Big Environmental Groups Play Transactional Politics with Climate Change

thischangesNew Orleans    I’ve read Toronto-based author, researcher, and activist Naomi Klein’s books No Logo and Shock Doctrine with interest. Unquestionably, Klein has established herself as one of the premier corporate critics among the progressive forces, and that’s a good thing. Wading into her latest book, This Changes Everything, in which she addresses climate change, I was finding it boring and pretty much of a slog in the first few chapters, and was debating putting it aside until I got a second wind when I hit the parts where she starts peeling off the clothes of the big environmental emperors like The Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others for being in bed with the oil, gas, coal, and other extraction industries and corporations that are causing much of the climate change catastrophe.

These are the really scary parts in this horror story, when our defenders turn out to be a fifth column for our enemies. Yikes!

The $3 billion Nature Conservancy turns out to have played a shell game with land given it by an oil company near Galveston, Texas for the protection of an endangered bird species. Darned if they didn’t allow drilling of new wells even more threatening to the breeding area of the birds they were sworn to protect and profit from the royalties of the wells while doing so. Furthermore Klein stumbled onto this just checking to make sure that their oft repeated promises to stop doing so had been met to then surprisingly find out that they had just head faked and kept profiting from the drilling they were allowing.

One story after another follows this pattern. The Environmental Defense Fund loudly embraces corporate partnerships and seems to be producing studies for some of the oil companies, while both accepting their million dollar donations, and claiming to be fighting for climate change the entire time. The Sierra Club ends up with a change of leadership when it comes out that they had made a deal with a big energy company.

It’s not just energy companies either. Klein repeats the well-known stories with less painful details than those of us who still bear the scars of how the big environmental groups have cozied up to Walmart, often the global poster child for an environmentally destructive, supply chain business model, claiming not to take their money while feeding hugely at the trough of its foundation and putting family members on their boards.

Without Klein saying so explicitly, this is what happens when transactional politics supplants transformational politics. Though a similar notion of “consensus” organizing as opposed to what they claimed was the conflict organizing practiced by ACORN and other in community organizing has largely fallen off the public radar, as authors connected with Virginia Organizing argued in Social Policy in an lead article called, “Leadership Development is Not a Deliverable,” this “transaction” virus is also infecting a lot of the resource development challenges in community organizing as well.

I can’t say yet how Klein’s book will end, but these couple of chapters where she exposes the contradictions that are hobbling our self-proclaimed protectors in the environmental movement and her equally effective evisceration of the conflicts crippling the notion that billionaires from Richard Branson to Michael Bloomberg to Bill Gates and Tom Steyer will save us as well, is already worth the price of the book on my Kindle reader.


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