement to stop the killing of wild animals and the trafficking of wildlife products around the world — products that come from poaching elephants, tigers and rhinos, in addition to killing marine life.

In November, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a global strategy to protect wildlife, raising the level of urgency to a growing national security threat.

For example, the poaching of elephants in search of ivory tusks for luxury goods had became a full-scale war between poachers, who are sometimes terrorists, and governments in parts of Africa. Illegal shipments of tusks across porous borders bring in the prizes of money and weapons.

Once a marginalized issue of U.S. foreign policy, Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry have placed wildlife trafficking at the top of the agenda, given its wide tentacles to Africa, Asia, Russia, Indonesia and consumers in almost every country.

According to National Geographic, which has been tracking elephant poaching, the financial losses place the issue on the scale of global drugs and crime, with an estimated 30,000 African elephants being killed for their tusks last year — a rate of slaughter, say wildlife experts, that could drive the animals to extinction within the century. The dwindling of African elephant populations is alarming. Much of the ivory is destined for China to make chopsticks and jewelry, and the Far East, where it can fetch upward of $1,300 a pound.

Whether it is shark fin soup or ivory piano keys, killing animals is big business. Together with international partners, conservation groups, nonprofits and businesses, the United States is leading the worldwide effort to reduce demand for high-end jewelry, herbal medicines, skins, foods and other products that rely on killing animals and marine life. Working with governments through existing protocols and conventions, the U.S. is convening stakeholders to pressure those who provide sanctuary for the poachers or allow parts and goods to make their way out of countries to market.

Public diplomacy and public education, together with sound policy, give us a model for success. Using Facebook, Twitter, public service advertisements, the media, celebrity interviews, videos and classroom teaching, we can martial the forces to convince consumers that buying products that come from slaughtered elephants or harpooned sharks is simply wrong and dangerous.

And we can track the results of wildlife trafficking and punish the offenders.

This is one of those rare international tales of where the public and private sector, along with Hollywood, can create a very different kind of movie.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake’s remarks at an Inequalities Debate

by PSA Staff | July 15th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Anthony Lake is the Executive Director of UNICEF and formerly on the PSA Advisory Board. This speech was originally given on July 8th in New York and then was published on the UNICEF website.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake’s remarks at an Inequalities Debate

NEW YORK, 8 July 2013 – “In February, to mark World Justice Day, the Secretary-General remarked that ‘we see far too many places where there are increasing opportunities for a few and only rising inequality for the many.’

These growing inequalities have many roots ― historical or geographic circumstance, long-held cultural prejudices and discrimination, ignorance of ― or inability to see ― a person’s true worth or talents.

But while the root causes are many, the damage is the same: women, children and families being left behind ― stepped over ― on the ladder of progress. Today, we live in a world where the top 20 per cent of the global population enjoys about 70 per cent of the total income and the bottom 20 per cent command a tiny 2 per cent. Two per cent.

We are hearing about some of these people today. An indigenous child denied nutrition out of prejudice and neglect. A girl forced to stay home to do chores while her brothers attend school. Families going without necessary vaccinations or health care for their children because they live in remote, hard-to-reach communities.

This is a global problem. A problem for all of us.

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The War on Tusks

by PSA Staff | July 11th, 2013 | |Subscribe

Tara D. Sonenshine is the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and a former PSA Board Member.  This article originally appeared in National Geographic.

The War on Tusks

Tusks up–in some parts of the world that means good luck; a saying full of irony considering the unfortunate plight of elephants today. Depending on your culture, elephants also convey strength, power, wisdom and patience. Whether in India, Africa or other lands, they are important and meaningful—and today they are receiving the global attention they deserve.

This month President Obama issued an executive order targeting the illegal trafficking of elephant tusks (and those of rhino horns and other products) promising a $10 million effort and a national presidential task force to increase anti-poaching efforts.  Building on what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began in 2012 as a global crackdown on illicit trade of wildlife, the President vowed to rein in the growing black market for illegal animal products, which experts estimate has reached an annual business of 7-10 billion dollars.

The threat posed by this lucrative trade is not only environmental. It is a security and counterterrorism issue for the United States and many other countries. There is mounting evidence of links between wildlife crime syndicates and terror groups, with traffickers bankrolling rebels and their militias, conducting military-style assaults on elephants and terrorists funding their violent agenda through the burgeoning market for luxury goods, religious articles, carvings and medicines.

The White House action came as new scientific research opens major possibilities for determining the age of elephant tusks—a key part of the poaching puzzle.  Reported by theProceedings of the National Academies of Science, the research on tracking the age of ivory uses atmospheric nuclear weapons testing residue from the 1950s and 1960s to connect the dots on the age of elephant tusks.  In what is akin to the DNA breakthrough on crime solving, this new research could help law enforcement and other agencies determine when the killing of an elephants occurred—a tool in citing violations of the 1989 ban on African elephant killing for tusks.  The mere fact that carbon footprints from radiation from nuclear testing can be linking to elephant footprints is an astonishing scientific leap that will also help in tracking the numbers of traffickers since estimates of poaching comes from examining elephant carcasses.

The world is waking up to the plain fact that we are losing elephants fast.  National Geographic’s  2012 cover story on “Blood Ivory” detailed a decade of poaching that hit a high in 2011, having the greatest impact in the central Africa region.  According to experts at Columbia University, we have only 400,000 elephants left in the wild.  30,000 elephants are killed each year. A public education awareness campaign must be waged worldwide to target the demand side of the elephant equation. Consumers have to understand that ivory comes from a dead elephant’s tusk and that without an end to the purchase of these products, we simply cannot win the war on trafficking.  Media campaigns like those spearheaded by National Geographic, WildAid, the World Wildlife Federation and hundreds of other conservation groups are critical.  The involvement of Hollywood figures like Jackie Chan have helped the wildlife trafficking issue to gain traction as has the work of athletes like Yao Ming.

In the end, this war will be won through changing hearts and minds—or in other words, public diplomacy.  We need education to reinforce the principle that killing animals is not cool and that the crime of poaching will lead to serious consequences.Whether it is good luck, wisdom or patience, elephants are vital to our planet and must stay front and center in the global mindset until their slaughter is stopped.

A Challenge to America: Develop Fusion Power Within a Decade

by PSA Staff | April 3rd, 2013 | |Subscribe

This article is by Norman R. Augustine and Gary Hart. Norman Augustine is a board member of the American Security Project, a nonpartisan public policy and research organization, and has been chairman of the Council of the National Academy of Engineering. Gary Hart is a former senator from Colorado, a member of PSA’s bipartisan advisory board, and is chairman of the American Security Project. This originally appeared in Forbes.

A Challenge to America: Develop Fusion Power Within a Decade

America’s economy and security depend upon reliable sources of power. Over the next few decades, almost all of the power plants in the U.S. will need to be replaced, and America’s dependence on fossil fuels presents serious national security concerns. They sap our economy, exacerbate climate change, and constrict our foreign policy. Our newfound boom in natural gas and oil production will ease but not eliminate these underlying issues.

The only way that we can resolve these challenges, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a timeframe that avoids the worst consequences of climate change, is to develop next-generation sources of clean base load power. In short, America needs to produce energy that is clean, safe, secure and abundant, and to do it now.

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NATIONAL SECURITY: Defense experts say costs of climate change could be staggering

by PSA Staff | March 3rd, 2013 | |Subscribe

The author, Julia Pyper, is a writer for E & E News’s ClimateWire. Reproduced with permission. Copyright 2013, E&E Publishing, LLC www.ClimateWire.net.

NATIONAL SECURITY: Defense experts say costs of climate change could be staggering

The ramifications of climate change pose a serious threat to U.S. security interests and will have devastating effects unless Washington takes immediate action, a bipartisan group of 38 former politicians and retired military officials wrote in a letter released yesterday.

“As a matter of risk management, the United States must work with international partners, public and private, to address this impending crisis,” the letter says. “Potential consequences are undeniable, and the cost of inaction, paid for in lives and valuable U.S. resources, will be staggering.”

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United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

by PSA Staff | September 24th, 2012 | |Subscribe

This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program.  All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.

In 2004 and 2007, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was presented to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and both times the Committee passed the Convention. However, the Convention was never brought to the Senate for a full vote on both occasions. With the United States Navy patrolling every ocean in the world and an American economy struggling with high energy costs, the United States Senate should ratify the Convention as soon as possible.

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OP-ED: How to Weaken the Power of Foreign Oil

by PSA Staff | September 22nd, 2011 | |Subscribe

Bud McFarlane, former national security advisor and PSA Board Member, along with James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence, authored this Op-ed in The New York Times about their new bi-partisan effort, the United States Energy Security Council, encouraging the introduction of flex-fuel cars into the US market to foster better competition and put America on the path to energy independence. The article can also be read here.

OUR country has just gone through a sober national retrospective on the 9/11 attacks. Apart from the heartfelt honoring of those lost — on that day and since — what seemed most striking is our seeming passivity and indifference toward the well from which our enemies draw their political strength and financial power: the strategic importance of oil, which provides the wherewithal for a generational war against us, as we mutter diplomatic niceties.

Oil’s strategic importance stems from its virtual monopoly as a transportation fuel. Today, 97 percent of all air, sea and land transportation systems in the United States have only one option: petroleum-based products. For more than 35 years we have engaged in self-delusion, saying either that we have reserves here at home large enough to meet our needs, or that the OPEC cartel will keep prices affordable out of self-interest. Neither assumption has proved valid. While the Western Hemisphere’s reserves are substantial and growing, they pale in the face of OPEC’s, which are substantial enough to effectively determine global supply and thus the global price.

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A High-Risk, Low Reward Strategy Could Lose the Future

by Jessie Daniels | June 17th, 2011 | |Subscribe

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut the President’s 2012 Department of Energy (DoE) budget request by $5.9 billion.  One particular victim was the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy – better known by its acronym “ARPA-E” – which supports and sustains many high-risk, high reward projects that the private sector cannot or will not fund on its own.  It is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the agency that helped develop things like the precursor to the Internet, GPS, and predator drones.  Yet the House proposal includes only $100 million for ARPA-E, $450 million less than the President’s request and nearly $80 million less than current funding.

Unfortunately, ARPA-E may now also become known as the acronym for “A Reckless and Paltry Approach Endangers” when it comes to our national security. (more…)

To Sanction or Not To Sanction: A report from Myanmar

by Amelia Salyers | February 23rd, 2011 | |Subscribe

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At the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 28, just as the world’s attention was becoming riveted to the pro-democracy protests taking place in Egypt, a pro-democracy leader from another repressive regime, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, sent an audio message to the Forum’s influential and powerful participants. In the course of her message, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate called upon the global community to begin investing in her country with developments in technology, infrastructure and microlending services. While Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi cautioned that, “we also need to pay close attention to the costs and collateral damage of our development, whether environmental or social,” she asserted that responsible investment was necessary to bring 55 million Burmese people into the 21st century.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s message comes at a time when global attention has been fixated on the turmoil in the Middle East, leaving little airtime for vital discussions of reform in other oppressive regimes. Indeed, the only government who seems to have paid serious attention to her Davos remarks has been the Burmese military junta itself. After Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s message on increased development in Burma ignited a debate as to whether this was a call for the West to lift economic sanctions which inhibit Western investment, her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), issued a statement two weeks ago re-iterating its support of “targeted sanctions.” In response, the mouthpiece of the military, the government newspaper The New Light of Myanmar, warned that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD could meet “tragic ends” for publicly supporting sanctions. Instead of discussing new alternatives for Western companies to invest in the Burmese people, the conversation has been diverted right back to where the junta wants it – old arguments over sanctions. (more…)

The Next Steps for Climate Diplomacy in the Wake of Cancun

by John Prandato | December 21st, 2010 | |Subscribe

Since the conclusion of last year’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, doubt surrounding the efficacy of the multilateral negotiating process had been steadily gaining momentum, and the criticism was set to explode in the event of failure in Cancun. Last December, after two years of unrealistically ambitious expectations, the Copenhagen Accord was cobbled together in the eleventh hour by President Obama and a handful of other heads of state, putting an end to a disappointing two weeks of controversy, chaos, and finger-pointing. The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin described watching events play out in Copenhagen to be “like witnessing the derailment of a slow freight train on a curve that could be seen to be too sharp well ahead of time.” By all accounts, the mood at this year’s conference at Cancun’s Moon Palace resort was much more cooperative, and the resulting set of decisions, the Cancun Agreements, is being lauded as a sensible and balanced compromise, albeit an imperfect one. Nevertheless, support for a move away from the UN process in favor of a bottom-up approach based on national policies and bilateral engagement will surely continue, and deservedly so. The Cancun Agreements can serve as the blueprint for an eventual legally-binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But there is still much progress to be made – and a wide gap to be bridged between stated commitments and scientifically-recommended action – that will require simultaneous action on several diplomatic tracks.

Even if the Cancun conference had not produced such an unexpectedly favorable result, the UN process deserves to be preserved. The all-inclusive forum is likely the best means of addressing certain issues affecting many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, particularly adaptation, clean energy technology transfer, and deforestation. Furthermore, the perception that success hinges on the adoption of a legally-binding treaty is false. It is important not to downplay the ability of “soft law” political agreements to produce tangible results. Besides, without the political will in the U.S. Senate, any internationally-binding treaty would be irrelevant, and the woes of New START should shed any lingering hope that a climate change treaty stands a chance of Senate ratification in the foreseeable future. And even in the absence of legislation, the U.S. has the capacity, through federal regulation and aggressive state and local initiatives, to come very close to meeting its short-term emissions reduction commitments (17% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020). At that point, it is not unreasonable to envision the emergence of the political will for strong legislative action, especially if successful state or regional efforts present a sound model for a national initiative. (more…)

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.