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United Nations

The U.N.’s High Seas Treaty aims to reduce pollution, protect biodiversity and share ocean resources. Stock photo

Determined, passionate and committed representatives to the United Nations, including the United States, spent over 20 years trying to hammer out an agreement to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

This past Saturday, after extending a deadline, representatives of 193 countries in New York verbally agreed to terms of a High Seas Treaty designed to reduce pollution, protect biodiversity and share ocean resources.

While individual countries still have to ratify the treaty, scientists like Ellen Pikitch, endowed professor of Ocean Conservation Science and executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, praised the agreement.

“It’s fantastic,” Pikitch said. “It’s been needed for so long.”

Lisa Speer, a marine scientist and the director of the International Oceans Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, has been working to educate and encourage government leaders to understand what’s at stake and how to protect the oceans.

“This is a big step forward for biodiversity conservation on a global level,” said Speer. “This provides me with a lot of encouragement.”

In addition to the educational and advocacy work she did over the years, Speer spent much of the last 36 hours at the U.N. surrounded by others who had slept on the floor or in various rooms and hallways amid the effort to get this treaty across the finish line.

“Everybody was really emotional,” she said, with spontaneous applause and cheers continuing for a long period of time. “A lot of us have been here since the beginning. There were celebratory hugs and thanks and tears of joy for the efforts of so many people” including some who were not in the room but had worked for decades on this treaty.

The view of the importance of biodiversity in the oceans has changed considerably over the last few decades.

“For most of human history, the high seas have been viewed as an empty wasteland,” Speer said. Now, however, people recognize that it’s “probably the largest reserve of biodiversity left on the planet.”

This treaty, Pikitch and Speer added, can and should help ensure that humans can explore and discover some of that biodiversity before it might otherwise disappear.

Speer is hopeful that United States senators, who will have a chance to vote on the treaty, recognize that the country has “a very strong interest in making sure it has a voice in decisions affecting half the planet. It’s in our interest to be full participants in that process.”

Pikitch, who is an expert in the field of Marine Protected Areas, suggested that the process of coming up with a framework to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by the end of the decade involved considerable back and forth with various interest groups within each country.

“It’s not that easy to determine how this area would be managed,” Pikitch said. Various groups have “concerns that differ among different parts of the global community.”

Pikitch pointed out that a Convention on Biological Diversity late last year agreed that the world would protect 30% of the lands and waters by 2030.

Pikitch said such a goal was unattainable without this High Seas Treaty, which addressed the parts of the ocean that had previously been off limits to such protections.

The treaty and the establishment of marine protected areas will be “huge for biodiversity,” Pikitch said.

Piktich suggested that the commitment over two decades and the increasing public awareness of the importance of ocean resources offers her hope that this treaty, for which numerous details are still in the works, will offer effective protection.

“There’s a huge amount of passion and commitment by countries of the world to work this out,” she said. “They did not give up.”

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The idea was that if European nations were interdependent for their economic welfare, then they would not make war on each other, but would rather work together for their greater good. And for more than 70 years, the concept held. Where wars were the way for nations, and before there were nations, for regions to enrich themselves by raiding their neighbors, stealing their treasures and claiming their land, now that was eschewed. Finally, there was to be peace.

England and France, France and Germany, Spain and England among others, all put their guns and their history away and did business with each other. This was the vision articulated by the United Nations after World War II ended, and it came to pass. The economists and philosophers were right. No one would make war on neighbors who were making them money. And for the most part, nations realized unprecedented wealth and the security that peace brings.  Economics was to be the field of battle, not the military. And with unrestricted trade, globalization took hold. War was a distant memory.

Until now. Incredible as it seemed to the rest of the world, Russia invaded the Ukraine less than two weeks ago with the aim of annexing that country. Such action, as Russian military surrounded Ukraine on three sides, would be an ill-conceived throwback to a more appalling and unwise time. Or so we thought.

As the Ukrainians defiantly rise to meet the invaders with military weapons, the rest of Europe and countries elsewhere in the world are responding with their weapon of choice: economics. It is a testament to the thinking and planning of those leaders seven decades ago. And so, with remarkable unity, the European Union is striving to blow up Russia’s economy rather than blowing up Russia’s cities. The pain for the Russian leaders and the Russian people is to be felt in their pocketbooks and not in their cemeteries. At least, that is the intent.

But of course, as in every war, it’s the civilians who most suffer and pay the price for their leaders’ actions. If they aren’t shot to death, they may be starved to death, as their money becomes worthless and their businesses are ruined. Still, the Russians will do better without Coca-Cola than the Ukrainians without water.

And that is another remarkable consequence of attempts to isolate Russia. Not only are governments withdrawing trade and financial dealings in this siege, but also international corporations are cutting ties with the invading country, even if the companies bear the price. McDonald’s, which employs some 62,000 workers in Russia, Starbucks and Apple have closed their stores, among numerous others. Americans have indicated overwhelmingly in a recent Quinnipiac University national poll (71%), that they will tolerate the increased price of gasoline if Russian imports of oil and gas are ended. The Biden administration has heard them and is closing off those imports. Of course, the prices at the pump were going up anyway due to considerable current inflation. Why not put the blame on the Russians!

So do shared economic interests prevent wars?

There should have been a corollary put into that concept: assuming all the governments are made up of reasonable persons. Much now is being made of President Vladimir Putin’s mental state because most of the rest of the world cannot understand why he is embracing this “special military operation.”

He did not even tell his lower rank soldiers that they were about to engage in a war. Who knows how the Russian leader thinks? Is he unreasonable or is this merely the opening salvo he, and perhaps his “friend,” Premier Xi Jinping of China, are plotting for a long game?

Of one thing the world can be certain. When autocrats are planning something that surely would be roundly condemned, one of the actions they take is to close down the media and crack down on free speech. Signing a new censorship law, Putin has now criminalized independent journalism for reporting “fake news.” 

Members of the North Country Peace Group organize a Ban the Bomb rally on the corner of Bennetts Road and Route 25A in East Setauket June 17. The group shows support for the current United Nations talks to adopt a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

A local grassroots organization played their part in a worldwide demonstration to support negotiations of the United Nations to adopt a treaty to ban nuclear weapons June 17.

“There are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and 90 percent are controlled by the United States and Russia, 1,800 of those are on high alert.”

— Susan Perretti

The Women’s March and Rally to Ban the Bomb took place in New York City, though activist groups around the world including in East Setauket, organized simultaneous events to the New York City march to make their voices heard. The North Shore Peace Group put together their own Ban the Bomb rally on the corner of Bennetts Road and Route 25A in East Setauket, where the members stand every Saturday holding signs featuring messages of peace and in opposition of the policies and agenda of President Donald Trump (R). The women-led marches were not exclusive, as people of every gender, political affiliation and background were invited to speak out.

Nearly two-dozen activists were at the intersection holding signs with messages such as “Peace is Patriotism,” “Abolish All Nukes” and “Support U.N. nuclear ban talks.”

Port Jefferson Station resident Rosemary Maffei, who joined the group after last year’s presidential election, explained why the North Country Peace Group decided to participate in the show of support.

“It’s a worldwide event, and we just want to make sure that our little corner of Setauket here is represented on such an important happening in the world with possible nuclear proliferation,” she said.

Bill McNulty of Setauket said the “Ban the Bomb” message fits the mission the North Country Peace Group has been supporting for 15 years.

“Basically the banning-the-bomb effort ties into this idea that the bomb, the nuclear weapon, has been described over the years as being the taproot of violence,” McNulty said. “We’re anti-war. We’re anti-violence. We advocate for nonviolent, peaceful resolutions to our problems.”

A member of the North Country Peace Group holds the photos of soldiers who died in recent wars. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Peace group honors soldiers

By Rita J. Egan

The Women’s March and Rally to Ban the Bomb in East Setauket coincided with the North Country Peace Group’s annual reading of the 41 names of Long Island soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. After the members’ demonstration, they stood in a circle, holding up a photo of each soldier and reading his name as well as some information about them, including family members left behind.

Two members from the North Country Patriots, who stood on the opposite side of Route 25A across from the Peace Group in an opposing rally, came across the street holding a big American flag toward the end of the readings. One said that any memorial honoring soldiers needs flags. After the rally, one of the men, who asked not to be identified, said he tried his best not to interrupt the ceremony but he kept thinking to himself, “They were honoring our soldiers, but there was no American flag.”

Rosemary Maffei, of Port Jefferson Station, said the group feels showing the soldiers photos and reading their names is the group’s way of honoring the men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“We had flags at the ceremony but this is a time to remember and reflect, not flag-waving,” Maffei said.

Port Jefferson’s Myrna Gordon, another active member of the group, echoed McNulty’s sentiments.

“We feel that nuclear war is something that we have to stop,” she said. “And the buildup of armaments, and the buildup for things that might be devastating to the world, is something that we are tuned into very much. So today it’s ‘Ban the Bomb,’ next week it might be something else. We’re not a one-issue group, but we are a peace and justice organization, and we stand firmly in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world.”

Setauket resident Susan Perretti said the statistics the group gathered from a video produced by Reaching Critical Will, a program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, are disturbing. She said nuclear bombs are the only weapons of mass destruction that are not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner.

“The information we were given is there are 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and 90 percent are controlled by the United States and Russia, 1,800 of those on high alert,” Perretti said. “And they are 1,000 times more powerful than the ones the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and not to mention the irreversible damage to the planet.”

Lisa Karelis of East Setauket held a sign decorated with three flags that read “We Are All Americans,” and carried a small flag. She said she wanted to show that peace-loving citizens are also patriotic.

“I think it’s very important especially with what’s going on in politics, and the uncertainty of the person who has the finger on the button to particularly see how dangerous it is to have nuclear proliferation,” she said. “It all boils down to humans. After all humans make decisions. Anything that we can do to make it more difficult for something to happen inadvertently, or under the control of one person who may not be thinking clearly or wisely, is very important. And it’s for the benefit of all humanity, that’s why one of our signs has the Earth on it. It’s not an American issue, it’s a human issue.”

In recent months the North Country Peace Group has also organized or participated in several rallies covering various topics including climate change; excessive use of force by police; the political donations of Robert Mercer, billionaire co-owner of the Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies; and a sister march to the Women’s March on Washington.

The U.N. talks regarding nuclear weapons are taking place until July 7. The U.S. has taken the position to boycott the discussions along with about 40 other countries, according to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.