Friday, May 03, 2013

Naomi Klein Attacks Big Enviro

There's dissension in the ranks of the environmental movement.

Naomi Klein has written a piece in The Guardian attacking some A-list environmental groups that, she claims, have been of more help than harm to the fossil fuelers.

...some of the most powerful and wealthiest environmental organisations have long behaved as if they had a stake in the oil and gas industry. They led the climate movement down various dead ends: carbon trading, carbon offsets, natural gas as a "bridge fuel" – what these policies all held in common is that they created the illusion of progress while allowing the fossil fuel companies to keep mining, drilling and fracking with abandon. We always knew that the groups pushing hardest for these false solutions took donations from, and formed corporate partnerships with, the big emitters. But this was explained away as an attempt at constructive engagement – using the power of the market to fix market failures.

Now it turns out that some of these groups are literally part-owners of the industry causing the crisis they are purportedly trying to solve. And the money the green groups have to play with is serious. The Nature Conservancy, for instance, has $1.4bn (£900m) in publicly traded securities, and boasts that its piggybank is "among the 100 largest endowments in the country". The Wildlife Conservation Society has a $377m endowment, while the endowment of the World Wildlife Fund–US is worth $195m.

plenty of green groups have managed to avoid this mess. Greenpeace,, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, and a host of smaller organisations such as Oil Change International and the Climate Reality Project don't have endowments and don't invest in the stock market. They also either don't take corporate donations or place such onerous restrictions on them that extractive industries are easily ruled out. Some of these groups own a few fossil fuel stocks, but only so that they can make trouble at shareholder meetings.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is halfway there. It has a $118m endowment and, according to its accounting team, for direct investments "we specifically screen out extractive industries, fossil fuels, and other areas of the energy sector". However, the NRDC continues to hold stocks in mutual funds and other mixed assets that do not screen for fossil fuels. (The Fossil Free campaign is calling on institutions to "divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years".)

Hannah Jones, one of the student divestment movement organisers, told me: "Just as our college and university boards are failing us by not actively confronting the forces responsible for climate change, so are the big corporate green groups. They have failed us by trying to preserve pristine pockets of the world while refusing to take on the powerful interests that are making the entire world unliveable for everyone." But, she added, "students now know what communities facing extraction have known for decades: that this is a fight about power and money, and everyone – even the big green groups – is going to have to decide whether they are with us, or with the forces wrecking the planet."

Ouch, burn.   Now that Klein has put them under a microscope it should be interesting to watch how these enviro-institutions react.


Lorne said...

I have said it before and I'll say it again, Mound. Everywhere we look, whether it is the NGOs, the churches or any of the other myriad 'progressive' institutions, there is increasing evidence supporting Chris Hedges' thesis of their having sold out that he so ably demonstrated in his book, Death of the Liberal Class.

I have no doubt, however, that many of these groups have deluded themselves into thinking that what they have done are necessary compromises and not the acts of prostitution they really are.

The Mound of Sound said...

I'm sure you're right, Lorne. We've become so dysfunctional that we're borderline Orwellian. In a world were everything is a compromise, it's easy to become accustomed to surrender.

Purple library guy said...

OK, this is a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine--I think this is very true, and a big reason is that little organizations so rarely sweat process. When there's 10 people in a little environmental/progressiver group, they just get on with it. Everyone knows everyone, they work together pretty well and they just do good work. Or if they don't, they break up and no harm done.

But the ones that work well grow, and then one day they wake up as a big organization and nobody made sure it would be grassroots democratic. So you have this oligarchy and if the founders move on or change or are persuaded to be "realistic", over time clever dick/s, often with money or ideas about making it, take it over. And there goes your idealistic organization.

The moral: If you want your group to stay grassroots, set it up explicitly for direct grassroots democratic control from early on. Make sure your process gives would-be smarmy takeover artists no way to hijack the thing.

Anyong said...

Purple....Right on!!!

The Mound of Sound said...

Good points, PLG, thanks.