Secretary of State John Kerry and actor and environmentalist Adrian Grenier joined youth environmental leaders in Gaston Hall to advocate for increased awareness and regulation of the world’s oceans as part of the “Our Ocean, One Future Leadership Summit”, held in parallel with the third annual “Our Ocean Conference” held throughout the District on Thursday and Friday.
The School of Foreign Service, U.S. Department of State and Sustainable Oceans Alliance sponsored the “Our Ocean, One Future Leadership Summit,” which aimed to engage the next generation of leaders in a dialogue about ocean conservation. The “Our Ocean Conference “was started in 2014 by the State Department to help develop ways to protect the world’s oceans.
The conference hosted a series of events across the District, including speeches by actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Prince of Wales.
Kerry highlighted the vital role the ocean plays in sustaining the world’s population in a discussion with Grenier moderated by SFS Dean Joel Hellman on Friday.
Grenier founded the Lonely Whale Foundation in 2015 to raise awareness for protecting the oceans and marine life.
“We have almost 50 percent of the planet dependent on food from the ocean, and 12 percent of the world’s workforce depends on the oceans for their livelihood,” Kerry said. “This is life and death. This is national security. It is international security.”
Other summit speakers included Judith G. Garber, U.S. Department of State acting assistant secretary for cceans and international environmental and scientific affairs; underwater exploration robot manufacturer OpenROV founder David Lang; and environmental nonprofit the Nature Conservancy Global Managing Director for Oceans Maria Damanaki.
A selected group of 150 students from colleges around the country participated in the summit through breakout sessions on topics including “Science, Research, the University and Problem Solving” and “Moving Policy Forward.” In a statement to The Hoya, Sustainable Ocean Alliance Co-Presidents France Farrell (COL ’17) and Mimi Troxel (COL ’17) said the breakout sessions were key to reaching the summit’s purpose of engaging young leaders.
“In our minds, the breakout sessions were perhaps the most powerful portion of the summit because we were truly able to see innovative and collaborative discussions between speakers and participants,” Farrell and Troxel said. “Giving the leaders of tomorrow a platform to get together and talk about today’s ocean issues, on a global scale, provides promise for the future.”
Both Grenier and Kerry stressed the importance of security and enforcement regarding protected waters and the need to eliminate illegal fishing activity. President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he would create the Atlantic Ocean’s first U.S. marine monument off the coast of New England to help protect the area.
“I’d like the next administration to increase the amount of water space by tenfold at least. I also think it’s one thing to designate an area as protected but I think we also need to look at how are we going to make sure that we actually have areas that are being taken care of,” Grenier said.
Kerry said climate change deniers are the biggest challenge he and other politicians advocating for environmental issues face.
“We still have people who have run for president of the United States who deny it,” Kerry said. “We are in a race against time, that’s what science tells us. Remember the old saying, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”
A shift in mindset is a necessary next step toward advancing the ocean protection cause, according to Grenier.
“We need to change who we are as a culture, we need to re-evaluate how we imagine our future to be,” Grenier said. “We have to recognize that we are part of this interconnected global community and we have to act accordingly.”
Kerry said while significant work remains to create sustainable use of the oceans, the world today is on the brink of making important steps in environmental protection and sustainable living.
“When we started this conference two years ago, only 10 countries in the world had signed onto the port state Measures Agreement and you needed 25 countries in order to make a law,” Kerry said. “Now today as we come here again, we have 60 who have signed up for the port state measures.”
Port state measures are legal tools to protect local ports from illegal fishing.
According to Grenier, ocean conservation benefits a wide variety of populations.
“If we change what we value away from materialism and conspicuous consumption and toward what is really valuable, the preciousness of the planet, the future that we all can enjoy will be that much better,” Grenier said.
Before the discussion with Kerry and Grenier, a panel discussed the current state of ocean conservation policy. The panelists included Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate of Sweden Isabella Lövin, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Argentina Susana Malcorra, climate change conference COP 21 President Ségolène Royal and Panama’s Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Isabel de Saint Malo.
Saint Malo said young people must take action to protect the oceans.
“This is an effort we will only overcome by a coalition: a coalition of youth, of private enterprises, of student societies,” Saint Malo said. “I ask you to take your passion as young leaders, and to mobilize ever more people in this quest that is really a need for sustaining our communities.”
Lövin said protecting the ocean was an urgent issue and required instant action.
“We need to have more cooperation, we need to take leadership on this issue because we can’t do it later,” Lövin said. “Later it would be absolutely too late.”
Sohil Shah, a student at at the University of North Carolina and a summit attendee, said the event was inspiring.
“It was awesome to meet Secretary Kerry and Adrien Grenier, and really just understand from them what we can do as the next generation because as they move on, it’s our turn,” Shah said.
Christian Mesa (COL ’19), who attended Friday’s portion of the summit, said the event imparted upon him the need for immediate conservation action.
“A big problem we have in our system is the fact that our government tends to wait until a crisis is serious to deal with it instead of dealing with problems ahead of time,” Mesa said. “Secretary Kerry and Mr. Grenier underscored the fact that we need to do something now about climate change, not in 20 years when our cities are underwater.”