UPDATE: I messaged WWF asking for comment + will post a response when I hear back.
A longtime ally of WWF has been implicated in a “massive illegal logging kickback scandal” inside one of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems. What’s more, the official, Musa Aman, Chief Minister of Malaysia’s Sabah region, is accused of making a fortune off of the same endangered orangutan habitat that he promised to protect.
Over the last several years, WWF has broadcast its partnerships with Aman’s Sabah government to protect the Borneo forest (home to the orangutans) and expand region’s marine protected areas. Aman even gave a keynote speech at WWF’s Asian green business conference last November. And Datuk Dr Dionysius S.K. Sharma, WWF Malaysia chief executive officer, has praised Aman’s “visionary leadership” for “walking the talk” of nature conservation.
“Sustainable development will determine if we get to keep this planet, and Sabah, with the leadership that it has, will be able to keep this part of the world intact,” Dionysius told a Malaysia newspaper last December.
WWF, however, has remained mum on the scandal that erupted this spring after a Malaysian activist group published documents allegedly leaked from two police investigations. The evidence compiled by anti-corruption units in Malaysia and Hong Kong included copies of bank records allegedly showing how an accomplice moved money from timber companies into a secret Swiss bank account held in trust for Aman.
The story is yet another dredged up by the daily news search created by the folks at Wiki Scraper. (Click on the link to check it out!)
WWF and other nature groups often court power brokers like Aman — relationships that have helped expand national parks and forests worldwide in recent decades. But corruption, weak rule of law, lack of funding, and other problems often leave these new wildlife preserves “protected” on paper only. The nonprofit groups, meanwhile, have lost credibility and local support by partnering with corrupt politicians, autocratic regimes and polluting corporations.
Previous Wiki Scraper finds include this piece alleging that staffers at my former employer, Conservation International, were directly involved in illegally felling trees inside a Vietnam nature preserve. (CI has denied the allegation and reportedly plans its own investigation.)
The recent scandals are just the latest reminder of the growing “reputational” travails facing international conservation groups, also known as BINGOs (big international nonprofit organizations). As controversies in remote rainforests start to reach their Western supporters, WWF, C.I., The Nature Conservancy and other groups are writing more people-friendly mission statements and policies. However, not everyone under the “environmentalists” umbrella buys the re-branding efforts; in fact, they’ve sparked a new round of debate over the direction of the movement.
Every now and then, I notice climate deniers using my book, Green, Inc., to justify their views that climate change is “a hoax.”
Just because I question the lavish modus operandi of some of the world’s largest conservation groups and call them out for helping polluting corporations greenwash their image that hardly makes me a member of the deniers’ club. Finding passages from my book quoted on Internet sites devoted to attacking Al Gore and deriding efforts to address climate change is more than a little dismaying.
As a writer, of course, it’s always nice to known people are reading your book. But these bloggers willfully misrepresent my findings. Far from suggesting we don’t have environmental problems, my conclusion, among other things, is that we need our environmental groups today more than ever. If groups such as The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International continue acting like enablers to the world’s largest polluters – industries such as oil & gas, mining and agribusiness – they risk losing all credibility.
It’s particularly peeving to be used by a bunch of climate deniers at a time when environmentalists are losing the PR battle over global warming. A new Harris Interactive poll, reports that Americans increasingly have doubts about global warming, despite mounting evidence – not only that climate change exists – but that our chances are slipping away to head off the worst of it. According to Harris, only 51 percent of Americans agree climate change is real today, compared to 71 percent in 2007, and 75 percent in 2001.
Why do you think people are growing skeptical about climate change? Somehow, I don’t think it’s the Al Gore-hating sites that have the biggest impact on public views.
Mother Jones reports on the controversy surrounding purportedly forest-saving carbon-trading schemes by profiling the fate of General Motors’ “$1” guaricica tree.
In the late 1990s, GM was one of the corporations that signed up for a pioneering program sold as a way companies could reduce their responsibility for global warming without actually reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, they would pay to preserve Brazil’s Atlantic Forest that would presumably absorb all or some of those emissions that cause global warming. Supporters of these types of vehicles refer to them as “carbon offset” programs, but detractors have called them payoff systems. My personal analogy is to the indulgences that the Catholic Church used to sell in medieval times. Like indulgences, carbon offsets may be purchased by any person, corporation or government with enough cash on hand. It does not, however, require any reduction in climate changing emissions whatsoever.
This particular program spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy has already seen its share of controversy. It was examined in detail as part a congressional investigation a few years back into the operations of the Conservancy, the largest wildlife conservation organization in the world, headquartered just over the DC line in Arlington. That investigation came after a scathing Washington Post exposé of the cozy relationships between the Conservancy and its wealthy and corporate donors and the huge salaries it pays it top executives. The series also detailed allegations of gross mismanagement at the organization that also prompted a broad review of nonprofit groups by the Internal Revenue Service. You can find more details about this episode in my book, “Green, Inc.”
But, I digress … the Mojo story hones in on another controversial aspect of carbon offset programs: they tend to displace people who live in and near forests, particularly those in poor developing countries. The article’s author, Mark Schapiro, traveled to Brazil and spoke with impoverished farmers who have lost their rights to hunt and forage in the forests saved with GM dollars. The irony: people with some of the lowest carbon footprints in the world are being displaced so some of the biggest culprits of global warming can win PR points by claiming to have “greened” themselves. And, Shapiro points out: We’re complicit since U.S. taxpayers acquired a stake in GM in last year’s auto industry bailout.