Interview With Tom Hanson of Channel One

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Georgetown University
Washington, DC
September 16, 2016

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. I want to start off by talking about ocean health. You’ve been outspoken on this issue ever since you started as Secretary of State. You run the State Department, so connect the dots for me: Why does the State Department care about ocean health?

SECRETARY KERRY: Because the State Department is responsible for relationships with every country in the world and because we are always trying to proactively get ahead of issues of consequence in terms of security, health, starvation, refugees, all of the global issues about climate change; and they’re all engaged with, dependent on, affected by, the oceans. Fifty percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean – somewhere in that vicinity. We have 12 percent of the world’s population is dependent on their jobs for what is in the ocean.

And the oceans are threatened. And the result of the oceans being threatened as a result of climate change, pollution, overfishing, all of these things are combining to put this vast mass of ocean at risk. It’s an ecosystem; and if the ecosystem fails, then we will feel the consequences of that in so many different ways. That’s why the State Department cares – because it will be a matter of life and death, it will be a matter of security, it will be a matter of refugees, it will be a matter of potential human catastrophe such as we haven’t seen – and we will have to deal with that. One way or the other, the State Department and the world will be engaged.

QUESTION: As an average person taking a look at the amount of pollution in our ocean, it can be overwhelming.


QUESTION: Where do we even start? Do you --

SECRETARY KERRY: You start in your own practices at home. I mean, all the kids listening have an ability to affect their parents, go home and tell them, “Hey, Mom, Dad, you shouldn’t be using plastic bags when you go to the supermarket.” Use your own bag. Have one that you reuse or get a paper bag that at least is recyclable. Or – and plastic is also recyclable, but the problem is so much of it winds up blowing away or getting into the streets, into the sewer, blows on the beach, you leave it on the beach, dump it overboard if you’re on a boat. I mean, people just don’t treat these water bodies, the oceans, with respect.

So you can make a huge difference in terms of your choice of what you use and what you buy. Don’t buy as much plastic. Don’t use as much plastic. Or make sure, if you do, that you are recycling it, you’re putting it into a recyclable pickup, there’s a waste management structure for your community to be able to manage the plastic at least.

QUESTION: So a recent report says that five Southeast Asian and Asian countries put more plastic trash into the ocean than all the other countries in the world combined. How do you address those countries that don’t have any regard for the health of the ocean?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think it’s not that they don’t have any regard. They may not be somehow aware of the connection or they’ve just come out of such abject poverty that they’re beginning to build a middle class and they haven’t got the government structures and other capacity in place to be able to deal with these things. So you tend to see more unmanageable trash in areas of great poverty. So we, the developed world, have to be helpful in some of the techniques that we share with them, some of the technical capacity we share with them, some of the technology we share with them, to be able to deal with it. We do that in many, many countries in the world. We help them create a waste management system or we help them develop the ability to be able to recycle and so forth.

The more we recognize how connected we are for the very reason you just described – if they don’t get our help, we may suffer – all of us – as a consequence of actions where they just can’t mitigate and they can’t make a difference.

QUESTION: When you look at the ocean and the plastic pollution that’s in the ocean, a lot of it is these little bits of plastic.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it breaks down over time, yes.

QUESTION: It breaks down so it’s hard to clean up.


QUESTION: How do you go about cleaning up our oceans while simultaneously cutting down on our reliance on plastic?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s very difficult to, quote, clean it up once it’s broken down in these tiny pieces. And what happens is marine mammals, birds, fish wind up ingesting it and --

QUESTION: It works it way up the food chain.

SECRETARY KERRY: It works it way – exactly – up the food chain, and that’s dangerous. But the key is to get it before it’s broken down and to prevent it from going in. So I’ll give you an example. Last year there was an international cleanup day, and 800,000 young people went out and cleaned up the beaches in various places. And together they collected more plastic – it was about – it was the equivalent of something like 130 737s’ worth of weight of plastic that they collected.

QUESTION: That’s a lot.

SECRETARY KERRY: So you can make a difference. I mean, just every person can make a difference in the choice they make about what they do with the plastic that they touch or use, and that’s the way you start.

The other way you have to have an impact is by having policies in place in communities that allow that community the ability to be able to take their desire to help and actually make it meaningful because they have a recycling program they have a capacity to turn the plastic into something beneficial. I met a company – I just don’t remember the country, but I met a company where a young man had created an entrepreneurial effort, a new business, where he collected all this old plastic and fish nets and things like that, and he’d break it down and he was making skateboards with it. And he was selling them – really good skateboards made with the recycled plastic. So we can turn this around. There are a lot of products that could be made with it and that becomes economically viable then to make the effort to pick up the plastic and put it to use.

QUESTION: Okay, changing gears here, I want to ask you a question on Russia. Russia has been a huge concern for the United States in recent years. For instance, there have been a number of hacks that have been linked back to Russian groups, Russia and America seem to butt heads over what to do in Syria, and there has been escalating tension in the Baltics. Are we entering a new cold war with Russia?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I don’t believe so, and I certainly don’t want to see us to do that. I think it would be a terrible waste of energy.

Yes, we do have serious differences with Russia on a number of different issues and we argue about those differences, but we’ve also found a way to cooperate where we find mutual interests. I’ll give you an example. On the Iran nuclear agreement, Russia was at the table, Russia was part of the negotiation, and Russia was very constructive. In fact, Russia is taking spent enriched fuel from Iran to Russia where it is processing it, and then it is sending less enriched fuel back to Iran for its reactor. So we have a cycle that Russia is contributing to for accountability.

Russia was our key partner in helping to get chemical weapons out of Syria in the middle of the conflict, and we worked together to be able to do that. We’ve just worked together to try to see if we can get a ceasefire in place in Syria. So we’re able to find things that we work on even as there are real tensions over Ukraine, over NATO and nuclear policy in the region, over ballistic missiles. We have to work through those things. We have to both understand that we need to sit down at the table and hammer out an understanding regarding those differences and try to find common ground where we can work, because it is not a good thing for the world, it’s not a good thing for Russia or the United States, to go back into a cold war status. Everybody would be a loser.

QUESTION: Do you think that diplomacy is viable with someone as unpredictable as Vladimir Putin?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, you don’t rely – I mean, what you have to do is have diplomacy that is not based just on trust because we don’t have enough trust yet – we have to rebuild that – but is based on measurable steps that each side can take to know that the other side is, in fact, interested in rebuilding trust and in doing the things that they say they’re going to do. So that’s what we’ve done in the Syria effort. We – they have to deliver real reduction in violence; and if we get a certain number of days of reduced violence, then we will turn around and cooperate with them on some other things that they need and want.

QUESTION: One last question on the ocean health.


QUESTION: So when you talk about the topic of ocean health, there’s a lot of gloom and doom. Are you optimistic that we can restore the health of our oceans?

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, I really believe we can, and I’ve seen in the last couple of days in the Our Ocean conference here in Washington a tremendous commitment to doing exactly that. That’s what we need.

We lost – I come from Massachusetts, and in Massachusetts we love our fishing. We had – we have striped bass, a great fish. It disappeared for a while. I mean, we didn’t have a viable stock. So we banned fishing altogether for ten years, and now you can go out and catch striped bass and people can enjoy it in a restaurant, and it’s done in a sustainable way.

That’s the key, is to create sustainability, to restore sustainability. And we can. We still have time to do it, but we don’t have a lot of time, which is why you hear the doom and gloom because it’s urgent. It’s really urgent that we do things to save the oceans.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and chat and give us your insights.

SECRETARY KERRY: My honor. Thank you. Good to be with you. Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.

QUESTION: Thanks, thank you. One last quick thing. I don’t know if it’s been signed off. Sorry, Mark.

MR TONER: Okay, go for it.

QUESTION: That’s the show Hello, we do this thing where basically whoever we interview, if it’s anyone who’s high profile, we have them turn to the camera and say --

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, sure. What do you want me to say?

QUESTION: I’m the – I’m John Kerry, the Secretary of the United States, however you want to say it. You’re the Secretary of the United States and Channel One News starts right now.


STAFF: All right, just one second let me – sorry.

QUESTION: It’s better than seeing me say it.

SECRETARY KERRY: You tell me when to go.

STAFF: Yes, sir. Okay, you’re good to go.

SECRETARY KERRY: Hi, I’m John Kerry, the 68th Secretary of State of the United States and Channel One News begins right now.

STAFF: Perfect.

QUESTION: Excellent, thank you so much, sir.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, my friend.