by David Lincoln, Geologist and Consultant
The seeds of anti-environmentalism were planted unwittingly by the early hunter- gatherers of the Environmental Revolution. These conservationists tried to preserve land and resources for the benefit of man. They believed that natural resources should be saved for the good of all society. Concurrently, sportsmen and outdoorsmen promoted forest and wildlife conservation primarily to improve the hunt. They thought little of the modern environmentalist’s goals of saving the earth and its animal and plant species for their own sake.
The battle between conservationists and true environmentalists rages on. This split in the ecology movement has been successfully exploited for decades by the polluting corporations to minimize interference and maximize profits. However, over the years the corporations have capitalized on other weaknesses within the movement and their strategies and tactics have been constantly adapted to take full advantage of those vulnerabilities.
Preservationists, like John Muir, were heavily influenced by the proponents of transcendentalism including Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman. In 1872, they were instrumental in establishing Yellowstone as the first national park and Yosemite National Park followed in less than two decades. Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892 for the express purpose of preserving the beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountain chain for the Spiritual benefit of man.
Near the turn of the century (1903), Muir persuaded Teddy Roosevelt to join him in Yosemite to see the wonders of nature that the Sierra club was committed to preserve. Within two years, Roosevelt had named Gifford Pinchot, an economic conservationist, to head the National Forestry Service. Pinchot wrote, “The first great fact about conservation is that it stands for development… and the wise use of natural resources... for the benefit of people who live here and now ” Thus were the weeds of the “Wise Use Movement” sewn in the garden of paradise!
At about this time, the National Audubon Society was formed to protect birds and waterfowl. These new conservation organizations exerted pressure on Roosevelt to prevent mining in the Grand Canyon and ultimately to establish the National Park Service in 1916.
By the end of Roosevelt’s administration, the National Parks and Conservation Association had been founded and the Izaak Walton League had been formed for game protection. In all, almost 170 million acres of land had been set aside for national forests and parks.
All of these conservation efforts were about gathering up and setting aside land for the use and benefit of future generations. Unfortunately, those generations now believe they have a legitimate claim to control the use of public land for private purposes. As we shall see, they have become increasingly militant in their demands for access to some of these lands for commercial and recreational use.
The next leap forward by the environmental movement came during and shortly after the Great Depression Era of the early 1930’s. Franklin Roosevelt was desperately searching for a way to alleviate the severe drought and massive soil erosion that characterized the “Dust Bowl” in the mid-west. In 1935 he established the Soil Conservation Service and appointed Hugh Hammond Bennett, known as the “father of soil conservation” to scientifically solve the problem with the wise use of natural resources.
Also in 1935, Jay Darling founded the National Wildlife Federation. That same year Aldo Leopold founded the Wilderness Society. Leopold was concerned with game management and believed hunting was a way to re-establish a balance in some ecosystems after ranchers had eliminated natural predators. Although he had previously worked for the forestry service under Pinchot, he became convinced that wilderness was the storehouse of genetic diversity. He went on to write the guidelines for a conservation movement and later introduced the concept of a “Land Ethic”. This ethic changed the role of man from conqueror to citizen of the land-community.
Darling stood against Leopold’s philosophy because he was afraid that they would “lead to the socialization of property.” This became one of the first major rifts in the environmental movement and it weakened organizations on both sides of the debate. The “socialization of property” remains a key argument which the anti-environmentalists use to justify their position. It is also an important component in their “divide and conquer” strategy.
Following WW II, the Defenders of Wildlife was founded to protect wild animals and their habitats. This group replaced the Defenders of Furbearers and the Anti-Steel Trap League. Shortly afterwards, two natural scientists, Fairfield Osborn and William Vogt each wrote influential books entitled Our Plundered Planet and Road to Survival, respectively. Both writers emphasized the devastating impact that mankind’s rapidly growing population was having on the land.
The concepts of ecological balance expressed in these publications quickly led to the formation of the Nature Conservancy in 1951. Within 10 years both the Humane Society, which fought for compassionate treatment of domestic animals, and the World Wildlife Fund were established.
Each of these Post-Depression Era animal rights groups was idealistically formed to correct an imbalance in nature caused by the ravages of man. The assumption was that if you could scientifically show what was causing these imbalances then it would be a relatively simple matter to correct the problem. Implicit in this assumption was the belief that government policies were largely responsible for this imbalance. Consequently, only a political appeal for reason could correct these problems. This belief system was about to be put to the ultimate test.
David Brower, who became Executive Director of the Sierra Club in 1952, had transformed the group from a regional to a national force. He successfully opposed the Bureau of Reclamation’s plans to build dams in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and in Arizona’s Grand Canyon. However, he lost the battle to prevent the Glen Canyon dam in Utah. This defeat led him to the conclusion that more militant tactics were needed to stop environmental degradation. He favored this more militant strategy throughout the remainder of his career.
In 1962, a year before the Glen Canyon dam was completed; Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. Success with her previous book, The Sea Around Us had allowed her to quit her government job with the fisheries and concentrate on writing full-time. She chose to work on pesticides because she was concerned that the build-up of pesticides in the food chain was having a devastating impact on the bird populations. Carson was a voice in the wilderness trying to sound the alarm about the dangers of DDT and other pesticides. While her book was widely read, its controversial conclusions were denied by the chemical industry. It took over ten years before DDT was phased out in the US but some exports are still continuing.
The immense popularity of this book led to an increased general awareness of the earth’s fragile environment. Congress responded with a blizzard of new environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act, the Wilderness Act, The Water Quality Act and the Endangered Species Act. One can only wonder if awareness alone was sufficient to move these bills through Washington or whether intense lobbying from the rapidly growing environmental organizations was necessary. The unprecedented growth of the environmental groups certainly added to their strength. Between 1960 and 1969 the combined memberships expanded nearly 700% from 123,000 to 819,000. They would need all this support and more to deal with the coming environmental crises.
Another environmental warning was sounded in 1967 when a ship ran aground off the coast of England. A Union Oil Supertanker known as the Torrey Canyon ran aground on Pollard Rock, off Lands End. It was a 974 ft “jumboized” tanker that was partly owned through a dummy corporation in the Bahamas. The wreck didn’t receive much news coverage in the U.S. although at the time it was the worst oil spill in history. The U.S. media tended to downplay the consequences and didn't seem to realize that over 750,000 barrels of oil had spilled onto Britain's shores. (More than 3 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez). So much oil was spilled that the Royal Air Force dropped bombs on the wreck to break it apart and set fire to the oil. The slick spread from Cornwall to Brittany and three weeks later, remnants reached all the way to New Jersey and Cape Cod. Of course, the local population was outraged, but there was little response in America. It is possible that this disaster did have some influence on subsequent developments in the legal profession.
A group of Long Island scientists and lawyers banded together to form the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to stop the spraying of DDT and save the osprey from extinction. Their motto of “Sue the Bastards” was indicative of the prevailing attitude that only by working within the system could one hope to effect real change.
Originally, the lawyers had approached the National Audubon Society for financial assistance. Unfortunately, the chairman of Audubon, Gene Selzer and other directors had close ties to chemical companies so the request was denied. EDF was subsequently funded by a start-up grant from the Ford Foundation. As litigation became the preferred means of environmental protection, two more firms were formed and quickly joined the fray: The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (SCLDF). Each was begun with its own generous contribution from the Ford Foundation. The Ford officials introduced the radical young lawyers in NRDC to Republican lawyers on Wall Street who together with Laurance Rockefeller became the Board. SCLDF opened in San Francisco as a lawyers only group who did not initiate lawsuits but only represented clients.
These three environmental law firms made impressive gains against Federal and State regulatory agencies. One example was for the requirement to reduce lead emissions in gasoline another was for the control of fire retardant materials. However, the environmental litigation eventually became too successful against companies which were closely associated with Ford Trustees. When they delayed the construction of the Alaskan pipeline for more than three years the Ford Foundation took action. They fired Victor Yannocone, the founder and chief spokesman for NRDC. Thereafter, all cases considered by law firms who were funded by the Ford Foundation would be screened in advance by a handpicked panel of five judges. In addition, the firms were required to form internal review commitees which had to be approved by Ford. Naturally, the number and controversial nature of the cases declined precipitously
In hindsight, we can now see that polluting corporations were well equipped to deal with these legal challenges. They used their close personal and funding ties to influence the supposedly independent foundations. Simultaneously, they began training lawyers specifically in the arts of environmental non-compliance. Since that time, CEO’s have trotted out armies of lawyers to delay and obscure important health issues while the offending companies continued their offensive practices. Meanwhile, company sponsored scientists produced mountains of reports to substantiate corporate claims. Only much later did we learn that the studies were flawed or that the companies had already prepared additional studies that proved that the products were dangerous
By the end of the 60’s, the courts were clogged with environmental lawsuits primarily against the federal government for failure to enforce its own regulations. Although lawyers were flocking to Washington, there were still only two full-time lobbyists for environment. Nevertheless, these lawsuits awakened popular concern that America needed to do more to protect its own heritage. As a result, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and National Trails Act were passed to protect scenic areas from development. Then came the infamous California oil spill and the environmental movement was forever changed.
In 1969, TV viewers were bombarded by the images of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill. Unocal was drilling a development well from an offshore platform in the channel when something went terribly wrong. The company attempted to shut-in the well, but it apparently fractured the reservoir and seeped to the surface. Although only about 6,000 barrels escaped (a relatively minor spill); it was portrayed as an ecological disaster of unprecedented proportions. This was in part because the gooey sludge was polluting one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and partly because the LA news media was only an hour away from the focus of the story. The media highlighted the thousands of fish and birds that were killed. They daily reported on the cleanup efforts to save the animals (which were almost completely ineffectual). The well flowed oil for months until another relief well could be drilled and capped. For months it was the lead story on the nightly news.
The reader might be tempted to conclude that this event opened the eyes of the public to the real dangers of oil spills in the marine environment. However, this is only partly true. Many people apparently were more concerned with the damage to their favorite beach than to the oceans. Consider that at the same time that the Santa Barbara spill was grabbing headlines nationwide, another oil spill of huge proportions occurred off the coast of Massachusetts. For the third time in only two years, another tanker, (The Keo) split open due to hull failure. This time 210,000 barrels of oil were spilled into the heart of our fishing grounds. There was little national coverage of this incident. Although clearly, it should have been treated as a major story because it was a forerunner of many other environmental catastrophes. However, because the oil didn't happen to come onshore it wasn't considered particularly newsworthy.
The whole Santa Barbara affair was made a thousand times worse when the CEO of Unocal, Fred Hartley, was interviewed live on nationwide television. As he was walking along the oil soaked beach with a reporter at his side; he sidestepped a dying seagull and said "Ah Hell, What's a Few Dead Birds When Compared with Progress". That was probably the last time an oil executive expressed his true feelings on camera! "Fearless Fred" as he was called within the company, was no crackpot. He later became the head of the American Petroleum Institute, and was one of the most respected men in the industry. His comments evoked such an uproar that Unocal maintained a relatively low profile after that. It was already too late. It could be argued that the exact moment he spoke those words on the air, the New International Ecology Movement was born.
From this point forward, industry would rely heavily on public relations or PR firms to convey their message. One of the most common PR companies selected to salvage a corporate image after an ecological catastrophe was Burson–Marsteller (B-M). Their brochure states, “Often corporations face long term issue challenges which arise from activist concerns or controversies regarding product hazards… Burson–Marsteller issue specialists have years of experience managing such issues. They have gained insight into the key activists groups and the tactics and strategies of those who tend to generate and sustain issues. Our counselors around the world have helped clients counteract activist-generated…concerns.”
Eventually the oil spill resulted in a moratorium on drilling offshore in California and contributed to the ban on drilling in sensitive areas in Alaska. It was perhaps the most costly public relations mistake the oil companies ever made. It was a mistake which industry would not soon repeat. As a result, The PR companies became potent weapons in the corporate arsenal. The political fallout from the Exxon Valdez, which occurred much later, was small by comparison.
Within a year after the Santa Barbara spill, two of the most confrontational environmental groups were born: Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Friends of the Earth was founded by David Brower after he was asked to resign from the Sierra Club Board. Apparently, his Board disagreed with his more militant position and his opposition to a nuclear reactor in California’s Diablo Canyon. Brower realized that the problems caused by nuclear power and oil pollution were international in scope and began to pursue a more global vision. His aggressive style was well suited to the more controversial issues he tackled such as his opposition to nuclear weapons.
Greenpeace was founded by a group of so-called Canadian environmentalists, who decided to protest nuclear weapons testing off the Alaskan Coast. In actuality, many of these activists were really Americans who had fled to Canada to escape the draft. They failed to reach the site and were unsuccessful in preventing the tests. However, their non-violent, approach and their belief in bearing witness struck a chord with many people throughout North America. Their ranks quickly grew and membership growth outpaced all other environmental groups. Greenpeace was the first major organization to use the term “green” and the first to utilize direct action as its primary strategy. Their reckless crusade to stop commercial whaling by maneuvering inflatable boats between whalers and their targets garnered tremendous media attention. Greenpeace’s continued opposition to nuclear weapons and their disregard for authority frequently resulted in fines or detention.
By contrast, the strategy of working within the system achieved considerable success in 1970 with the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act. This Act required environmental impact statements for all federally funded or regulated projects. This resulted in the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and culminated with the establishment of Earth Day.
The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970 and involved over 20 million people. At the time, it was the largest demonstration in history and it proved the enormous popular appeal of the national environmental agenda. There were speeches, marches, concerts and teach-ins across the country. In California, an automobile was buried symbolizing the impending doom of the gas-guzzling cars. The Wilderness Society supported Earth Day and provided money and office space. The Conservation Foundation also donated $ 20,000 in desperately needed cash. The National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club were reluctant to participate for fear that it would divert attention from their own causes.
The success of Earth Day, caused people around the world to reconsider their position with regards to the environment. They began to expect positive action from their governments. Membership in environmental organizations swelled with at least 300,000 new members added to the rolls from 1969- 1972. Politicians responded with plans for the first global environmental conference.
The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, Sweden June 5th – 16th, 1972. For two weeks, 1200 delegates from 113 countries met in this marathon session not to discuss scientific or technological approaches to environmental problems but to coordinate international policy. The Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries did not attend because E. Germany had been denied full representation. Also officially absent were the more than 1000 representatives of the non-government organizations (NGOs).
The reasons the NGOs were not allowed in are somewhat complex but reveal much about the subversion of the environmental movement. The conference was called by the industrialized countries of Western Europe primarily to discuss their concerns about increasing air pollution drifting across country boundaries. Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary General of the UN was given authority to appoint a small Secretariat and a Conference Secretary General. Although details are fuzzy, he apparently named Rene Dubos to Chair the Commission. Dubos was a renowned microbiologist and so-called “Philosopher of the Earth”. He also named Maurice F. Strong, a self-professed Canadian environmentalist and organizer of the International Development Research Center (which had dubious links to the oil industry and commitments to the Alaskan Pipeline project) as the secretary in charge of preparations. For 2 years preceding the conference, a 27-nation PrepCom committee headed by Maurice Strong held four meetings to plan the event.
By special request of Maurice Strong, the world science community met in August 1971 in Canberra, Australia to bring together the new Scientific Committee on Problems and the Environment (SCOPE) with the UN Advisory Committee on the Application of Science and Technology to Development. They “broke new ground in elaborating environmental considerations as an integral part of the development process”. This was when the link was forged between environment and development, a necessary precursor to the recent concept of sustainable development. Note how from this point forward whenever the UN uses the word environment it is always with development. The development theme persisted in UN preparations until shortly before the main conference was to open.
Just before the start of the Conference, a book was distributed by Rene Dubos and Barbara Ward entitled, Only One Earth: The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet. Their book was intended in the spirit of global ecology, which was to be the guide for the conference. To the surprise of many, the Conference ended up being chaired by Maurice Strong who steered the topics back towards development. As we shall see, Strong has continued to dominate the UN ecology agenda to this day, allowing little or no deviation from his development-oriented policies.
After contributing heavily to the Conference process, several NGOs were forced to hold alternative meetings. This “counter-conference” consisted of a number of scientific and political organizations, as well as environmentalists, including Barry Commoner. He stated, “the conference had failed to address the topics which were most important to solving the current environmental crisis”.
One of the main outcomes of the Stockholm Conference was the establishment of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). UNEP is tasked with “coordinating environmental policies of nations, NGOs and other UN agencies to protect the environment from further degradation.” It was to be the “environmental conscience of the UN”. Where better to locate this global “early warning system” than Nairobi, Kenya? This is equivalent to sending the NGOs environmental concerns to Timbuktu. As everyone is aware, Kenya has remained a troubled, third world nation with poor transportation, poor communications and unreliable power supplies. It is difficult and expensive to get to and adequate accommodations are limited. If anything, conditions in Nairobi have deteriorated in the past 25 yrs.
Who was selected to run this supposed global monitoring station? It was none other than Maurice Strong, of course. Strong officially held this position as Executive Director of UNEP for two years, then he turned it over to his Egyptian Deputy Director, Mostafa Talba, who retained his position for an astonishing 17 years. Another Canadian, Elizabeth Dowdeswell (presumably well known to Strong) held the position at least until last year.
If this were the end of Strong’s influence in the UN it would be enough. However, as later events demonstrate, whenever international environmental issues are involved in the UN his name re-surfaces. It wouldn’t matter if he were an Einstein or a Carl Sagan, no one person should be allowed to exert that much influence on global environmental policy. Is it any wonder that the planet is still at risk?
The year of the Stockholm Conference, DDT began to be phased out in the US. This was considered a triumph for the environmental movement and a complete ban was considered imminent. Little did they know that nearly 30 years later the US would still be exporting harmful pesticides and then re-importing the produce in what has come to be called the Circle of Poison.
In 1973, the Arab Oil Embargo brought renewed interest in energy conservation. Long gas lines and higher prices forced people to cut gas consumption and to re-evaluate the need for fuel efficiency. This ultimately brought Green groups into direct confrontation with multi-national energy companies. More conflicts meant more lobbying and by the following year more than 42 environmental organizations employed a total of 40 full-time lobbyists. These new lobbyists were partly responsible for the passage of the Endangered Species Act and gathered support for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Faunas and Floras (CITES).
By the Mid 70’s, so-called Green Bans were instituted when a group of trade unions in Australia protested the loss of nature conservation areas for new building projects. The addition of trade unions to the equation caused tempers to flare and violence was inevitable.
In 1975, the US environmental movement took a left-handed detour towards anarchy and drove right into the camp of the anti-environmentalists. Author Edward Abbey wrote the Monkey Wrench Gang, an ostensibly fictional and humorist account of four characters who take on the establishment and try to prevent the loss of wilderness in the west. In doing so, they abandon all common sense and employ economic sabotage or ecotage to achieve their aims.
The problems arose when readers couldn’t tell for sure whether Abbey was serious or not. He dedicated his book to an 18th Century fanatic who smashed factory machinery. He claimed that the novel was an adventure story written for entertainment. Yet, he compounded the problem, by going on lecture tours and announcing that concerned citizens should “wage war against industrialization”. In doing so, he forever blurred the distinction between intentional violence and sarcasm. The book had such a profound effect on the environmentalist psyche that more than ten years later; the author was still being championed as the father of the eco-warrior splinter groups.
Probably few interpreted this satirical work initially as an outright call to action. However, in the West, it certainly fueled the debate and may have resulted in an outbreak known as the Sagebrush Rebellion.
The Sagebrush rebellion was a minor anti-environmentalist’s backlash that began in Nevada in 1976 and quickly spread to Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and ultimately to Alaska. Ranchers in the West decided that the way to protect their access to public lands was to have the government turn over land rights to the states. Furthermore, they demanded the right to use chemicals on grazing lands and to kill any predators on sight. The movement gathered strength when President Ronald Reagan publicly declared that he too was a Sagebrush rebel. The plans faded when the ranchers realized the financial advantages in having the government maintain the land at no cost and with virtually no enforced restrictions. Its significance lies in it being a test case both for public sentiment and for the refinement of tactics which would later prove so effective in the fight against the environmentalists.
By 1977, the German Green Party (originally called “Green Action Future”) had taken shape. Also at this time other Green political parties began to emerge in Europe, including Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and France. However these were by no means the earliest. Tasmania boasts the first regional Green Party in 1972, but New Zealand claims the first national Green candidates. The European Green Parties expanded rapidly usually commanding between 5% and 10% of the vote, but they particularly gained strength in the wake of ecological disasters.
. In March, the Supertanker, Amoco Cadiz, developed engine trouble off the coast of France. The captain radioed for help, but the only tugboat within range refused to come to his aid. Whether it was an argument over price, a union dispute, or shear French obstinance was never determined. What we know is that several hours later the ship crashed ashore, near Portsall, spilling its entire cargo of 1.4 million barrels of crude along the French Coast.
The disaster spawned a wave of criticism by environmentalists about the safety of these Supertankers and started a debate about the need for better maintenance, better emergency procedures and more double hulls. All of which changed absolutely nothing. The world had to wait until a major collision occurred in American waters before the oil companies would take these concerns seriously.
How bad was it really? There are some scientists who claim the French marine ecosystem will never recover. It dumped twice as much oil as the Torrey Canyon, England's worst disaster, and more than five times as much oil as the later Exxon Valdez.
Back in the US, chemicals were discovered seeping out of the Love Canal near Buffalo N.Y. This prompted one mother, Lois Gibbs, to take two EPA inspectors hostage. Her son had become ill playing in the abandoned Hooker Chemical site. Two days later President Carter declared the site a disaster area. Of course, Hooker Chemical, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, denied liability. When that didn’t work they promptly declared bankruptcy. This left Uncle Sam holding the bag (as usual) for the Clean up. Lois Gibbs went on to start the Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes (CCHW).
In 1979, a nuclear accident occurred at Three Mile Island, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Due to mechanical failure, coolant water flooded the reactor and the containment building. This was supposed to be impossible. The accident undermined the average person's faith in the entire nuclear industry. Between 1979 and 1989 orders for new nuclear power plants dropped from 40 to zero, ending the myth of cheap inexhaustible nuclear energy supplies. Nevertheless the nuclear power industry continued to argue for the industry’s safety. Once again, they brought in B-M for PR and damage control while they stepped up their attacks on the environmental groups. One of the results was that the Citizen’s Party, a US Green Party briefly led by Barry Commoner, never really gained momentum.
This may have precipitated the formation of splinter group called Earth First! Founded by Dave Foreman, an ex-lobbyist for the Wilderness Society, the organization is opposed to compromise. Foreman advocated a militant strategy and the use of Ecotage tactics suggested in the Monkey Wrench Gang.
Another splinter group, The Sea Shepherd Society also advocated the use of violence. Formed in 1977 by Paul Watson, a former Greenpeace captain, this group was intent on stopping whaling at any cost. They rammed vessels and even threatened to blow them up while they were docked. Watson eventually adopted terrorist tactics, including espionage and demolition. As a direct result of these activities both he and Foreman were put in jail on serious charges and are currently facing lengthy jail terms.
On the personal, level this is an extremely foolish and dangerous approach because it instantly leads to an escalating situation where you will be holding a screw driver while the opposition is pointing a gun. If you carry a gun, your opponent will use an explosive ad infinitum. The only way it can possibly work is if you remain invisible. In this information age, this is an impossible goal and anti-environmentalists have been known to post descriptions or license numbers of activists on the web.
On a moral level, these tactics are simply wrong and they go against everything the early preservationists stood for. If we cannot justify our methods in the court of public opinion then we have no chance of reaching our goals. Each time an environmentalist resorts to violence we play right into the hands of the anti-environmental establishment.
Finally, on a corporate level these are stupid tactics. At the height of the ecotage activity, it was costing industry perhaps $20 million dollars a year for delays and equipment replacement. This is a puny sum when compared with overall profits. It is certainly not worth the enmity it creates among our potential followers. Besides, even if an organization were successful in shutting down an entire operation, the company would simply shift their emphasis to another operation and maintain its bottom line.
In January 1981, nine of the mainstream environmental organizations met together to pool their resources. The group consisted of NWF, IWL, Sierra Club, National Audubon, Wilderness Soc., NRDC, EDF, EPC, FOE and later Nat’l Parks and Cons. Following Reagan’s Inauguration, the groups assembled to discuss common goals and strategies. Little was accomplished in that first meeting but the so-called Group of Ten continued to meet on a regular basis. They were interested in convincing corporate leaders to practice voluntary restraint and positive action. This was like asking Tobacco companies to voluntarily stop selling cigarettes. They subsequently met with heads of some of the worst polluting companies including DuPont, Exxon, Union Carbide, Dow, American Cyanamid and Monsanto. The companies were concerned about the unfavorable publicity they were getting. Out of these discussions eventually emerged An Environmental Agenda for the Future. This report placed the blame on overpopulation as the root cause for environmental problems. Pollution was seen as a “technological rather than a political challenge”. In almost every area of conflict with industry the report recommended only further studies not specific actions. In short, it was a sellout of the entire environmental movement. Apparently, too many years of isolation in Washington and too many polite discussions with industry leaders had removed the mainstream CEO’s from the pulse of America and lulled the into a sense of complacency. Considering that the environment movement was facing a declared war with the Reagan Administration this was a sadly inadequate response.
At least David Brower responded to the challenge. He founded the Earth Island Institute a group based in San Francisco. They are dedicated to developing innovative projects for the global environment, including human rights and peace initiatives. They are perhaps best known for their exposure of dolphin slaughters by tuna boats. Recently, they have been accused of taking large sums from the very companies they are supposed to monitor.
Another possible conflict of interest is surfacing at the UN. The World Resources Institute (WRI) was founded in 1982 as an independent policy research center for issues concerning the environment and development. It also operates the Center for Int’l Development and the Environment. It appears to have a revolving door policy when it comes to the elite members of the environmental mainstream. In 1991 it was invited to attend the Group of Ten Meeting and soon after accepted a $25,000 donation from Waste Management Inc, a company which has broken records for EPA fines and violations. In 1994, it listed John Adams as its Executive Director. Is this the same John Adams who for years represented NRDC at the Group of Ten Meetings? Is it the same man who more recently served on Pres. Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development? The Founder of NRDC, Gus Speth, also was with WRI. Another member of the Group of Ten, Rafe Pomerance who represented Friends of the Earth also ended up as an officer of WRI.
Furthermore, former UNEP officials appear to wind up at WRI. This holds for Mostapha Tolba former UNEP Director and for Maurice Strong who was shown as Chairman of the Board of WRI in 1996. This is indeed strange since the Biannual World Resources report is prepared in collaboration with UNEP. WRI prepared a study in 1990 purporting to show that undeveloped countries of the South pumped as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the developed countries of the North. Although the conclusions were challenged, this report will be used to formulate aid and multinational lending policies for years to come. WRI, whose support is almost entirely corporate, is listed as a non-profit institution. In 1996 it listed a staff of 115 in 50 countries.
In 1984, another ecological disaster with unbelievably lethal consequences occurred which focused the world’s attention on the dangers of the Chemical Industry. The Union Carbide chemical plant, located in Bhopal, Central India blew up and spread poisonous cyanide and other toxic gases throughout a helpless community. By the time the fire was put out, 3849 men, women and children were dead. It was by far the worst chemical accident or explosion in history. Later, it became a landmark legal case that opened Pandora's box. The issue was what is the life of a human being worth? The other issue was does an American company have to compensate people in the same way it would in America or does it merely reimburse for loss of earning power in India, ($200 per year.) The company moved quickly to try to limit its liability and of course it hired B-M to handle PR. Union Carbide offered the bereaved families more money than they had seen in a lifetime, but only if they would settle out of court. The Indian government had to step in and demand reasonable compensation. People began to ask, “what is a toxic chemical company doing in the middle of an overcrowded town?
This incident accelerated the trend for environmental justice that was evolving in many places as a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) issue. It forced people to think more globally towards a NIABY (not-in-anyone’s-backyard) position.
By 1985, militancy in the environmental movement seemed to be gaining the upper hand. It was spurred on by Dave Foreman’s publication of Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Ecodefense discusses in detail how to jam locks, make smoke bombs, destroy bulldozers and spike trees. The effect was that the FBI labeled Earth First! a terrorist organization and eventually Foreman was arrested on Felony conspiracy charges. Predictably, it brought about a tremendous backlash from timber cutters, ranchers, oil drillers and developers, the nuclear power industry and other anti-environmentalist groups. It galvanized these diverse interests and gave them an enemy they could really hate. It also turned the general public and congress off on the mainstream environmental agenda. Tree spiking alone probably did more damage to the environmental movement than all the hate propaganda that had come before. The only positive outcome of these tactics was that several extremist organizations were now viewed as moderate because they disavowed monkeywrenching.
One of the tragic consequences of this militant attitude was the sinking of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior. France was angered by the group’s campaign to make the south Pacific nuclear free. So on July 10, 1985, two frogmen from the French secret service entered the harbor in Auckland, New Zealand and planted explosives. The resulting explosion killed photographer Fernando Pereira and irreparably damaged the boat. Reaction was swift with the international press unanimously condemning the action. Subsequent investigations not only proved France’s involvement at the highest levels but revealed the existence of a French spy in Greenpeace’s New Zealand office. Christine Cabon using the name Frederique Bonlieu had been sent in 4 months earlier. She was posing as an environment scientist although she was actually an intelligence officer who had previously spied on the PLO. She stayed only one month but gathered enough intelligence to make it easy to carry out the operation. On July 25, 1985 New Zealand detectives arrested the two saboteurs who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentence to ten years in prison. The resulting scandal nearly brought down the French Government.
Initially in shock and disarray following the incident, the organization briefly became paranoid and started looking for spies elsewhere. The long-term effects however were viewed as positive. Greenpeace as a result of all the publicity became the world’s premiere environmental group. As for the campaign, it was the beginning of the end for France’s nuclear testing program.
This should be an important lesson to environmentalists who believe that a little violence will help them reach their objectives. Nothing is more powerful than a martyr and even if a man drops dead of a heart attack as a result of a violent action, the movement could be irreparably harmed.
The following year, one of the worst nuclear accidents in history occurred. This resulted in an explosion at Chernobyl, near Kiev in the Ukraine, which killed at least 31 people in the initial blast. However these numbers don’t begin to show the magnitude of this tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people were subjected to excessive radiation. As far away as Norway and Finland, herds of Caribou and Reindeer had to be slaughtered and burned because their meat was not fit for human consumption. A cloud of radioactive fallout spread across Europe making hundreds of square miles uninhabitable for decades. All this was basically the result of an economic decision because the Russians have known for a very long time that the reactor design at Chernobyl was fundamentally unsafe. There are still dozens of reactors of this type just waiting for another accident like this to happen.
In 1989 another ecological disaster occurred. The Supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The 250,000 barrels spilled was not a lot by world standards. As oil spills go, it didn't even rank in the top ten, but the press coverage that followed and the anger it provoked was truly unprecedented. There were several reasons for this. Certainly it was the worst spill in American history and it did impact in one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of our coast. However, something else was happening. As CNN spread around the world and its popularity grew, so grew the popularity of America itself. Worldwide, instantaneous broadcasts had the effect of homogenizing the views and expectations of the rest of the world. What emerged looked decidedly American. So when the world saw oil pouring onto the beaches of Alaska, they reacted like it was their beach. The environmental movement had become a global phenomenon and now they had focused on a single target to vent their wrath. That wrath was directed squarely at Exxon and the oil industry. When it was revealed that the pilot of that huge Supertanker (Captain Joseph Hazelwood) was too drunk to navigate the channel and had turned the task over to his first mate, the world felt betrayed. The effect was very similar to what happened after the Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident.
In spite of the previous years that provided tons of evidence of negligence and complacency, people were still in denial. These things just weren't supposed to happen! But they did happen and with surprising regularity. As people set glued to their TV sets watching more waves of oil rolling ashore, there was a sense that we had somehow lost our innocence. As the thousands of birds and mammals lay dying on the beach we felt as though we had traded our environment for the comfort and convenience of air-conditioned automobiles.
Naturally, Exxon did everything humanly possible to rectify the problem, after it was too late. One of the first things they did was call B-M the PR firm. From the beginning, Exxon's primary concern appeared to be that they would be the targets of a boycott. B-M stepped up their ad campaign and Exxon pledged billions of dollars to the clean-up effort. As always they portrayed the incident as one of those terrible unavoidable accidents which we must accept as the price of progress.
What they didn't advertise on TV was that there was nothing really they could do. Booms were useless in preventing contamination of other beaches. Detergents were worse than useless since they killed more wildlife than they saved. In spite of all the hype about oil eating bacteria and super adsorbent materials, they are still in the research stage. For all practical purposes you can only vacuum up and resell what remains on the water. Then you steam clean the rocks. This has a wondrously cosmetic effect at least until the next storm season when the rocks turn black with oil again.
Of course there are a number of things that Exxon and the other companies could do to prevent these recurring tanker accidents. Congress took a step in the right direction with passage of the Oil Pollution Act requiring double hulls by 2015, but there is much more that could be done. New technologies provide a range of options which could make shipping safer and more efficient. All of these solutions will require investment and could eat into profits. They would also require considerable time to implement. There still will be a few more tanker spills while we wait.
Earth Day XX celebrations was the largest environmental event in history. An estimated 200 million people in over 140 nations participated with more than a million in Central Park alone. Activities ranged from planting trees and cleaning up roadways to a release of ladybugs to protest pesticides. Denis Hayes, the organizer of Earth Day 1 was in charge again. This time his budget had balloned to $3 million and he had corporate sponsors standing in line to contribute. Many of the worst polluters contributed funds. Money came in from Monsanto, BP, Peabody Coal and Arco in what time magazine called a “commercial mugging. In 1995, the White House offered $3.7 to sponsor the party. Apparently Earth Day is also for sale to the highest bidders!
In response to Earth Day XX, ultra-conservative Patrick Buchanan asked his friend and propagandist Llewellyn Rockwell to write a critique of the environmental movement. The resultant essay, “An Anti-Environment Manifesto” was printed in Buchanan’s newsletter …From the Right. In his essay Rockwell equates environmentalism with communism and claims that it represents a threat to free enterprise and individual liberty. He calls the environmental movement a misanthropic religion that represents a direct assault on Christian theology and values. He attacks data that supports the ozone hole and global warming calling it all pseudoscience. He advocates the privatization of all public resources. He states, “only when private property are well established will the proper incentives exist to make sure the environment is not degraded”. “People Come First!” soon became the battle cry for the new anti-environmentalists who call themselves the Wise Use Movement. This land-grabbing rhetoric had a tremendous impact on people in the west. Although the movement is well financed by commodity industries, including mining, timber, farming, and fur interests. Corporations like Exxon, Louisiana Pacific, and Boise Cascade have donated large sums to ensure that this movement successfully replaces the Sagebrush Rebellion.
Led by Ron Arnold, a Sierra Club renegade, the movement is well organized, and media savvy. Arnold’s agenda is to “destroy environmentalists by taking their money and their members”. The plan is to move public lands from federal authority to state, and finally to county jurisdictions where it will be far easier to access. The movement is not opposed to using violence and there has been an increase in attacks on environmentalists wherever they are active. The Wise Use movement is organized around well-funded umbrella organizations with Green-sounding names like Evergreen Foundation, National Wetlands Coalition and the Environmental Conservation Organization. Together these groups probably represent the greatest threat the environmental movement has ever faced.
As we’ve shown the environmental movement sewed the seeds for its destruction by a historical pre-occupation with the land and its value. It was inevitable that land-grabbers would eventually adopt enviro-tactics, but it is not pre-ordained that should prevail. Whenever the mainstream environmental organizations are confronted with the evidence that they are under attack, most Green groups prefer to concentrate on increasing memberships rather than defense strategies. The weeds have now infested the garden and are beginning to choke the flowers. If this trend continues, there won’t be any independent environmental groups for the Wise-Use movement to oppose.
On the International scene, preparations for the Earth Summit began in 1990. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was planned for Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Three years earlier, the UN Commission on Environment and Development chaired by Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland. Brundtland was hailed as the first environment minister of any country to become to their leader. (Recently, her support of Norway’s whaling industry in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s ban has raised serious doubts about her commitment to the environment).
After 4 years work, the Commission published its report “Our Common Future.” In it they coined the phrase “sustainable development” and linked environmental problems to social and economic systems. From this point on sustainable development dominated the UN process. There is little agreement on a detailed definition of sustainable development or how it could be applied. One clause calls for the “maintenance and improvement” of living standards In practice, this appears to be a euphemism for perpetual growth; which is impossible. Yet, each time the phrase is repeated it gathers momentum and strength. Without doubt, the concept is an outgrowth of the early meetings that Maurice Strong orchestrated in Australia.
The preparations for the conference required Four PrepComs. The first was in Nairobi, then two in Geneva and the last followed in New York. Twenty-one issues were negotiated at these conferences. Notably, overpopulation was barely mentioned because of opposition by religious groups. Agenda 21, a 400-page document, spelled out the policies, law and financing which would be necessary to fulfil an Earth Charter. In effect, it was to be an environmental bill of rights for all people.
The Secretary of the PrepComs, Maurice Strong, estimated that it would take $125 billion per year in aid to help the poorer nations of the world protect their environment. Partly as a result of this estimate, the US alone among the industrialized nations refused to sign a proposal for mandatory stabilization of greenhouse gases, a biodiversity treaty, the forest protection convention or the promise to donate 0.7% of GDP to less developed countries for environmental protection.
At the Earth Summit in Rio, in June 1992, more than 35,000 environmental activists, politicians, businessmen and 9000 journalists attended the largest environmental conference in history. Dr. Suami Nathan was scheduled to Chair the conference, but as the meeting began, Maurice Strong (naturally) assumed the position and dominated the proceedings. Many environmentalists felt betrayed. Once again the Global Forum of NGOs was forced to hold their “shadow assembly” outside along the beachfront. It has since been stated that the issues discussed and the contacts were the most valuable part of the Earth Summit.
Once again, it appears the Maurice Strong and his band of elite have hi-jacked one of the most significant environmental forums of the century. One can only imagine what role Strong and WRI played behind the scenes in manipulating the data, influencing the politicians and controlling the Agenda. One can only hope that early in the next century, a world environmental conference can be called which does not have development as its overriding theme; one which allows NGOs full participation in the process and which is not controlled by Maurice Strong or his cohorts.
While the ecology movement is preparing to deal with problems in the UN they will have to keep a watchful eye on the opposition. One of the ways the corporations have insinuated themselves into the environmental movement is through green marketing. Green marketing refers to the companies desire to portray themselves and their products as environmentally friendly. A survey by Abt Associates showed that 90 percent of American Consumers were willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly products. Cash registers were suddenly ringing in the minds of the CEO’s across the country. Not surprisingly, a flurry of newly packaged products hit the market that claimed they were “biodegradable, recyclable or safe for the environment.”. The problem was that these products were not regulated and the claims could not be substantiated. Both Mobil Oil and British Petroleum were sued for misleading advertising. Attorney Generals in 10 states called for greater accountability. The EPA and FTC finally responded then issued standards for advertising.
The companies then switched strategies and went for eco-labeling. These seals of approval are voluntary, third party assessments of the relative impact of the relative impacts of a product. In Europe and Japan these eco-labels are government sponsored and government controlled. The US however has refused to endorse this method. Instead, various environmental groups have seals of approval, which they have applied, to selected goods that pass their tests of environmental acceptability. This places Green groups on a very slippery slope. They not only have enormous financial clout in the market place, but they are faced with a fundamental conflict of interest in trying to endorse those corporations they are supposed to watching.
Inevitably this has led to what is called “cause-related marketing”. This is when companies promise to support moderate environmental organizations like World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in exchange for a review and assessment of their products. The writer witnessed this process first-hand in 1996.
Unilever, a parent company well known for overfishing and chemical pollution began funding WWF and the Marine Stewardship Council to develop an eco-label for its fishing products. At the same time it was influencing the approval criteria in this country it was announcing in England that 90% of its fish products would be eco-friendly within 5 years. Undoubtedly, the Corporation has both the money and the influence to realize this self-fulfilling prophecy, regardless of whether they alter their fishing practices.
The conflict of interest between Unilever and WWF has become so blatant that at one point when you accessed WWF Home Page on the web you could be hot-linked directly to Unilever’s home page with advertisements for detergents and chemicals. I seriously question whether children looking for picture of endangered species on the web should be subjected to soap commercials. Is this any way to train a new generation of environmental activists?
As the narrative above, demonstrates the environmental movement is in shambles. It suffers from a lack of leadership, credibility and vision. Only at the local, grass roots level can you still find authentic activists willing to take risks and fight for the principles of environmental justice. In the larger picture, corporations have cozied up to the Green groups so successfully that it is sometimes hard to tell them apart. Few, if any of the larger organizations can still be said to operate completely independent of corporate influence. On an international basis, the UN has been temporarily rendered impotent by the very organizations that were supposed to protect the environment.
The founding fathers of the environmental movement would no doubt be appalled at this state of affairs. It is likely that they would see more of their genuine fighting spirit preserved in the anti-environmental movement than in any of established green groups today.
Where does this leave us! The writer suggests that we should leave all the trappings of Corporate America behind for the moment and let the children lead the way. Every schoolchild and many college students have somewhere in his heart a love of animals and an appreciation of nature. In the past decades we have taught them to want to Save the Whales, Protect the Forests and to Fight for Clean Air and Water. Across America and perhaps around the world, students are voluntarily devoting their time and energy to making this world a better place.
Outside of the classrooms and off the campuses this effort is largely ignored. Why? Because they don’t have any money! It is as though we have turned the environmental community into an elitist club where you can’t participate unless you have the price of admission. Big organizations have huge organizations, with large staffs and overheads, media budgets, lobbying costs, direct mail campaigns to finance and boats to support. What is this all for? Is it to get the message out to the most people or is it to raise funds so that you can perpetuate an ineffective system.
We seem to forget that the Vietnam War was stopped without a budget and without lobbying Capitol Hill. What it takes is a genuine groundswell of support for a passionate cause which people know in their gut is the right thing to do. Where will we find these burning issues? Again I say, ask the children. They are already working on the problems they perceive as important and it is likely that they have sucked their parents in along the way. All that is required is a little guidance and direction.
The technology now exists to contact and coordinate a vast number of High School and College students at very low costs. Studies have indicated that at least 60% of College students already have personal access to the web and the numbers are constantly growing. More than 1400 colleges have already published their websites and many High Schools have also. We are now in a position to focus the energy of thousands of committed young environmentalists towards a common cause. We can report on their individual activities and we can share successes with the entire world.
There is just one catch. You can never ask them for money! You can’t sell them products, you can’t sell or trade their names and most importantly, you can never solicit them for contributions. Once you try to put a price or value on their participation you destroy the spirit of innocence and trust which you are trying to capture in the first place.
If we are to revitalize the moribund environmental movement these are the rules we must follow. The goal must be a mass education program about a topic/topics that concern all of us. The effort must always be non-violent and non-combative in the sense that we cannot practice the tactics that we denounce by the opposition. Finally, our primary weapon must be information and the dissemination of truth.
What becomes of the proud tradition of grassroots activists who have stopped the environmental abusers in their tracks? This tradition should continue, but only in a way that will have a real impact on the company’s annual report. For too long environmentalists have been mosquitos on the elephant’s back. We can have this impact without resorting to tactics which directly threaten people or property.
We are living in the information age where we have access to more data in days than previous generations could examine in a lifetime. Some of this information is not widely known and some of it is probably believed to be secret. Now that many factory workers own computers it has become increasingly difficult for corporations to maintain their secrets. What ultimately brought the tobacco companies to the negotiating table was not polite persuasion or political pressure, it was seeing their most closely guarded secret memo’s appear on the front page of the newspaper. Likewise what ultimately brought down the Nixon administration was careful investigation techniques and an inability to plug leaks in the White House.
How can we find out what we need to know within the corporate maze? Why not ask them. It is not necessary to hack into computers to find out what companies don’t want the public to learn. As long as there are disgruntled employees in the world there will always be sources of information which industry cannot control. We could easily assign dozens of people to research the financial and operational aspects of an offending company. Eventually some of them will find gems of information which will make a difference. If companies believed for a moment that they could no longer protect their nasty little secrets the whole face of industry would change.
Where will we find the funds to finance an organization of this sort? That is the subject of another paper?
September 2, 1997