Rockefellers Want Cleaner Seas, Give Obama Low Green Mark

The topic of ocean conservation comes up almost daily in the household of Susan and David Rockefeller Jr.

David spends much of his time raising awareness through his nonprofit Sailors for the Sea. Founded in 2004, it educates the boating community about the need to protect the oceans.

Susan, a documentary filmmaker, is a board member of Oceana, an international organization that seeks to restore the health of the world’s major bodies of water. Her film “A Sea Change” created awareness about the dangers of acidification.

Their leisure life is linked to the oceans as well. David, the son of philanthropist David Rockefeller Sr., is an avid sailor, and Susan likes to swim and body surf. We talked recently over lunch at Bloomberg world headquarters in New York.

Cole: How do you each begin your day?

David: I begin the day looking at a new word, finding a reason to be grateful and a poem. I’m addicted to newsprint and I look at the New York Times. If it were a charity I would give it money to keep it alive. Then I go to my office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. We begin the day together, and we end it together.

Susan: I start also with a Gratefulness.org quote. We like to start the day with that because we are so busy and have so many things that push and pull us. Then I wake up Henry, my son, and make breakfast.

Cole: You traveled to China recently. What were your impressions?

David: You have government change, the first time in 10 years. You have horrible air and amazing development. You have the vibrancy and the perils, and the wealth and the poverty, and the beauty and the distasteful things. It was really amazing to see.

Wearing Masks

Susan: There is a young group that won’t put up with the amount of toxicity in the environment. They’re finding out that they can’t drink the water, and the air quality was just beyond horrible. We wore masks.

Cole: It sounds as though saving the oceans and the seas from ruin is Topic A in the Rockefeller household.

David: It certainly is for me.

Susan: We love the oceans, and we love to snorkel. We were just in Florida and I went body surfing with my son. I love being in the water. I spend a good deal of time working for Oceana. In terms of philanthropic dollars, 98 percent of conservation dollars go to terrestrial-based conservation and less than 2 percent goes to oceans.

Cole: Would you ban or severely restrict fishing to protect endangered species?

Renewable Resource

Susan: Fish are a renewable resource that can be replenished if we enforce regulations. It’s just awful the amount of by-catch that gets wasted. For every pound of shrimp that’s caught, it can be 10 pounds of by-catch that’s wasted. The more people who see this, the more who will be outraged and want to see a change.

Cole: What grade would you give the Obama administration on environmental issues?

David: I admire Obama greatly. I don’t think he’s made a great mark as an environmentalist, but there’s a lot of opportunity. If I were grading all of the presidents since Jimmy Carter, I wouldn’t give good grades to any of our recent presidents. If you notice, many recent presidencies suddenly discover later on that the environment is something that the president has power to impact in a positive or negative way.

Albert Einstein

Cole: David, you recorded a CD to be released on which you read the letters of Albert Einstein. How did that come about?

David: I was a singer for a long time and I loved performance and something happened to my singing voice that didn’t happen to the speaking voice. I decided what I would do is use my speaking force.

I contacted Audible.com, and they hired me, and the first option was to read the last essays and speeches of Albert Einstein. He covers amazing subjects, everything from socialism and one-world government to the persecution of the Jews. I really, really enjoyed it.

(Patrick Cole is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

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