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Outgoing mgr. of Wildlife Society, Bronx and Central Park Zoos laments that international community has not replaced US postwar hegemony

January 1, 2013

7/5/12, “A Chat on Conservation on a Human-Managed Planet, Andrew C. Revkin, NY Times Dot Earth blog

Monday was the last day of work at the Wildlife Conservation Society for Steven E. Sanderson, the president of the organization since 2001. The society runs conservation efforts and wildlife research projects around the world while managing the Bronx and Central Park zoos and New York (a k a Coney Island) Aquarium. Zoo and conservation work quintupled under his tenure. His successor, who starts work in August, is Cristián Samper, the former director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Here’s a recent short e-mail exchange I conducted with Sanderson as a kind of exit interview (I added the links to provide context on some of his points):

[Revkin] Q. To my eye, the notion that treaties are a meaningful instrument for conserving the earth’s living resources has faded with memories of the 20th century. Evidence can be seen in the flows of wildlife contraband to China, the lack of success on ocean-roaming species like bluefin tuna, and of course the end of the vision of a binding treaty limiting greenhouse gases. If you agree, what can replace that top-down model for action? If you disagree, hit me with your best shot.
—————————————-
A. I’m not sure that treaties are passé, but the 21st century has produced nothing to help me with a counterargument. The value of treaties or international conventions, such as Cites or the Framework Convention on Climate Change, is to provide a foundation set of disciplines and sanctions. I view Cites and the climate treaty as implicitly valuable. The Convention on Biodiversity and Law of the Sea have not succeeded in advancing their respective causes, but
  • my personal view is that the U.S. has abdicated its responsibility by not ratifying,
giving other nations even more cover to behave with extremely narrow viewpoints of national sovereignty, from Russia to China to Brazil to India. If treaties are fading as effective tools, I blame the overall lack of international political leadership

This international weakness extends much more broadly than “just” the environment.

To your question of what can take the place of international regimes, I believe the answer has to be better organized and focused action by civil society, including the private sector, non-profits, civic organizations and individuals…. People were out ahead of government, whether it was the Ford Foundation, signatories of the Sullivan Principles, or individuals with political voice. Society pushed government. It took a long time, but it worked.””…

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