Back in the good old days, a corporation with an unappetizing relationship to the natural world would often try to burnish their image by luring an executive or top staffer from an environmental group onto their board or into their public relations department, where they could offer testimonials to the toxic firm’s newfound reverence for Mother Earth.
But times have changed.
Now it’s the environmental groups who seem to be on a shopping spree for corporate executives. For a ripe example of this repellent trend let us turn to the World Wildlife Fund. In December of 2002, WWF introduced Linda Coady, then a senior executive at Weyerhaeuser Co, as vice-president of the World Wildlife Fund’s newly created Pacific regional office..
Weyerhaeuser is the great behemoth of the timber industry, which has rampaged through the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest leaving ruin and extinction in its wake. Weyerhaeuser has operated in Canada for many years, but in the late 1990s the company dramatically accelerated the pace of its clearcutting in British Columbia—in part, because it had largely liquidated its vast holdings in Washington and partly to flee the constraints of US environmental laws and lawsuits.
Before advancing to Weyerhaeuser, Coady sharpened her teeth at Macmillan-Bloedel, aka Mac-Blo. Macmillan Bloedel made billions by clearcutting all but the tiniest sliver of Vancouver Island before being bought out by Weyerhaeuser. (That sliver was spared only after 900 people got arrested for blocking logging roads in 1993. Needlesstosay, no World Wildlife Fund execs soiled their Gore-Tex rain jackets in those stormy protests.)
Neither company has ever shown the least regard for the rights of the First Nations of Canada, who lay claim to much of the remaining coastal forests of British Columbia. And the Canadian government has chosen to allow the timber companies to clearcut those lands before the claims have been settled. Indeed, Weyerhaeuser was sued by the Haida Nation for illegally clearcutting their land in the Queen Charlotte Islands, which they call Haida Gwaii.
“They’ve come and wiped out one resource after another,” Guujaaw, chief of the Haida in British Columbia, told me. He notes that Weyerhaeuser logs the old growth and ships it straight to its mills in Washington State. The Haida get no money and no jobs. “We’ve been watching the logging barges leaving for years and years,” said Guujaaw. “And we have seen practically nothing for Haida.”
The moss-draped forests of British Columbia are even more vulnerable than those of Washington, Oregon and Alaska. There are few environmental laws to restrain the appetite of the timber companies and the environmental movement itself is understaffed and overwhelmed. Now, defenders of Canadian ancient forests must contend with a conservation group run by a timber executive.
The result of this mismatch shows up starkly on the ground, where the clearcuts ramble farther than the eye can see and the salmon, bears and birds of the deep forest are vanishing at a heartbreaking rate. At the top of the list is the northern spotted owl, the very symbol of the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. In the US, the owl is afforded a minimum level of protection under the Endangered Species Act.
But in Canada the reclusive raptor enjoys not even the pretense of such a safe harbor; its nesting and foraging habitat-200 to 800 year-old stands of Douglas-fir and Sitka spruce-are leveled without quarter or regret. As a result, scientists expect that the bird will soon go extinct, perhaps within the next decade.
“It feels like we are taking care of the dodo,” said Ken Macquisten, a veterinarian and managing director of the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife. “We have gone from managing owl populations to managing individual birds.”
With a Weyerhaeuser honcho running the biggest conservation group in the region, the prospects for the owl-and nearly every other creature that calls the deep forest home-seem bleak indeed.
Of course, it’s hard to work up too much of a froth about this latest merger of clearcutters and self-advertised nature defenders. After all, the World Wildlife Fund functions more like a corporate enterprise than a public interest group. It practices retail environmentalism and has made millions upon millions hawking its panda logo, a brand as zealously marketed as Nike’s “swoosh”. But, of course, it’s done almost nothing to save the panda, penned in by rampant deforestation and poaching, except peddle pictures to trophy wives and innocent third graders. Call it panda porn.
But the panda cash machine isn’t the group’s only source of money. The World Wildlife Fund also rakes in millions from corporations, including Alcoa, Citigroup, the Bank of America, Kodak, J.P. Morgan, the Bank of Tokyo, Philip Morris, Waste Management and DuPont. They even offer an annual conservation award funded by and named after the late oil baron J. Paul Getty. It hawks its own credit card and showcases its own online boutique. As a result, WWF’s budget has swelled to over $100 million a year and it’s not looking back.
Where does all the money go? Most of it goes to pay for plush offices, robust salaries, and a tireless direct mail operation to raise even more money. In 2002, WWF’s CEO, the icy Kathryn S. Fuller, pulled in a cool $250,000 a year, including benefits. This is the remorseless logic of modern environmentalism, in which non-profits are more obsessed with fundraising than the corporations that they are supposed to be battling. Indeed, the relentless cash hunt leads them serenely right into corporate boardrooms, hands out, mouth gagged.
Remember it was WWF that outraged many environmentalists and human rights activists by giving an award to Shell Oil, the company that stood mute as its partners in the murderous junta of generals that ran Nigerian lynched Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 other environmentalists fighting Shell’s foul operations on Ogoni land in the Niger River delta.
This self-induced moral blindness is par for the course. The World Wildlife Fund is one of those outfits that believes capitalism is good for the environment. It has backed nearly every trade bill to come down the pike, from NAFTA to GATT. WWF has also sidled up to some very unsavory government agencies advancing the same neo-liberal agenda across the Third World, including US AID.
The World Wildlife Fund is so paranoid about its image that it sued-and won-to force the World Wrestling Federation to change its name, lest it sully its “WWF” trademark. Of course, if you really care about the environment your money would probably be better spent by watching some World Wrestling extravaganza on pay-per-view rather than investing in a membership to WWF. At least, the wrestling provides some laughs. Your contribution to WWF will fatten the salary of a timber executive such as Linda Coady parading around in the guise of an environmentalist. It gives cross-dressing a bad name.
When the Haida launched their battle against Weyerhaeuser and its rich army of lobbyists and lawyers, Guujaaw observed: “You cannot buy the lifestyle we have with money.”
It’s a lesson that the environmental groups like World Wildlife Fund should take to heart before they discover that they’ve become little more than the well-paid zombies of the corporations they have gotten into bed with. But don’t hold your breath.
To be continued.
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This essay is excerpted from the forthcoming book GreenScare: the New War on Environmentalism by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR and Joshua Frank.