Naomi Klein Exposes the Truth About the Dirty Investments Financing Environmental Groups

This month The Nation is publishing two excellent articles by Naomi Klein about how many of the largest environmental organizations still invest in fossil fuels. In 'Why Aren't Environmental Groups Divesting from Fossil Fuels?' Naomi asks, "Why do some of the largest environmental organizations -  Conservation International, The Environmental Defense Fund, The National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, The Sierra Club, The Sierra Club Foundation, The Union of Concerned Scientists, The Wildlife Conservation Society, The Wilderness Society, The Woods Hole Research Center, The World Resources Institute and The World Wildlife Fund - still invest in fossil fuels?"

In the second titled 'Time for Big Green to Go Fossil Free' she makes it clear that "plenty of green groups have managed to avoid this mess. Greenpeace, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action Network, and a host of smaller organizations like 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."

It's important to notice the words 'endowments and invest in the stock market' because this is the central issue in Naomi's articles, the focus of her exhaustive research and the way almost all conservation is done in the western world. The organization behind The American Prarie Reserve, an ambitious undertaking to rewild 3.5 million acres of short grass prairie in the greater Missouri Breaks area, as Richard Manning's book 'Rewilding the West' explains and details has the same dilemma. In order to raise the money necessary to buy up and 'rewild' that vast area hundreds of ranchers must be bought out over the coming years. This will cost an estimated $200, 000, 000. The only folks who've got that kinda dough are very rich folks and understandably even the most altruistic of them doesn't give money away without some conditions attached.

This reality leads most organizations into the world of endowments, which as registered charities are tax deductible and who's investments in the stock market create income, also usually tax deductible, that can be used to run the organization without depleting the donated capital [at least in theory]. Naomi's articles join numerous others lately in the wake of the Carbon Tracker Report and Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone article 'Global Warming's Terrifying New Math' in calling for all these environmental organizations to divest their interests in the fossil fuel industry.

Though this solution sounds good in reality it makes a better slogan than an effective tactic. All these endowments, just like the pension plans and all the various types of investment funds, hire fund managers who's job it is to maximize returns. So, as long as the job of the endowment's managers is maximizing returns within whatever moral parameters that organizations applies, divestment in one aspect of the capitalist matrix, fossil fuels, is meaningless if the money is simply moved to another aspect of capitalism, another part of the consumer culture who's demands drive all economic exchange, including those of the fossil fuel industry. Folks need to stop driving to the mall, stop consuming useless plastic crap, just slow down.

Christian Parenti at Huffington Post has noticed the problem too. He said recently, "I am all for dumping carbon stocks, if for no other reason than a sense of decency and honor...but we actually sustain and feed Exxon, Chevron, Shell and the rest not as investors, but as consumers. We give them money when we buy gasoline." There are other choices, like the picture above shows [more on that soon] but for now the reailty is that in this worldwide capitalist matrix top down solutions always seem to end up making complicated matters worse. Only bottom up solutions like mindful demand side reductions by individuals can be effective. As Jorge Majfud says, "Trying to reduce environmental pollution without reducing consumerism is like combating drug trafficking without reducing the drug addiction."