Ladies and gentlemen;
Curtis and I are very pleased to welcome you to our home.
We are fortunate that some of the artists whose work is on display have joined us tonight. We welcome Victoria Beresin who loaned us Shoal of Shame, Nicola Dickson who loaned us Nouvelle Femme and Nouvelle Venus, and Marion Manifold who has graciously donated Endangered to the Embassy’s permanent collection. Two artists whose works are in my personal collection – Matthew Curtis who made Blue Cellular Structure and Harriet Schwarzrock who made Triform Fungi – are also here with us tonight.
Curtis and I are very grateful for the creativity and generosity of these artists, and thrilled that they can see their beautiful work on display here at the Embassy.
Last year, the Art in Embassies program celebrated 50 years of promoting dialogue and cultural understanding through art. This program was formalized by President Kennedy – a noted supporter of the arts – in 1963.
On the walls of the performing arts center in Washington that bears his name are these words:
“I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world, not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
Art in Embassies helps bring that vision of America to every corner of the world.
The works of art throughout the house tell stories about how precious our natural wonders are – and how we can protect and preserve our Earth’s biodiversity.
We are at a critical juncture in that effort.
Biologist E.O. Wilson estimated that one half of Earth’s higher life forms will be threatened with extinction by the year 2100 if we don’t act. Not since the time of the dinosaurs have we seen a comparable rate of species loss.
Cats and foxes – both invasive species here – kill millions of birds and native animals every night. It is one of the main reasons so many of Australia’s birds and mammals are now threatened. Checking this loss is one of the great challenges for conservation.
But conservation stories need not just be about loss. There are many great stories of hope and recovery. Humans have had very negative impacts on the environment, but we have also made remarkable contributions to its protection and recovery.
Look at the two pictures behind me of the bald eagle and the black-footed ferret. Both represent success stories.
The bald eagle – the very symbol of the United States – was once on the verge of extinction. After decades of careful stewardship, eagles are once again flying free across America. More important, the bald eagle is no longer considered endangered.
Black-footed ferrets were considered extinct in the wild until 1981. After a decade of hard work, we now have more than 1,200 individuals reintroduced in three states – representing a remarkable recovery.
While the situation is dire for many species, it is not too late. Nature’s powers of recovery are impressive and, Mother Nature only needs an inch to work wonders.
These animals are essential for our own lives and those of our families. Countless new drugs for diseases like cancer have come from nature – including from coral reefs. When we lose a species, we risk emptying the shelves of pharmacies for the future.
Conservation is like creating a beautiful piece of art – it takes dedication, passion, persistence, and creativity. I hope the images and sculptures you see here tonight inspire you to do a little more to help Mother Nature.
Let me close by pointing to one of the world’s most glorious birds – the king parrot. I thrill every time I see one. Indeed, Australia “abounds in Nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare.” Your “Gross Domestic Wonders” are truly awesome. Together, we can protect these treasures. Let’s pledge that they will all be here for our children and grandchildren. Let’s work to leave them a world richer and more abundant in wildlife.