Sunday, November 14, 2010

Can the ARCTIC SURVIVE without the PUBLICs' help? A message from the PEW TRUSTS President

Back in 1946, Look magazine—known more for its stories and photographs of the glamorous set and for a circulation second only to Life’s—wondered just what the nation needed in that turbulent postwar period. Seeking some wisdom and clarity, it invited a number of the era’s accomplished people to discuss (in a top editor’s words) “what we would expect of good government.”
Joseph N. Pew Jr., an executive at the Sun Oil Company (he would become board chairman in 1947) and a prominent voice on social and political issues, was one of those invited to state—in 150 words or less—the “first two things you would do as president.”
In a telegram, he wrote back, “Tell the truth and trust the people.”
The editors, disappointed with the brevity of his comment, asked him to expand on it.
Mr. Pew held his ground. Responding by telegram, he wrote, “Would like my statement to stand as believe full light of day on every subject is only conceivable procedure possible.”
Two years later, when Mr. Pew and his siblings founded The Pew Charitable Trusts, they brought to their new institution the qualities of entrepreneurship, generosity and fact-based philanthropy that had always been a part of their careers and personal lives. They also endowed the Trusts with an approach that would serve no matter how the specifics or the nature of the challenges facing society might change over time. Their commitment was steadfast, their charge unambiguous: “Tell the truth and trust the people.”
Bedrock principles never change. In 2010, our initiatives continue to shine the “full light of day” on urgent issues of our era, applying the power of knowledge to drive our work.
For example, we work toward ensuring the safety and transparency of consumer financial products. One initiative, the Pew Safe Credit Cards Project, working in partnership with a broad array of policy makers, economists, consumer advocates and others, produced several reports that identified the industry’s predatory practices, such as punitive interest-rate charges and arbitrary changes in the agreement contract with consumers. The project then proposed fact-based solutions in the form of a set of standards, many of which were incorporated in the landmark Credit CARD Act of 2009.
And when credit card companies accelerated consumer-unfriendly rules in advance of the phase-in of the policy changes, the project worked to shine a public spotlight on the loopholes and called for faster implementation— a reminder that for “truth-telling” to have the broadest impact, it must be coupled with diligence and perseverance.
We also advocate for full participation in voting, the essential act of a citizen in a democracy. Last year, the Pew Center on the States issued the first-ever detailed analysis of states’ voting systems for members of the military serving abroad; fully half of the states fell short of assuring a timely counting of votes from overseas.
This and other findings informed the debate on the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which became law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. At long last—it has been almost 60 years since President Harry Truman implored Congress to guarantee voting rights to members of the military stationed overseas—our service men and women and citizens abroad will have adequate time to vote in U.S. elections and return their ballots in time to be counted.
Ocean protection is also long overdue. Threats to the sustainability of our planet’s deep seas have been recognized for more than a century and have only intensified in recent decades with improvements in technology and fishing equipment. Our truth-telling about the state of the oceans and the consequences of overexploitation is grounded in science-based recommendations from the now-completed Pew Oceans Commission and other initiatives.
Those efforts have informed policy change from Europe to Australia—as well as in the United States. Last year, the outgoing Bush administration established a marine national monument at the Mariana Islands and other Pacific locales, and the Obama administration has continued the momentum by appointing a task force to make recommendations for good oceans stewardship, which will be reported to the nation in 2010.
These are but a few recent examples of how we are following the charge of Mr. Pew’s marvelously succinct expression of leadership and how we are achieving results in the public interest.
But our policy initiatives tell only part of our story. The Pew Research Center is the heart of our information efforts. Taking no positions whatever on issues, the center conducts public opinion polls and surveys to produce and disseminate fact-based information on the concerns, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. 2010 marks its 15th year as part of Pew, and the center and its projects have consistently won acclaim for the accuracy of their polls and their dedication to transparency, rigor and independence. This year the center is conducting a year-long study of the millennial generation, the current cohort of young adults who, as they come of age, will be determining our nation’s direction in the coming decades.
As with the array of issues in which Pew is currently engaged, the Philadelphia of today would likely look different, yet still strikingly familiar, to Mr. Pew in comparison to the city he knew in the middle of the 20th century. Among the many constants—Carpenter’s Hall, Boathouse Row, a passion for sports, a respect for tradition— he would find the Pew name associated with a commitment to furthering Philadelphia’s heritage as a great American metropolis.
One example of our continued focus on our hometown lies in the Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative, which applies meticulous research methodologies to examine pressing local issues, often in comparison to other municipalities across the nation. The findings have informed discussion on long- and short-term problems facing our community and its residents; and the multi-city assessments have proven educational both in Philadelphia and elsewhere, even in places not mentioned in the report, because city-based comparison data are not commonly available.
He would also appreciate that, as Pew has grown in size, scope and influence, its geographic footprint has grown as well. We recently completed the renovation of our new office building in Washington, D.C. In light of our long-standing commitment to environmental responsibility and the goals of a green economy, we worked with the U.S. Green Building Council to gain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which signifies that the structure meets the highest standards of natural-resource stewardship.
Within the building, we have established a Conference Center, which provides nonprofit organizations a place to gather—a physical extension of our mission to generate knowledge and apply its power to critical issues of the day. As Pew and other groups use the center to host an ever-broader range of events and activities, it becomes a nexus for the sharing of diverse viewpoints, cross-issue collaboration and inspired, nonpartisan problem-solving.
We have another front door, of course—the virtual one of our Web site, It was just 50 years ago that some of the computer’s library-like potential—information storage and retrieval, for example—was first described. From those humble aspirations, computers have come to play a role in almost every aspect of our lives, and the Internet has grown to represent much more than an opportunity to warehouse data. In fact, it is a dynamic platform for proactive information-sharing, community-building and individual and collective action.
Our site reflects our mission by serving as an interactive destination where visitors can depend on the fact-based research and analyses that we offer—a contrast to much Web information that consists of conjecture and unverified statements.
That Joseph N. Pew Jr. delivered his response to Look via a concise telegram as opposed to an e-mail is another reminder of the fact that change and tradition are inherently interwoven—a concept that remains integral to our operating philosophy. His son Joseph Newton Pew 3rd—the only surviving member of our original board; a man who knew the founders as father, uncle and aunts—has counseled us: “Seventy or 80 percent of the problems we work on today did not exist when the donors were alive. Our founders entrusted the stewardship responsibilities to us. Our job is to understand the facts, get the best advice we can and make the wisest decisions about the best use of these resources in the current circumstances in which we find ourselves.”
In an age of instantaneous communications—where words can begin affecting our world in the best and worst ways almost in the moment they are articulated— perhaps the greatest wisdom passed down by the founders of The Pew Charitable Trusts lies in what they did not say. No narrow dictums; no litmus tests for addressing one issue or another; no political boxes into which our work must be stuffed. Rather, advice that any leader in any age would be wise to follow. And words that will continue to guide our work—serving both as a connection to our past and as a beacon of constancy and consistency in our future efforts to drive positive change in the public interest.
Read more about Pew’s accomplishments of 2009 in Milestones from Pew Prospectus 2010. 

Environment group warns of Arctic oil drilling risks

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Freezing conditions, chunky ice and high seas could imperil operations to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic where the fragile ecosystem is already in tumult due to global warming, a US environmental group said Wednesday.
Walrus, seal, bowhead whale and polar bear habitats could be disrupted and entire remote communities wiped out if a toxic spill eliminates their means of subsistence living, said the report by the Pew Environment Group.
With big oil companies eager to expand offshore exploration in the Arctic, Pew issued the report to advise a major US environmental review and enhanced oversight of oil and gas companies to avoid another disaster like the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"I think there is a great deal of pressure right now to move forward with offshore drilling and I am hoping that our report and raising these questions will help guide toward a more precautionary approach in the Arctic," Marilyn Heiman, director of the US Arctic program at the Pew Trusts, told AFP.
Drillers are unprepared for near-hurricane force winds, 20-30 foot (six to nine-meter) seas, massive blocks of ice, total darkness for parts of the year and hundreds of miles between drilling sites in northern Alaska and major ports where supplies could be flown in case of trouble, the report said.
Skimmers that lift oil off the surface of the water will not work in the icy Arctic. Also unknown is how boats could navigate broken ice conditions to reach a spill site and if chemical dispersants that were widely used after the BP spill would work.
"Oil does not biodegrade nearly as quickly in cold waters," Heiman said. In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, "it is still causing toxicity in some species after 20 years, and that includes otters."
The report urged the federal government to do major research on the Arctic marine environment before oil and gas exploration is allowed to go ahead, and said risk assessments and spill response strategies must be tailored to Arctic conditions.
"Current industry oil response plans are based on small-scale laboratory and field trials that have been extrapolated without large-scale verification," the report said.
Logistics could prove a major obstacle if a spill were to occur in deeper waters, with the port of Barrow in northern Alaska 725 miles (1,166 kilometers) by air from the capital Anchorage and 950 miles (1,528 kilometers) from the Coast Guard base in the southern port of Kodiak.
"If a catastrophic oil spill were to occur, days or weeks could pass before response personnel and assets could be mobilized and deployed," the Pew report said.
There are four current drilling operations off the Alaskan coast in the Beaufort Sea and two in the works, but those are near the coasts and drillers use manmade ice islands and roads to reach their rigs, Heiman explained.
The US government is considering opening the Chukchi Sea, a body of water off the coast of Alaska that is shared with Russia, to drilling but is reviewing leases awarded in 2008 after a lawsuit by indigenous people and green groups contended that the government does not have enough facts about how drilling will impact the environment.
Companies like Royal Dutch Shell want to begin drilling in the coming months, once winter ice begins to break up, and are submitting proposals to show they can meet tougher new government regulations.
"Shell has a long history in Alaska. We have drilled on the same sites where we are proposing to drill now in the 1980s and 1990s without fanfare and without incident," said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith.
"We are five years and 3.5 billion dollars into this project. We feel like we have put together a very robust program," said Smith.
Shell's contingency plan includes an on-site fleet of ice-breakers, tankers and specialized ice and water containment equipment in case of a spill, he said.
US President Barack Obama imposed a moratorium on new deepwater drilling and exploration in the wake of the BP oil spill, which began in April and was not halted until July by which time 4.9 million barrels had gushed into the sea.
The moratorium was lifted in October, but the temporarily halt caused an uproar in the oil industry as workers were laid off and coastal economies in the US south suffered from the job losses in an already struggling economy.
The US Geological Survey said in 2008 that within the Arctic circle there are 90 billion barrels of oil and vast quantities of natural gas waiting to be tapped, most of it offshore

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