Pierce Brosnan World Bank / National Geographic Event on Biodiversity

Pierce Brosnan
World Bank / National Geographic Event on Biodiversity
World Bank Headquarters, Washington D.C., October 7, 2010
President Zoellick, Tim Kelly, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentleman…
I am honored to be with you this evening. I am also humbled to be in such company. I realize that
many of you make or influence decisions that can profoundly impact the biodiversity of our
remarkable planet. I recognize your responsibilities, and I salute your dedication.
So I am honored and humbled, but I am also proud to be here and to tell you how much value I place
on preserving and protecting the rich and varied… and beautiful species of this world.
My life has always been connected to nature…from the banks of the River Boyne in southern Ireland
where I grew up as a child, to the shorelines of California and Hawaii where I reside with my wife
Keely and our sons. Between these two worlds and an ocean of time spent traveling the world as a
working actor, I have seen the beauty of what man can achieve on this earth… and also what can
happen when he lets nature slip through his fingers.
My own environmental activism was born many years ago when my late wife Cassie was diagnosed
with ovarian cancer. Looking for a cure, we found hope in a drug called Taxol, which comes from the
yew tree. Sadly, I was to learn that this tree, which provided us and many others with much needed
hope, was being burned like a weed in the Brazilian rainforest. From Cassie’s experience, I learned
that the health of our human bodies is inextricably linked to the health of our environment.
Ultimately, my wife lost her valiant battle with cancer after 4 years. From this tragedy came new life
and a new purpose. For almost 2 decades now, my activism has flourished alongside my eco-warrior
wife Keely, whose courage and knowledge reminds me of our highest hopes… and our greatest fears
for the natural world. This fortifies my own resolve to be active within the environmental community.
Together we have chosen the ocean and marine mammals as our domain of interest, perhaps because
we live by the ocean and gaze upon it every day. But also because we know that without a healthy
ocean mankind has little chance of survival on this planet.
In my recent film I play the role of a prime minster who, like many of you, is confronted with difficult
choices. To govern is to choose – and, as we all know from experience, to choose is sometimes to
There are some choices, however, that we should never regret. When it comes to the animal and
plant populations of our planet, the only choices we should be asked to make is “what more can we
do to help them… not just to survive, but to actually thrive?”
This evening, we will see excerpts from “Great Migrations” … and allow me to extend a deep and
heartfelt thank-you to National Geographic for its long-standing commitment and support to
highlighting our planet’s natural wonders.
Tim Kelly, you and your team are doing magnificent work. I particularly want to recognize the courage
and skill of the filmmakers who have captured these very moving stories.
These images, as you will soon see, show just how fragile the lives of some of the great animals of our
world are today. The majestic African elephant, or the fleet wildebeest, are confronted with obstacles
in their daily existence that threatens their very continuation as a species. Natural predators, yes;
other forces of nature, yes ! These threats have always existed.
But, increasingly, these animals, and countless others, are threatened and harmed by the choices that
we – as humans – have made, and continue to make. As we expand our human footprint across the
planet, we have paved over their breeding grounds, plowed under their grazing areas, depleted their
sources of water, and disrupted their historic migratory routes.
Climate change is adding to the immense dangers facing bio-diversity – and not just the animal
populations, but the plants… and forests… and coral reefs that not only sustain life but add to the
immeasurable beauty of our world.
These phenomena are taking place the world over. In my native Ireland, at least eight species of birds,
such as the gray partridge, face extinction, due to the loss of habitat, reduction in food supplies,
poisonings from pesticides, and wide scale development.
In my adopted home, here in the United States, the Eastern Pacific Grey Whale is endangered. Its
cousin, the Western Pacific Grey Whale, is already ecologically extinct. The Grey Whales that migrate
north and south just off our California coast have survived since the ice age. Yet, these whales face
more threats today than ever before from ship strikes, loss of habitat, pollution, and other human
Oil and gas exploration along the Pacific Coast is disrupting their annual migration – 10,000 miles
yearly from Alaska to Mexico. Climate change is destroying the food chain they need to survive.
Starvation is a permanent threat, and the future of the most ancient Baleen whale in the world is in
We can all relate similar examples from our native countries – and from those countries we have had
the privilege to visit or work or live in. In other words, biodiversity loss is a global phenomenon, and it
takes global understanding, global efforts, global resources and collaborative conservation to combat
the challenges that lie ahead.
In its series “Great Migrations”, National Geographic turns its spotlight on a number of animal
populations and their annual migrations.
This evening, we shall focus on two species. Across the great Serengeti Plain and National Park,
hundreds of thousands of wildebeest make a long, hazardous trek every year to reach their breeding
grounds. This is a land where the rule of nature still predominates and the footprint of human
activities is hardly visible.
Yet the wildebeest migration, the last great migration on Earth, faces one of its biggest challenges
ever. Plans to build a road through this “designated wilderness area” would make the journey of the
wildebeest even more arduous.
Tanzania’s leaders are faced with a difficult choice: road transport is important and necessary for
development and poverty reduction, no one can deny that. But a win-win situation can emerge if
alternatives to this road can be found – and surely this would be in the best interests of everyone, and
in the best interest of the wildlife.
In Mali, Gourma elephants, the biggest and tallest in Africa, live on the continent’s northern reaches.
Unlike their southern cousins, these elephants survive in the extremely dry conditions of desert,
roaming hundreds of kilometers annually in search of water.
These magnificent animals have survived for centuries in peaceful coexistence with local populations
and their livestock – everyone sharing the same water resources.
But these water resources are now under threat. The government of Mali is making noble efforts to
channel water to where the elephants range. But, in the struggle to provide the citizens of Mali with
enough water, getting water to elephants may not be the number one priority. There are many good
people with good intentions, but adequate manpower, sufficient training, and long-term resources to
help elephants are in short supply.
We must ask ourselves: in Tanzania, in Mali, and in countless other places, do we have the “wisdom
and the will” to make the right choice, the statesman’s choice? Can we support governments with
development programs that lead to economic growth, that reduce poverty, and that benefit people …
while at the same time endowing all species with intrinsic worth…protecting and preserving the
world’s greatest natural treasures?
I believe the answer to this question can be “YES!” I believe that people can move from poverty to
prosperity, AND that we can protect our plant and animal species at the same time. Development and
conservation must go hand in hand.
It will not be easy, and we will have to make difficult tradeoffs. As I mentioned, we are called upon to
choose – but when it comes to saving species under threat, when it comes to protecting our planet,
I wish you well in your deliberations at these Annual Meetings. As part of my advocacy efforts, I hope
to be able to speak to other audiences about your work, and to tell them that, when it came time to
choose, you made the right decisions.
Thank you.