Swans Commentary » swans.com November 3, 2008  



The Philanthropic Roots Of Corporate Environmentalism


by Michael Barker





"Big money wants control; it's as simple as that."
Thomas Kimball (1991) Former President of the National Wildlife Federation
"[T]he master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change."
Audre Lorde (1984)


(Swans - November 3, 2008)   Perhaps the first environmental historian to critique the influence of ostensibly progressive philanthropic foundations (big money) on the environmental movement was Robert Gottlieb. (1) Writing in 1993, Gottlieb noted in his influential book Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement that foundations "[a]s much as anyone else ...had become part of the process of creating the environmental policy system of the 1970s," which in turn, created a "new breed of environmental organization, with expert staff, especially lawyers and scientists, and a more sophisticated lobbying or political presence in Washington." However, of the subsequent work critically examining how liberal foundations have affected the evolution of the environmental movement, (2) none provides more than a cursory investigation of the involvement of liberal foundations in shaping environmental developments throughout the 1960s, despite the fact that even prior to the 1960s such foundations had been active in funding all manner of conservation and preservation organizations. This article fills this gap in the environmental literature by focusing specifically on the role of the two foundations that gave the environmental movement the most monetary support during its early days, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. (3) Indeed, despite the lack of critical studies, in 1973, a pioneering study of environmental philanthropy noted that three foundations, the Ford, Rockefeller, and Mellon, (4) "constitute[d] the biggest national force in private foundation philanthropy." (5)


Growth of foundation support for the Environmental Movement, 1970-2000


Total Amount Given (in millions USD)

Distribution of Grants (in percentage)

Number of Grants

















Discursive frame for 2000 Grants





Liberal Environmentalism








Wildlife Management




Environmental Justice




Deep Ecology
















 Adapted from Robert Brulle, The US Environmental Movement: Crisis or Transition? (pdf), 2005.


Two environmental organizations which primarily relied upon the financial support of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations during this period were the Conservation Foundation and Resources for the Future; moreover, as Brian Tokar argues, these two groups played an important role in the development of the environmental movement, "helping to launch an explicitly pro-corporate approach to resource conservation." (6) Consequently this article will review the historical background of these two organizations to shed some much needed light on the system-supportive influence of liberal philanthropy on the modern day environmental movement. The arguably detrimental power that liberal foundations have exerted over mainstream environmentalism is epitomized by the ideological hegemony that the "Group of Ten" have attained over the environmental movement. (7) In this regard, the latter part of this article will critically scrutinize the recent work of one of the best known members of this group, that is, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is particularly pertinent to highlight WWF's activities within the confines of this article, because in 1990 the Conservation Foundation was successfully merged into WWF.

The Conservation Foundation

The Conservation Foundation was founded in 1948 by Fairfield Osborn and his assistant Samuel H. Ordway, Jr. as an offshoot of the Wildlife Conservation Society (formerly known as the New York Zoological Society), (8) with Laurance Rockefeller serving as the organization's trustee and "personal underwriter." Laurance's annual gifts alone averaged $50,000 a year throughout the 1950s and 1960s. (9) The Old Dominion Foundation (which merged with the Avalon Foundation in 1969 to become the Mellon Foundation) also played a key role in the establishment and funding of the Conservation Foundation and is credited as being "[o]ne of the earliest foundations to make systematic contributions for environmental issues." (10) According to Robert Gottlieb, the Conservation Foundation initially "defined its goals in terms of research, education, and reports that addressed resource and population issues" that promoted an "expertise-orientated view of conservationism." (11)

In addition to his other organizational commitments, Fairfield Osborn, the first president of the Conservation Foundation, was an influential and popular writer. Along with his cousin, Frederick Osborn, and William Vogt, who became secretary of the Conservation Foundation in 1962, the three were named by "the most influential writers on conservation and population control issues" between World War II and 1964, (12) a significant designation considering that population issues went on to become a central concern to the newly emerging environmental movement. Indeed, according to a 1973 editorial in The New York Times, Fairfield Osborn's Our Plundered Planet along with Vogt's book, Road to Survival, both published in 1948, were largely responsible for the revival of Malthusianism within the conservation movement. (13) The environmental movement's tendency towards neo-Malthusian arguments is severely problematic, because as eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin observes:

Divested of its social core, ecology can easily become a cruel discipline. Neo-Malthusians -- contemporary no less than earlier ones -- often exhibited a meanness of spirit that completely fits into the "me-too" Yuppie atmosphere of the eighties. Consider the following passages from William Vogt's The Road to Survival, the work of an eminent biologist that was published a generation ago. Anticipating more recent prescriptions, he avowed, "Large scale bacterial warfare would be an effective, if drastic, means of bringing back the earth's forests and grasslands." And in a more thumping passage well on into the book, he adds that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States "should not ship food to keep alive ten million Indians and Chinese this year, so that fifty million may die five years hence" -- a gothic "generosity" that recurs throughout the Malthusian literature of the eighties. (14)

Thankfully, in 1972 under the leadership of Sydney Howe, the Conservation Foundation diverted from its conservative roots and made pioneering efforts to link environmental quality with race and social justice issues. This culminated in successfully organizing a conference in November 1973 that focussed on environmental racism and brought together a range of community activists and representatives from the more progressive mainstream groups like the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society. (15) However, this spell of progressive activism was quickly quelled, and by the end of the year Howe was fired and replaced with future US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, William Reilly. Robert Gottlieb suggested that Reilly's management style "was felt to be more appropriate by a board primarily dominated by Pew, Mellon, and Rockefeller Foundation interests." (16) The Conservation Foundation then joined most of the other mainstream environmental groups in their avoidance of social justice issues.

The establishment credentials of the Conservation Foundation are well illustrated by the close association it holds with the EPA, which was formed in December 1970. (17) For example, Russell Train was president of the Conservation Foundation from 1965 to 1969 before becoming US Undersecretary of the Interior in 1969 and head of the EPA from 1973 to 1977. (18) The group's usefulness to industrial interests is perhaps best demonstrated by its involvement in helping to cripple Superfund legislation, which was originally enacted in the US in 1980 following public outrage over the headline-grabbing toxic pollution fiasco two years before at Love Canal near Niagara Falls in New York. To the horror of industry, Superfund legislation stuck the industries responsible for toxic messes with the clean-up tab, and the corporate culprits vowed to weaken, if not repeal, this democratic assault on their bottom lines. (19) Industry found an ally in former two-time EPA administrator, William Ruckelshaus, who had recently returned to private life and headed his own lobbying firm specializing in environmental issues. (20) Ruckelshaus's firm organized a corporate coalition that included some of the "leading culprits in hazardous waste pollution -- General Electric, Dow, Du Pont, Union Carbide, Monsanto, AT&T and others" to do a study of the Superfund law. "Select environmentalists" along with the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Audubon Society were also invited to take part. (21) But the environmental groups accused the Superfund Coalition of being "a scheme to undo the new Superfund law," so Ruckelshaus came up with a new plan: the Conservation Foundation, headed by soon-to-be EPA administrator William Reilly, would undertake a US$2.5 million study of the Superfund Law -- funded in full with money from the EPA. (22)

Although there were objections to this plan, the Superfund Coalition got its way, which meant that in 1988, US taxpayers paid "for research the polluters had originally envisioned as their political counterattack" against the Superfund legislation. (23) This was all part of an elaborate, expensive, and long-term "deep lobbying" and public relations strategy to turn the public against what was intended to be very effective public health regulation. The corporate strategy worked: public perception of this once popular legislation is confused at best, and EPA documents indicate that up to March 2007, there were 114 Superfund sites where "the threat to humans from dangerous and sometimes carcinogenic substances is 'not under control.'" (24)

Unsurprisingly, the World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF-US) the environmental group into which the Conservation Foundation was merged (in 1990) exhibits extremely close ties to the corporate world. In 2003, the former president of the Conservation Foundation, Russell Train, observed that: "WWF-US has been a leader in introducing new finance mechanisms for international conservation... such as through the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council." He then "recall[ed] the fateful discussion" he had in 1985 with William Reilly, then president of the Conservation Foundation (CF):

We were lunching together in Washington, as we did periodically. The National Audubon Society (25) had approached Bill to become its new president, but, he had made it clear, he did not want to move to New York and was troubled by the lack of a significant international dimension to the Audubon job. As he spoke, I had a flash of inspiration and suggested that CF be merged into WWF, with Reilly taking my job as president and chief executive of the combined organization. I could then become a full-time, active chairman of the board. And that is essentially what we did after we secured the full approval of our respective boards, the affiliation taking place in October 1985. (26)

However, before moving on to explore the background of WWF, this article will return to the 1950s to examine the founding of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations' other pet environmental project, Resources for the Future.

Resources for the Future

In 1952 the Ford Foundation created Resources for the Future (RFF), which like the Conservation Foundation, was also co-founded by Fairfield Osborn (along with former National Park Service director, Horace Albright). (27) Both Osborn and Albright had also been John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s chief advisors on conservation matters. (28) Direct Rockefeller support for RFF was slow in coming, but in 1958 Laurance Rockefeller joined RFF's board, and in 1970 RFF received its first grant, for US$500,000, from the Rockefeller Foundation. (29) To put the value of this grant into perspective, in both 1965 and 1966 the total amount of support from philanthropic foundations that gave more than US$10,000 to environmental causes was US$4 million (which was 0.6 percent of all grants distributed for all purposes), and in 1970 this had increased to US$20 million, or 3 percent of all grants. (30) More importantly, between 1953 and 1977, the Ford Foundation provided RFF with nearly US$48 million, or just over half of all the funds they designated for environmental projects.

The creation of RFF was integrally linked to the outcomes of the Materials Policy Commission, which was presided over by American broadcasting mogul, William Paley, a founding director of RFF. In June 1952, The Materials Policy Commission produced a report entitled "Resources for Freedom," which provided a "detailed inventory of each strategic resource located in the underdeveloped countries." This report is credited as first officially "add[ing] a national security component to the field of conservation." (31) The Paley Commission openly affirmed America's

inalienable right to extract cheap supplies of raw materials from the underdeveloped countries, and . . . set the background for [President Dwight] Eisenhower and [John Foster] Dulles' oft-quoted concern over the fate of the tin and tungsten of Southeast Asia. Insuring adequate supplies of resources for the future became a conservationist byword. (32)

A few weeks after the Paley Commission report was published, Fairfield Osborn received the Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal and began his acceptance speech by noting that "Conservation... must come to be thought of as essential to any national defense program." (33)

RFF's first significant event was the Mid-Century Conference, held in December 1953. This was "the first major national conservation conference since Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot staged the National Governors' Conference in 1908." (34) Corporations dominated the proceedings: the conference was chaired by Lewis Douglas of Mutual Life Insurance, convened by the Ford Foundation, and the conference steering committee "consisted of executives from cattle companies, the Farm Bureau, the American Petroleum Institute, Standard Oil, Newmont Mining, and Monangahela Power, with only Ira Gabrielson of the Wildlife Management Institute representing any of the conservationist advocacy groups." (35) Perhaps not coincidentally, Gabrielson went on to become the founding president of the elitist "environmental" group the World Wildlife Fund.

Under the guidance of economist Joseph Fisher (who served as the president of RFF from 1959-74), RFF "characteristically approached [natural resource] problems from the viewpoint of economics," and in the 1960s RFF staff became strong proponents of cost-benefit analysis. (36) Such analyses later became "a near sacrament in government planning," gaining widespread prominence in the 1980s when it was "[m]andated as federal policy and regulatory procedure by an executive order of Ronald Reagan."

Moving to the present day, not much appears to have changed, and the current chair of RFF's board of directors is Lawrence Linden, an advisory director and former general partner at Goldman Sachs -- a "leading global investment banking, securities and investment management firm." In addition, Linden presently serves as vice-chair of World Wildlife Fund-US's board of directors, and recently, while acting as Goldman Sachs' advisory director he worked in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society to create a massive "735,500 acre nature preserve" on the island of Tierra del Fuego, Chile. (37) Here it is significant to note, as surmised by Fred Pearce in his review of Christine MacDonald's recent book Green Inc.: An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad (Lyons Press, 2008), that the Wildlife Conservation Society "played a part in the expulsion of thousands of Pygmies from the national parks it was helping set up in Gabon." Thus their ongoing collaboration with Goldman Sachs certainly warrants further critical investigation.

Goldman Sachs refers to their donation of a sizable chunk of Chile to the Wildlife Conservation Society (in late 2004) -- using land which it had obtained "by purchasing defaulted bonds from US forestry company Trillium Corporation" -- as the as a "first of its kind private/public alliance" to preserve the environment. However, as one might expect given Linden's affiliation with RFF, there may well be more to such nature preserves than first meets the eye. (38) New York Times journalist Larry Rohther points out that: "In both Chile and Argentina, foreign-led efforts to preserve natural habitats are often viewed with suspicion, with some local people even convinced that such programs mean to wrest Patagonia from their control in order to establish an independent state." Rohther adds: "The most controversial figure in that regard is the American multimillionaire Douglas Tompkins [and founder of the North Face outdoor equipment label], who has bought hundreds of thousands of acres of forest land in southern Chile [though his Conservation Land Trust] to set aside as a reserve called Parque Pumalin." Peter Popham, writing for The Independent (UK), adds more relevant details, and describes Tompkins as a "convert to the radical environmental stream known as Deep Ecology," an interest which led to Tompkins creation of the influential Foundation for Deep Ecology. (39)

At this stage it is fitting to briefly cite Murray Bookchin, a notable progressive critic of Deep Ecology. Bookchin observes how Bill Devall and George Sessions -- authors of the book Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered (Gibbs Smith, 1985), "one of the most widely read books in mystical ecology" -- promote a "watered-down liberalism" which "placed Malthus in its pantheon of prophets and described 'industrial capitalism' -- not capitalism -- as the embodiment of the ills that mystical ecologists generally deride." (40) Thus it makes sense that Peter Popham should note (in the aforementioned article) that one of the many groups that "Mr Tompkins has antagonized" through the creation of his nature preserves are the bishops and priests who are "convinced that Mr Tompkins -- who sees, uncontrolled population growth as one of the greatest threats to the planet -- is a reckless advocate of abortion and birth control." (41)

Given Tompkins's and other Deep Ecologists' evident fixation on population issues, it is fitting that Peter Buckley, a board member of Tompkins' Conservation Land Trust, also serves as the president of the David Brower Center. Although most people may not remember this, this relationship is significant because the late David Brower (1912-2000) wrote the foreword for Paul Ehrlich's classic neo-Malthusian tract The Population Bomb (Sierra Club, 1968), and in his later years was an emeriti advisory board member of the neo-Malthusian group, Californians for Population Stabilization. (42) Finally it is interesting that Ehrlich himself declared his support for Deep Ecology in his more recent work. (43)

Panda-powered Capitalism: Introducing the World [of Elite] Wildlife Fund[ers]

Just prior to the Conservations Foundations merger into World Wildlife Fund-US in the late 1980s, Kathryn Fuller was promoted from her position as WWF's executive vice president to run both groups and to oversee their successful merger (in 1990). In taking on this important role, Fuller was replacing William Reilly who had acted as president of WWF-US since 1985, and as the president of the Conservation Foundation since 1973. Reilly himself had previously taken over the reins of WWF from former Conservation Foundation president and US EPA Administrator, Russell Train (who had headed WWF from 1978 to 1985), and, as noted earlier, in 1989 Reilly went on to head the EPA.

Kathryn Fuller remained as the president of WWF-US until 2005 when she subsequently went on to become a public policy scholar at the "democratic" Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. (44) Fuller's corporate ties are indicative of WWF-US's intimate ties to the corporate community, because in 2002, while serving as president of WWF-US, Fuller became a board member of Alcoa, which is one of the world's largest aluminum smelting companies. Additionally, Fuller is a key player in the foundation world, and since May 2004 she has chaired the Ford Foundation's board of trustees. (45) On top of these elite connections, Fuller serves on Resources for the Future's executive committee, and is a board member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History -- a group whose work will now be introduced.

The National Museum of Natural History is currently headed by WWF-US board member Cristián Samper, and the museum touts itself as the "world's preeminent museum and research complex." Like Fuller, Samper is connected to the "democratic" Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as he serves on their board of trustees; but more ominously still, Samper serves as a trustee of the World Agroforestry Centre (also known as the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry). The latter group was founded in 1978 and obtains funding from the World Bank/Ford/Rockefeller/USAID funding consortium, but of particular interest is the chair of their board of trustees, Eugene Terry. His link to Samper is critical because at present Terry also acts as the implementing director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation -- a Nairobi-based group that was formed in 2002 with Rockefeller and USAID funding to lobby for greater uptake of genetically modified crops in Africa. (46) Given these concerning ties, it is fitting that the board of regents of the Smithsonian Institution -- which is the institutional home of the National Museum of Natural History -- includes amongst its members, Dick Cheney (the vice president of the United States), Bill Frist (who is a board member of the misnamed democracy manipulator, the National Endowment for Democracy, and "ally" of the US-based religious fundamentalists, the dominionists), (47) Patricia Stonesifer (who is the president of the Gates Foundation), Walter Massey (who is a trustee of the Mellon Foundation, and serves on the Gates Foundation's US program advisory panel), and Roger Sant (who is the co-founder of the global power company, The AES Corporation, and WWF-US's present treasurer and former chair, 1994 to 2000).

None of these ties are that surprising, indeed, as CounterPunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair surmises:

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. (48) WWF has also sidled up to some very unsavory government agencies advancing the same neo-liberal agenda across the Third World, including US AID.

Likewise, writing in 1997, Brian Tokar observed how...

the World Wildlife Fund were associated with nineteen corporations cited in the National Wildlife Federation's recent survey of the 500 worst industrial polluters. These companies included such recognized environmental offenders as Union Carbide, Exxon, Monsanto, Weyerhaeuser, Du Pont, and Waste Management. (49)

WWF-US is not the only branch of WWF that has come under criticism from concerned environmentalists: thus other recently published articles that take two other branches of WWF to task include " Taming the Panda: The Relationship between WWF Australia and the Howard Government" (pdf) (WWF-Australia), and "Scouring Scum and Tar from the Bottom of the Pit" (WWF-Canada). Similarly Elaine Dewar's invaluable, but mostly overlooked book, Cloak of Green: The Links between Key Environmental Groups, Government and Big Business (Lorimer, 1995) provides a detailed critique of WWF-Canada. (50)

As one might expect, the parent body of WWF-US, WWF-International exhibits excellent ties to elite networks. (51) Thus the president of WWF-International (since 2002) is Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, and board member of the South Centre -- a group that was formed in 1995 out of "recognition of the need for enhanced South-South co-operation." The South Centre's board is presently chaired by Benjamin Mkapa (the former President of Tanzania, 1995-2005), who happens to be a board member of the African Wildlife Foundation. (52) Yet Chief Anyaoku's most significant "democratic" tie comes through his service on the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project. (53)

Given the evidently problematic ties that WWF maintains to the very members of the power elite that have worked most industriously to destroy our planet, one might ask: "Has WWF always had such a controversial history?" To help answer this question it is useful to return to WWF's founding year, 1961. Here we can determine -- according to WWF's online history -- that:

One of the most important figures in WWF's early history was the renowned British biologist, Sir Julian Huxley. The first Director General of UNESCO, Huxley had also helped found a scientific research-based conservation institution, now known as IUCN-The World Conservation Union.

Here it is worth pointing out that Huxley, like his American compatriots (e.g. Henry Fairfield Osborn), had a longstanding interest in eugenics, and from 1959 until 1961 he had served as the president of the British Eugenics Society. A series of articles written by Huxley about the need for wildlife conservation in Africa then prompted businessman Victor Stolan to write to Huxley, in order to point out the "urgent need for an international organization to raise funds for conservation." Shortly thereafter, Huxley "contacted ornithologist Max Nicholson, Director General of Britain's Nature Conservancy [now known as Natural England], who took up the challenge with enthusiasm."

By spring 1961, Nicholson had gathered together a group of scientists and advertising and public relations experts, all committed to establishing an organization of the kind Stolan had suggested. Prominent among those experts was another ornithologist Peter Scott, a vice-president of IUCN, who was later to become the new organization's first chairman.

Like Huxley, the founding president of WWF, Ira Gabrielson -- who as noted earlier acted as the lone environmental representative at Resources for the Future's Mid-Century Conference, in 1953 -- had helped found the IUCN in 1948. Furthermore, working under Gabrielson, as founding vice president of WWF, was none other than Russell Train, the future president of WWF. (54)

Here it is useful to turn to Raymond Bonner's critical review of WWF's history in his book, At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa's Wildlife (Vintage, 1993). Bonner notes how initially WWF's founders were not quite as successful as they'd hoped they'd be at coaxing money from elite funders, however:

WWF's financial fortunes began to change dramatically after a hard driving South African businessman, Anton Rupert, joined the board. An Afrikaaner from the Cape, Rupert had already made millions as the owner of Rothmans International tobacco company, the foundation of the Rembrandt Group, his wholly owned business empire. When Rupert expanded beyond South Africa, he bought Dunhill and Cartier, and eventually he became one of the richest men in South Africa, rivaled only by Harry Oppenheimer, the gold and diamond industrialist. (55) Rupert had long been interested in conservation, including the restoration of historic buildings, and in 1968 he joined the WWF board of trustees; he stayed on the board for twenty-two years, in spite of a provision in the organization's original incorporation documents that limited members to two three-year terms, a provision that was routinely ignored for the benefit of several other influential members of the board as well. Rupert brought a considerable amount of his own money to WWF, but, more important, he conceived a plan that would raise millions. (pp. 66-7.)

This money-raising venture was to be known as "The 1001," and in 1970 this initiative -- which "was to provide WWF with the solid, independent financial base it needed" -- was launched by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, then president of WWF International. This nature trust enabled WWF International to set up a US$10 million fund, which was generated by getting 1,001 wealthy individuals to each contribute US$10,000. "Since establishing The 1001, WWF International has been able to use interest from the trust fund to help meet its basic administration costs." As Bonner observes, the elite contributors to this trust include many less-than-savory individuals, like for instance Daniel Ludwig, the "reclusive American billionaire, whose companies destroyed thousands of miles of the Amazon rain forest." (56) Moreover, the background of WWF International's founding president, the late Prince Bernhard, demonstrates the dubious foundations on which this so-called wildlife group was created. This is because prior to the outbreak of World War II Prince Bernhard had briefly been a member of Hitler's SS (1934-5) -- apparently joining "to evade Nazi tests imposed on students" -- he "then worked in Paris for the chemical cartel IG Farben," and in 1954 cofounded the secretive elite-planning group, the Bilderberg Group. (57) Prince Bernhard remained president of WWF International and chair of the Bilderberg group until 1976, when he was implicated in a scandal in which a US Senate investigation determined that he had taken $1.1m bribe from Lockheed "in exchange for Lockheed's receiving contracts to build warplanes for the Netherlands." (58)

As one might expect, Prince Bernhard's chequered history extends to his more recent "environmental" escapades, as he served as a founding patron of the Peace Parks Foundation -- a group which was formed in the early 1990s to promote the creation of Peace Parks in Africa. In a critical examination of Southern African Peace Parks, Marloes van Amerom and Bram Buscher observe that "privatisation, free trade, private land ownership and the commercialisation of conservation have increasingly become important cornerstones of Peace Parks." (59) The rise of such free-market environmentalism of course owes much to the elite domination of the mainstream environmental movement. On this point Donald Gibson draws attention to what he considers to be the "most extensive analysis of the aristocratic nature of environmentalism", that is, a study undertaken by the neoconservative writer, William Tucker, Progress and Privilege: America in the Age of Environmentalism (Anchor Books, 1982). Gibson writes that:

Challenging the then common assumption that big business was hostile to environmentalism, Tucker observed that large corporations had been quite receptive to environmentalism. He pointed out that environmental policy and regulation had had a much greater impact on smaller businesses. The additional cost of doing business are more easily absorbed by larger companies so that environmentalism has the effect of improving the competitive situation of big business. (60)

Thus it is fitting that when Prince Bernhard was forced to retire from WWF International's presidency in 1976, his replacement for the next five years was none other than John Loudon, the former head of Royal Dutch Shell (from 1951 -65), and son of former Shell board president, Hugo Loudon. During Loudon's first year as president of WWF International he additionally served as the chair of an advisory group put together by David Rockefeller to counsel his Chase Manhattan Bank"on its growing international business"; while the following year Loudon was joined by fellow oilman and former IUCN chair Maurice Strong, who fresh after presiding over the operations of Petro-Canada for two years, became the vice-president of WWF International (1978-81), remaining a member of their executive council until 1986.

Identifying Systemic Problems and Developing Solutions

Contrary to popular beliefs, much evidence supports the contention that ostensibly progressive philanthropic foundations (and, of course, corporations) are very influential in shaping the contours of American and global civil society, actively influencing social change through a process alternatively referred to as either channeling or co-option. (61) In this respect, Brian Tokar draws attention to the funding patterns of the Pew Foundation -- which I have not mentioned within this article -- which he suggests has "[p]erhaps more than any other environmental funding source... steered its grant recipients toward an agenda focused narrowly on legal reform and national legislation, often to the exclusion of more challenging grassroots approaches to environmental problems." (62) Indeed, this has led to a rise in what Grant Jordon and William Maloney refer to as The Protest Business (Manchester University Press, 1997), that is, the creation of political advocacy organizations that have limited memberships (or at least very little active involvement of members) and which instead rely on mass mailing appeal and the media. The Conservation Foundation, Resources for the Future, and WWF provide excellent examples of such advocacy organizations that have been created and sustained by elite powerbrokers, be they political elites, liberal foundations or corporate philanthropists.

The deleterious influence of such elitist funding, especially from the larger foundations, led Robert Brulle and Craig Jenkins to conclude that:

Little... environmental funding goes to participatory membership associations, meaning that instead of being governed by citizens, the environmental movement has become increasingly controlled by foundations that represent large corporate wealth and rationalized power in the American political economy. This serves to systematically limit the range of viewpoints represented in the public arena and to restrict the participation of citizens in their own governance. (63)

Not surprisingly, the environmental discourse promoted by the largest foundations, and backed to the hilt by corporations and plutocratic elites, has encouraged "an unrealistic conception of information in the decision-making process" with an undue focus on education. Indeed the liberal environmental discourse that is heavily promoted...

assumes that providing information will automatically lead to changes in public opinion and, as a result, significant efforts toward environmental improvement. ... This ignores the reality of corporate power. It also premises a naive and unrealistic conception of public opinion. It assumes that neutral facts and scientific evidence will carry the debate of the day without taking into account the systematic distortion of public discourse. (64)

In response, it seems that in order to generate sustained and escalating levels of progressive activism it would be highly favorable (for democracy) if concerned citizens mounted a concerted effort to delegitimize the unrealistic solutions being created, funded, and propounded by, and ultimately for, all manner of elitist philanthropists. This is because while foundations, and even corporations, do occasionally provide financial support to radical groups challenging capitalism, a closer examination of such funding trends often reveals that the amount of support such groups receive pales into insignificance when compared with the support the same foundations may provide to more moderate groups. (65) Such selective philanthropy enables elite funders to engage in what might be described as the broad scale social engineering of global civil society in line with imperialist imperatives. This is an intolerable situation, and unfortunately with "foundations imposing more constraints on the strategies and methods of organizations they will support, activists are often forced to choose between the integrity of their campaigns and the maintenance of their organization." (66)

In his study on the role of foundations on American democracy, Mark Dowie concluded that "the only way to make foundations true and effective servants of civilization instead of stewards of plutocracy is to democratize them." (67) However, without being overly pessimistic it is hard to envisage foundations voluntarily "democratizing" their organizational structures and funding practices in the near future. (68) The same is true for the elitist "environmental" groups like Resources for the Future and WWF; although that said, reform of foundations seems even more far-fetched given that the "key role" foundations play "in shaping contemporary American civil society... [takes place] above the heads and out of sight of most" citizens. (69) Bearing this in mind, the task that then lies ahead of all activists committed to participatory and ecological democracy is then to strengthen alternate means for supporting grassroots organizations so they can break the "insidious cycle of competition and co-optation" set up by capitalist elites to promote plutocracy over democracy. (70)




1.  "American philanthropy is a system of 'generosity' by which the wealthy exercise social control and help themselves more than they do others," wrote Teresa Odendahl, an anthropologist who examined the lives and attitudes of several hundred wealthy philanthropists. Most major contributors, she found, are guided by a very narrow conception of democracy and "do not believe that the common people constitute the source of political authority." These comments are all the more significant given the company Odendahl keeps within the world of liberal philanthropy; for example, she presently serves as the president of the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers, and is a former executive of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers.

Teresa Odendahl, Charity Begins at Home: Generosity and Self-Interest Among the Philanthropic Elite (Basic Books, 1990), p.245, 45.  (back)

2.  Mark Dowie, Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 1995). Mark Dowie, American Foundations: An Investigative History (MIT Press, 2001). Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale: Reclaiming Ecology in the Age of Corporate Greenwash (South End Press, 1997). Robert Brulle, Agency, Democracy, and Nature: The US Environmental Movement from a Critical Theory Perspective (MIT Press, 2000). Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy (eds.), Foundations for Social Change: Critical Perspectives on Philanthropy and Popular Movements (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005).  (back)

3.  Along with the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation have been collectively referred to as the "big three" liberal foundations. More recently the philanthropic activities of the Ford Foundation (which used to be the largest foundation in the world) have become eclipsed by the work of the Gates Foundation, which in 2006 alone distributed over $1.5 billion in grants. For further details on the big three, see Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede, "Revisiting the 'Big Three' Foundations," Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2007, pp.389-442.

Gottlieb notes how the fierce competition between environmental organizations for foundation money, has "at times" been the "basis for tension between groups." He cited the example of Thomas Kimball (executive director of the National Wildlife Federation between 1961 and 1981), who "at one point asked Laurance Rockefeller to serves on the group's board." Rockefeller subsequently declined the offer and Gottlieb observes that in an interview he conducted in 1991, that Kimball "bitterly commented years later" that "It didn't stop him from serving on other board" (i.e., that of the Conservation Foundation). Kimball then declared: "Big money wants control; it's as simple as that." Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring, p.441.  (back)

4.  The Mellon Foundation is not considered here for reasons of concision and because its funding activities do not appear to be as far-reaching as that of the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. The significance of its funding will be investigated by the author in the near future.

William Wing, Philanthropy and the Environment: A Report on the Nature and Extent of Philanthropic Activity in the Environmental Field (Conservation Foundation, 1973), p.53.  (back)

5.  This article draws in part from analyses previously presented in a paper published in the academic journal Capitalism Nature Socialism which is titled "The Liberal Foundations of Environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford Connection." The journal paper provides a detailed examination of the three members of the Rockefeller dynasty who have had a particularly strong influence on the development of the environmental movement, Laurance Rockefeller, David Rockefeller, and John D. Rockefeller III; and examines the way in which the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations' longstanding population control interests have critically influenced the development of the environmental movement. For a summary of the population argument see, Michael Barker, "Liberal Philanthropy and the 'Birth' of Population Control Environmentalism," MRZine, July 23, 2008.  (back)

6.  Tokar, Earth for Sale, p.10. For a brief case against market-based approaches to environmental preservation, see Sharon Beder, "Market-based Environmental Preservation: Costing the Earth," Search, September 1994.  (back)

7.  Michael Dreiling writes that the "Group of Ten" was formed "with the explicit aim of creating a niche in the neoliberal policy agenda under President Ronald Reagan. Succumbing to the political dominance of neoliberal capital, the 'Group of Ten' increasingly leaned to market solutions for environmental regulation, turning nature into 'a commodity to be brought and sold' and defining objectives 'in terms of their economic value.'"

Michael Dreiling, "Remapping North American Environmentalism: Contending Visions and Divergent Practices in the Fight Over NAFTA," in Daniel Faber (ed.) The Struggle for Ecological Democracy: Environmental Justice Movement in the United States (Guilford Press, 1998), p.223.

In a 2004 interview, Jeffrey St. Clair correctly points out that: "The environmental movement bears very little relationship to the major environmental groups. The big groups, aka Gang Green, function politically as little more than green front for the Democratic Party... Beltway Greens aren't really environmentalists any more in the way we used to think of enviros 15 or 20 years ago. These aren't activists, but lawyers and lobbyists, mainly from Ivy League schools, overwhelmingly white and liberal, who could (and perhaps will) just as easily be lobbying on health care, abortion rights, trade policy." St. Clair adds: "The irony, of course, is that the better this new breed of eco-lobbyist do their job (i.e., act as a kind of mercenary force against the Republicans), the less seriously most rational people (except the perennially gullible) take them. With good reason."  (back)

8.  Formed in 1895, the New York Zoological Society's founders included amongst other notables, Theodore Roosevelt, and Fairfield Osborn's father, Henry Fairfield Osborn (who served as their president from 1909-24). Two years after retiring from the Society's presidency, Henry helped cofound the American Eugenics Society.

The current president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Steven Sanderson, formerly worked in Brazil where he served as the Ford Foundation program officer responsible for designing and implementing the Foundation's Amazon program. At this point it is also worth noting that Elizabeth Bennett, who acts as the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's' hunting and wildlife trade program, recently served as the co-chair of a group called the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (2005-7). The relevance of this link will be discussed in a forthcoming article which provides a critique of the work of environmental groups in Africa.  (back)

9.  Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale, p.10; Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers: An American Dynasty (Rinehart and Winston, 1976), p.401.  (back)

10.  Robert Brulle, J. and J. Craig Jenkins, "Foundations and the Environmental Movement: Priorities, Strategies, and Impact," in Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy (eds.), Foundations for Social Change, p.151.  (back)

11.  Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring, pp.73-4.  (back)

12.  Donald Gibson, Environmentalism: Ideology and Power (Nova Science, 2002), p.40. Before joining the Conservation Foundation, from 1951-61 Vogt had been national director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  (back)

13.  Donald Gibson, Environmentalism, p.44.  (back)

14.  Murray Bookchin, Which Way for the Ecology Movement? Essays by Murray Bookchin (AK Press, 1994), p.45. Bookchin writes that the "most sinister feature of neo-Malthusianism is that it actively deflects us from dealing with the social origins of our ecological problems - indeed, places the blame for them on the victims of hunger rather than those who victimize them." He adds how such a "viewpoint not only justifies privilege and degrades its victims; it brutalizes the neo-Malthusians as well." (p.34.)  (back)

15.  This conference was published by senior associate of the Conservation Foundation, James Noel Smith, Environmental Quality and Social Justice in Urban America (Conservation Foundation, 1974). Presciently, Smith observed that the environmental movement's "single-purpose approach is bringing environmentalists increasingly into conflict with other elements of society -- especially those who do not share their values and who suspect that the real impetus for environmentalists is selfish protection of class prerogative." He added: "It is understandable and quite proper, then, that its motives should be questioned and its strategies be open to public scrutiny. What this suggests for environmentalists is a need to reassess their relative position in society and to think twice about their approach as it conflicts with competing forces interested in advancing equality of social and economic opportunity in America. Otherwise, environmentalism and social justice maybe on a collision course." (p.2.)

Later in the edited collection of articles, Peter Marcuse (son of Herbert Marcuse) surmised: "In a nutshell, the argument presented here is this: Policies giving priority to environmental concerns frequently clash with those directed at inner-city concerns. The treatment of these clashes by the conservation movement is generally superficial and misleading: their existence is either denied in some euphoric statement of global goals, or they are attributed to local complexities and misunderstandings that "better communications" could correct. But the frequent clash of environmental and social-develop meat policies is not accidental. The difficulty is not one of sophistication of formulation, or courtesy in conduct, but of clash of group interests. Conservationists by and large are middle- or upper-class white suburbanites, members of that very section of society that has been the main beneficiary of the activities that have created much of the present environmental pollution. Their immediate personal objective is often simply escapist -- an attempt to protect the privileged lifestyles they now have, and isolate themselves personally from the effects of pollution. This ability to escape personally is now threatened by the increasing geographic extent or severity of pollution. On the other hand, inner-city residents have always lived with pollution. They have more immediate concerns, unrelated to the problems environmentalists are worried about. Each could today benefit politically by an alliance with the other, but no immediate identity of interest exists on which to base such an alliance. If the conservation movement is interested in forming a firm alliance with the inner-city movement, these strategies are open to it: bridge-building, log-rolling, or social change. All but the first require changes in the prevailing conservationist philosophy and understanding, as well as improvements in strategy or tactics. Whether these will come about or not remains to be seen." (p.16-7.)  (back)

16.  Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring, p.328.  (back)

17.  In the year that the EPA was formed Nelson Rockefeller published Our Environment Can Be Saved (Double & Company Inc., 1970), a popular book which highlighted the international scale of the "environmental crisis" and concluded by recommending that the US should "help coordinate international planning for environmental controls." (p.152-3.) Nelson of course went on to serve as the Vice President of the United States, but it is important to recall, as Christopher Simpson observes in his seminal book Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare, 1945-1960 (Oxford University Press, 1994), during the early days of the Cold War Nelson Rockefeller was "among the most prominent promoters of psychological operations, serving as Eisenhower's principal advisor and strategist on the subject during 1954-55." Thus it is fitting that the foreword for Rockefeller's book was written by the late John Gardner, an individual who served as the president of the Carnegie Corporation from 1955 until 1965 -- a period in which the foundation worked closely with the CIA.

A few years after Nelson published his book, his brother John D. Rockefeller III - an individual who played a key role in paving the way for the environmental movement's concern with population control -- published The Second American Revolution (HarperCollins, 1973). Here it is noted that John D. Rockefeller III was far from a revolutionary, and he notes: "The name Rockefeller does not connote a revolutionary, and my life situation has fostered a careful and cautious attitude that verges on conservatism. I am not given to errant causes. I have quite a consistent record as a Republican and a supporter of Republican candidates." (p.7.)  (back)

18.  In 1961, Russell Train worked with Kermit Roosevelt (famous for masterminding the CIA-led 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew that country's democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh) and three others to found the African Wildlife Foundation. The Foundation still appears to have strong ties to the democracy-manipulating community, and notable members of their board of directors include:

•   Stephen Cashin -- who is the founder and chief executive officer of Pan African Capital Group, is a board member of the NED-funded Africare (where he serves alongside Howard Wolpe, who is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, and is a member of the Jewish Fund for Justice's advisory committee), and until recently served as the vice chairman of the Corporate Council on Africa.

•   Walter Kansteiner -- who is a founding principal of The Scowcroft Group, and formerly served as the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and as a board member of the Corporate Council on Africa.

•   Mamphela Ramphele -- who is a former vice chancellor of the University of Cape Town (South Africa), and former World Bank managing director. Ramphele presently serves as a board member of the Rockefeller Foundation, and as a board member of the world's second-biggest mining company, Anglo American. Significantly, she also serves as a board member of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa -- a project that I have critiqued in some detail earlier this year, see Michael Barker, "Bill Gates as Social Engineer: Introducing the World's Largest Liberal Philanthropist" (pdf), Referred paper presented to Australasian Political Science Association conference, University of Queensland, July 6-9, 2008.

Writing in 1998, the Rockefeller-funded scholar, Roderick Neumann, observes that the African Wildlife Foundation "was established during the era of decolonization specifically to address the training needs of African conservation professionals. At first, recruits were sent to the United States for training, but in 1963 [the African Wildlife Foundation], along with the World Wildlife Fund, helped to establish and fund the College of African Wildlife Management (CAWM) at Mweka, Tanzania, just an hour from Arusha. The guiding concept for CAWM was and continues to be to produce technically trained field officers for such positions as park warden for all of anglophone Africa." Neumann continues, noting that: "The transition to African management had been made through an almost total reliance on CAWM at Mweka and thus a reliance on international conservation organizations who continue to fund it, albeit with less direct involvement. The United States National Park Service has also played an important, though less visible role, sending planning consultants and hosting visits by Tanzanian park officials to American national parks. As a result, an elite class of bureaucrats, trained in Western ideologies and practices of natural resource conservation, has emerged, much as it has in other state institutions in Tanzania. The continuity and connection between colonial natural resource professionals and those of the independent government are, in sum, quite direct. This colonial legacy of state-directed conservation continues to influence contemporary relations between park officials and local communities."

Critically, Neumann observes: "We can trace a great deal of the impetus for the dislocations of African settlements and claims, and the criminalization of customary practices in the name of wildlife conservation, to the lobbying of colonial governments by well-to-do white hunters. In British-ruled Africa, this lobbying was conducted through the London-based Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire [a group now going by the name of Fauna and Flora International]."

Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (J. Wiley & Sons, 2003), p.4; AWF, "40 Years of Conserving Wildlife and Wild Lands in Africa, 1961-2001" (pdf), African Wildlife Foundation; Roderick Neumann, Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa (University of California Press, 1998), pp.142-3, p.35.  (back)

19.  William Greider, Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy (Simon & Schuster, 1992), pp.42-5.  (back)

20.  Ruckelshaus first served as EPA administrator under Richard Nixon and then again under Ronald Reagan.  (back)

21.  William Greider, Who Will Tell the People, p.42, 44.  (back)

22.  Robert Gottlieb notes "a significant faction of the [mainstream environmental] movement, led by the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Foundation, called for cooperation with industry and the substitution of voluntary initiatives for the unwieldy regulatory framework that had been established." He points out that: "George Bush, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, had suggested he would become the 'environment president,' a position he later sought to underline by naming William Reilly of the Conservation Foundation to be director of the EPA." Gottlieb writes that: "One area of disagreement among the [Group of] Ten was the issue of cooperation with industry groups." He adds that shortly after Jay Hair had become the executive director of the National Wildlife Federation (a position he had assumed in 1981), he "decided to establish a Corporate Conservation Council in order to make a 'fairly aggressive outreach to industry' to overcome the antagonisms that had developed during the previous decade. The council consisted of top NWF executives and representatives of oil and chemical companies and utilities." Shortly thereafter, "both Hair and William Reilly, again with leading oil and chemical companies, created Clean Sites Inc." which emphasized the need for voluntarism, not regulatory action, through encouraging "privately sponsored cleanups of particular hazardous waste sites." Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring, p.248, 262, 215.

Sharon Beder observes that: "By 1991 William Reilly had become the new head of the EPA, appointed by George Bush on recommendation of William Ruckelshaus, and Ruckelshaus had become Chief Executive Officer of one of the major waste-disposal companies, Browning-Ferris Industries. Most importantly, the media was reporting the failure of Superfund and its huge costs."

Sharon Beder, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism (Scribe Publications, 2000), p.230.  (back)

23.  William Greider, Who Will Tell the People, p.44.  (back)

24.  Joaquin Sapien, "Human Exposure 'Uncontrolled' at 114 Superfund Sites," Center for Public Integrity, Undated.  (back)

25.  The Audubon Society regularly awards a Audubon Medal in recognition of "individual achievement in the field of conservation and environmental protection" which Rachel Carson received in 1963; but the subsequent awardees in the 1960s reads like a list of the establishment conservation figures, with awards going to Ira Gabrielson (1949), Laurance Rockefeller (1964), A. Starker Leopold (1966), Stewart Udall (1967), Fairfield Osborn (1968), and Horace M. Albright (1969). One of the first recipients of the Audubon Award was John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1950), while, in 2005, The Rockefeller Family collectively received the award.

Mark Dowie observes that the president of the Audubon, Peter Berle, "was recruited in 1984 by Audubon Chairman Donald O'Brien, a lawyer for the Rockefeller family." Gottlieb remarked that: "For the conservative Audubon board, Berle seemed like an appropriate choice... The son of a well-known economist and a former state assemblyman and director of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation."

Mark Dowie, Losing Ground, p.57; Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring, p.208.  (back)

26.  Russell Train, Politics, Pollution, and Pandas: An Environmental Memoir (Island Press, 2003), p.241.  (back)

27.  Like his predecessor at the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, Horace M. Albright "saw no inherent contradiction between the taking of borax out of a national park and protecting the hot, dry desert lands of the Death Valley, from which the extraction was occurring. Upon his retirement, Albright became executive director of the United States Potash Company, then president and general manager, and in 1962 a director of the United States Borax and Chemical Corporation, and he would have an office in Rockefeller Center, always within easy reach of the Rockefeller brothers."

Robin Winks, Laurance S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservation (Island Press, 1997), p.45.  (back)

28.  Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers, p.303. RFF's first president was Reuben Gustavson. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was the father of John D. Rockefeller III, Laurance, David, and Nelson.  (back)

29.  Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers, p.306; William Wing, Philanthropy and the Environment, p.44.  (back)

30.  Note that the figures cited by the Foundation Center only include foundations that give more than US$10,000. This gives an incomplete picture, because many philanthropic organizations cap their grants at rates lower than this threshold amount.  (back)

31.  Katherine Barkley and Steve Weissman, "The Eco-Establishment," in Ramparts (eds.), Eco-Catastrophe (Harper & Row, 1970), p.16; Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers, pp.304-5.  (back)

32.  Katherine Barkley and Steve Weissman, "The Eco-Establishment," p.16. Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was also a former chairman of both the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  (back)

33.  Peter Collier and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers, p.305.  (back)

34.  Katherine Barkley and Steve Weissman, "The Eco-Establishment," p.16.  (back)

35.  Robert Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring, p.74.  (back)

36.  William Wing, Philanthropy and the Environment, p.44.  (back)

37.  Of course elite interest in purchasing Patagonia is not new, as "Benetton now owns 900 000 hectares of Patagonia and is the largest landholder in Argentina." That said, Benetton differ from the aforementioned so-called philanthropist in their simple desire to consume the environmental landscape.  (back)

38.  It is fitting that David Syre, the founder and chair of the logging giant Trillium Corporation, formerly served as a trustee of a leading corporate "green" group, the Nature Conservancy. Additionally, Syre presently serves as a board member of the logging industry front-group the World Forestry Center, a group who work is directed by the former chief scientist and vice president of the World Wildlife Fund, Gary Hartshorn. Hartshom is secretary of the Institute of Current World Affairs, where he serves alongside various democracy manipulators like Dasa Obereigner, who is a former adviser for President Vaclav Havel, and a former deputy director of a media development program for George Soros' foundations network.

Furthermore, Syre's affiliation to the Nature Conservancy is particularly interesting given the former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs (1999-2006), and subsequent Secretary of the US Department of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, served as the chair of the Nature Conservancy's board of directors from 2004 until 2006. (Since 2006, Goldman Sachs Managing Director, Muneer Satter, has acted as the treasurer and chair of the Nature Conservancy's finance committee.) Incidentally, Paulsonís son, Merritt Paulson, is a trustee of the Wildlife Conservation Society.  (back)

39.  It seems that Tompkins and Goldman Sachs are not alone in their interest in appropriating nature, because according to Popham, "[o]ther wealthy foreigners to buy enormous estates in the region included Sylvester Stallone, Ted Turner and George Soros."  (back)

40.  Murary Bookchin, Which Way for the Ecology Movement? , p.21, 26, 25. The principal founder of Deep Ecology is Arne Naess.  (back)

41.  Popham adds that others refer to him as a CIA-agent while: "One enemy says he is monopolising Patagonia's biggest aquifer, which could become a future object of American aggression." Furthermore, it is fitting to observe that Tompkins's wife formerly served as the CEO of the clothing empire, Patagonia - a group whose founder, Yvon Chouinard, was a former director of the corporate NGO, Conservation International. Writing in 2003, Aziz Choudry concludes that: "The terms 'greenwash' and 'corporate front group' seem inadequate to describe Conservation International." For a book length critique of Conservation International, see Christine MacDonald's recent book Green Inc. For the record: the current president of Conservation International, Russell Mittermeier, formerly served as vice-president for science at the World Wildlife Fund (1987-9), and as chairman of the World Bank's Task Force on Biological Diversity (1988-9).  (back)

42.  Ehrlich's bestselling book served to help link the population issue to the environment in the public's mind. The message contained in The Population Bomb was essentially a crude Malthusian argument, reiterating the earlier work of Fairfield Osborn, Frederick Osborn, and William Vogt. The importance of Ehrlich's work in adversely influencing the environmental movement has been highlighted by Betsy Hartmann, who considers Ehrlich to be the scientist most responsible for "populariz[ing] the [false] belief that overpopulation is the main cause of the environmental crisis." Quoted in Tom Athanasiou, Slow Reckoning: The Ecology of a Divided Planet (Vintage, 1998), p.80.

It is important to point out that Peter Buckley serves alongside an assortment of other corporate environmentalists (like Paul Hawken) on the advisory board of a group called the Green World Campaign. This affiliation is interesting because the Green World Campaign's founder/executive director, Marc Barasch, was the writer and co-producer of the Emmy-nominated documentary "One Child, One Voice" (2002). This documentary was subsequently broadcast in 150 countries, and received the Population Institute's global media award. The receipt of the Population Institute award should, however, not be so surprising considering that the other producer of the documentary was Barbara Pyle, an individual who serves on the advisory board of the Population Media Center -- a group that was founded by neo-Malthusian William Ryerson. Ryerson happens to serve as president of the aforementioned Population Institute, and on the advisory council of Optimum Population Trust (whose board of patrons includes Paul Ehrlich); while many years ago Ryerson acted as the founder and first chairperson of the Yale Chapter of Zero Population Growth (a group that was cofounded by Paul Ehrlich).  (back)

43.  Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich, Healing the Planet: Strategies for Resolving the Environmental Crisis (Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1991).

In 1990, Murray Bookchin pointed out that: "In contrast to Bill Devall's contention that deep ecology is becoming a very embattled anti-establishment body of ideas, I find it has actually become very trendy and chic these days. It has not only swept into its fold a large number of well-situated academics but also a lot of journalists and even royalty, like Prince Philip of England [founding president of WWF-UK and at that time president of WWF-International], and other movers and shakers in the 'elite' establishment."

Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman, Defending the Earth: A Dialogue Between Murray Bookchin and Dave Foreman (South End Press, 1991), p.123.  (back)

44.  The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars profess to aim to maintain a "lively, neutral forum for free and informed dialogue"; yet their 2005 annual report tells another story, illustrating that their "neutral" work is funded by hundreds of corporations (e.g., PepsiCo and Lockheed Martin) and liberal foundations, which includes some of the better known democracy manipulators like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society Institute Development Foundation, and conservative foundations like the Castle Rock Foundation and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Furthermore, the Wilson Center's works is also supported by the US government (e.g., US Institute of Peace, USAID, and the US Department of the Army). Notable trustees of the Wilson Center include Condoleezza Rice, Ignacio Sanchez (who proudly boasts of serving as chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce committee -- which is "seeking fast-track authority for the Free Trade Area of the Americas"), and Allen Weinstein, (who was the founding acting president of the National Endowment for Democracy, a founding board member of the US Institute of Peace, and a former director of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority).

The Wilson Center's 2005 Annual Report is no longer available online; however, their 2007 Annual Report is presently available online here (pdf).  (back)

45.  The chairman and CEO of Alcoa, Alain Belda, presently serves as a Ford Foundation trustee, while the former president of the Ford Foundation, Franklin Thomas (1979-96), sits alongside Fuller and Belda on Alcoa's board of directors.  (back)

46.  Although not advertised on their website the Foundation receives support from the four of the world's largest agricultural companies -- Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, and DuPont. African Agricultural Technology Foundation chair, Jennifer Thomson, who published the aptly named book Genes for Africa (Juta and Com, 2002) sits on the board of GM lobby group AfricaBio. For a complete treatment of the links between the work of biotech corporations and liberal foundations in Africa, see Michael Barker, "Bill Gates as Social Engineer." (pdf)

According to Brian Tokar: "To address the biotechnology industry's concerns over the biodiversity convention, Vice-President Gore arranged a meeting with representatives from the World Wildlife Fund, the World Resources Institute, and something called the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, together with officials from three key pharmaceutical companies: Merck, Genentech, and Shaman Pharmaceuticals. The first is a major international chemical supplier, the second is the largest independent biotechnology company, and the third is an emerging player in the discovery and marketing of new drugs from the tropics. The result of this meeting was an 'interpretive statement' that exempted private corporations from the biodiversity agreement's commitment to share new technologies and research findings with communities... According to Vandana Shiva, a prominent activist from India, the Clinton administration's actions decisively 'shift the focus of the Biodiversity Convention from the protection of the earth's living diversity to protection of corporate demands for monopoly control of life forms.'" Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale, pp.68-9.  (back)

47.  Chris Hedges in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Free Press, 2006) concludes that "dominionists hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution, a world they blame for the debacle of their lives." He adds: "They have one goal -- its destruction." (p.202.) Murray Bookchin, although not referring to dominionists, provides a concise explanation for why antidemocratic preachers are able to entice disillusioned citizens into promoting their quest for a theocratic Christian state. Bookchin observes how: "In the Western industrialized countries, the mystical revival is primarily a substitute for the creation of a politics that would otherwise generally empower people. Thus, rather than entering into a political sphere, trying to change the society around them, to destroy the disease -- capitalism -- and replace it with a new [democratic] social order, people today are more likely to turn inward, in their despair, and to belief in a god." In this regard then, elitist, hierarchal "environmental" groups that disempower meaningful citizen action (i.e. actions that might promote participatory democracy), are in no small way also contributing to the collapse of progressive social movements and to the rise of antidemocratic ones, like dominionism.

Murray Bookchin, Anarchism, Marxism, and the Future of the Left: Interviews and Essays, 1993-1998 (AK Press, 1999), p.123.  (back)

48.  In 1992, WWF "received $2.5 million in a single donation from Eastman Kodak, whose CEO, Kay Whitmore, is a cofounder of the USA*NAFTA." Alexander Cockburn, "Beat the Devil: NAFTA and the Shameful Seven," The Nation, June 28, 1993.  (back)

49.  Over ten years ago Brian Tokar noted that: "The World Wildlife Fund's corporate contributors are now led by the likes of the Bank of America, Kodak, and J. P. Morgan (over $250,000), with the Bank of Tokyo, Philip Morris, WMX, Du Pont and numerous others playing supporting roles. Its budget grew from $17 million in 1985 to $62 million in 1993, with roughly half of its revenues coming from individual contributions." Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale, p.20, 25.


World Wildlife Fund's 2007 Income (in million USD)


WWF Network



Governments and Aid Agencies




Trusts and Foundations












Legacies and Bequests




WWF Network




Financial Income












 Source: WWF Annual Reports.


50.  Elaine Dewar writes: "WWF Canada was started by a politician and a tobacco company. World Wildlife Fund Canada was created in 1967, Canada's Centennial Year, by founders who included the Honourable Alan A. Macnaughton, then a senator. An alternate delegate to the United Nations in 1945, he'd been elected as a Liberal to the House of Commons in 1949 and elected again in each federal election until 1966. He was a former chair of the public accounts committee, chair of the Liberal caucus, Speaker of the House of Commons during Pearson's minority government from 1963 to January 1966, joining the Privy Council in 1965. He went to the Senate in 1966 as a representative of Quebec, just a month after Maurice Strong became the head of External Aid and sent Pierre Trudeau, M.P., to French Africa to look around. Senator Macnaughton later served as vice-chairman of the Canadian delegation to the U.N. Conference on the Environment at Stockholm in 1972.

"Perhaps because Macnaughton's reputation was lustrous, it was not widely noted that WWF Canada was actually run for its first ten years by executives seconded to it from Rothman-Pall Mall Canada, a subsidiary of the South African-owned tobacco giant, Rothman International. This mirrored events at WWF International." Elaine Dewar, Cloak of Green, pp.333-4.

Ana Isla writes that "Debt-for-nature swaps are the sustainable development mechanisms of choice for the World Bank, IMF, UNESCO, and large environmental corporations, and they became an instrument of policy following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), headed by Maurice Strong, in 1992." Isla suggests that WWF-Canada plays an important role in implementing these debt-for-nature swaps in Costa Rica, arguing that their "rhetoric of sustainable development reinforces the power and reach of global capitalism." She continues: "Using the language of conservation, industry, large environmental NGOs, and local government elites are sacrificing the survival of forest peoples to capital accumulation. Enclosures of common lands for the purpose of bioprospecting liquidate the customary claims of forest ownership. As a result, conservation as enclosure suppresses the human rights of local communities and the rights of nature. In this process, campesinos and indigenous people are impoverished as their local environments move from abundance to scarcity in a commodified world, and they themselves become displaced, marginalized, even criminalized, and unwaged in a waged global world."

Ana Isla, "Conservation as Enclosure: An Ecofeminist Perspective on Sustainable Development and Biopiracy in Costa Rica," Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, 16 (3), 2005, p.51., pp.60-1.  (back)

51.  Former WWF-International board member, Jorgen Randers, who served as WWF-International's deputy director general from 1994 until 1999 is most famous for have helped coauthor the Club of Rome's famous neo-Malthusian book Limits to Growth (Club of Rome, 1972). The computer modelling on which Limits to Growth is based has been widely critiqued, and as Christopher Freeman noted in 1975, although it would be wrong to use the dictum "Garbage in, garbage out," the problems associated with the modelling may be better described as "Malthus in, Malthus out."

Christopher Freeman, "Malthus with a Computer,"' in H.S.D. Cole and University of Sussex. Science Policy Research Unit (eds.), Models of Doom: A Critique of the Limits to Growth (Universe Books, 1975), p.8.  (back)

52.  Mkapa's predecessor at the South Centre is the former Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-7), Boutros Boutros-Ghali (2003-6), an individual who prior to his UN appointment has served as the vice-president of Socialist International -- a group which bills itself as the "worldwide organisation of social democratic, socialist and labour parties."  (back)

53.  The Democracy Coalition Project was initiated by George Soros's Open Society Institute in 2001 to undertake "research and advocacy relating to democracy promotion policies at the national, regional and global levels." As one might expect George Soros serves alongside Chief Anyaoku on the groups international advisory board, as does Madeleine Albright (who is chair of the National Democratic Institute -- a core National Endowment for Democracy grantee), and recently deceased former Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek (whose death was recently honored by the National Endowment for Democracy, who co-hosted a memorial service in conjunction with the Embassy of Poland). In addition, members of the Democracy Coalition Project US advisory board with notable democracy manipulating credentials include Larry Diamond (who is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a co-director of the National Endowment for Democracy's International Forum for Democratic Studies, a member of USAID's Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid, and serves on the advisory board of the Free Africa Foundation), Mahnaz Ispahani (who is a former director of research at the National Democratic Institute, and former deputy director for the Ford Foundation's peace and social justice program), and Harold Hongju Koh (who was the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor during the Clinton administration, and is a director of both the National Democratic Institute and Human Rights First). The Democracy Coalition Project also maintain close ties to the NED-compatible NGO, Human Rights Watch, as US advisory board members of the Project include Lisa Anderson (who is a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East Advisory Committee, and is an emeriti member of their board of directors) and Orville Schell (who is a board member of Human Rights Watch, and formerly worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia). Finally, Mohamed Sahnoun, who serves on Human Rights Watch's Arms Advisory Committee, is a member of the Democracy Coalition Project's international advisory board.  (back)

54.  WWF-US was the second national organization to formed as a result of Nicholson's work, while the "first national organization in the World Wildlife Fund family," British National Appeal (which was soon referred to as WWF-UK), was headed by HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Philip went on to serve as the president of WWF-International for 16 years until his retirement at the end of 1996, and presently serves as a patron of Interact Worldwide (the group formerly known as Population Concern).  (back)

55.  Here it is significant to note that Anton Rupert is a founding patron of the Peace Parks Foundation (along with Prince Bernhard and Nelson Mandela). This is noteworthy because Club 21/advisory council members of this Foundation include the Oppenheimer family's diamond company, De Beers (which is part owned by the corporate mining giant Anglo American). Another Club 21 member is Kumba Resources, which is 66 percent owned by Anglo American.  (back)

56.  Bonner observes that: "The one-time donation brings lifetime membership, and the names of the generous patrons are kept secret by the organization. According to these secret lists, American givers have included August A. Busch, Jr., of the beer company; Henry Ford II; Peter Grace; Nelson Bunker Hunt, the silver trader [and present council member of the John Birch Society]; Mrs. Geoffrey Kent, of Abercrombie & Kent; Robert S. McNamara; Cyril Magnin; Lew Wasserman, of MCA; Thomas Watson, of IBM. Many of the donors understandably wish to remain anonymous (in part to avoid being badgered by other charities), but it is also understandable why WWF does not want the list made public. It has included many less-savory individuals -- Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko, one of the most corrupt leaders in Africa; Daniel K. Ludwig, the reclusive American billionaire, whose companies destroyed thousands of miles of the Amazon rain forest; Agha Hasan Abedi, the founder of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI); Robert Vesco, the financier who fled the United States in the 1970s to escape trial on charges of fraud, embezzlement and obstruction of justice; Tibor Rosenbaum, founder of a Swiss bank that laundered billions of dollars of organized crime money and who was accused of embezzling Israeli deposits in the bank; Thomas Jones, who was forced out as chief executive of Northrop after it was revealed that the company paid $30 million in bribes to government officials and agents around the world in exchange for contracts; Lord Kagan, a British businessman convicted of theft and conspiracy to defraud the British tax service; a Norwegian shipowner convicted of taking a £1 million bribe; an individual who was the conduit for the money from Lockheed to Prince Bernhard." (p.68.)  (back)

57.  Prince Bernhard's daughter, Queen Beatrix of Holland, presently serves as a member of the Bilderberg Group, and acts as Royal Dutch Shell's principal shareholder.

For more background material on the Bilderberg Group see Peter Thompson's excellent article "Bilderberg and the West," in Holly Sklar (ed.), Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management (South End Press, 1980).  (back)

58.  Raymond Bonner, At the Hand of Man, p.67.  (back)

59.  Marloes van Amerom and Bram Buscher, "Peace parks in Southern Africa: bringers of an African Renaissance?," Journal of Modern African Studies, 43 (2), 2005, p.168.  (back)

60.  Donald Gibson, Environmentalism, p.99.  (back)

61.  Few researchers would argue that all foundations actively attempt to deliberately co-opt all social movements, although the larger ones like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations have certainly successfully done this in the past. Craig Jenkins proposes his channeling thesis is more appropriate than the cooption model because it: (1) considers "that foundation goals are complex, ranging from genuine support of movement goals to social control" (a point the co-option thesis also acknowledges), (2) identifies the trend towards professionalization (a process also identified by the co-option thesis) and (3) this professionalization has led to greater mobilizations and successes than would have occurred otherwise. This last point is certainly debatable, as the history of social change seems to suggest that mass grassroots campaigns have far more progressive influence on political institutions than professional advocacy groups.

Deborah McCarthy suggests that the "social relations" approach to grantee/funder relations "presents a dialectical model in which both grantees and funders influence each other" as opposed to the "channelling and co-optation theories [which she argues] present a one-way model in which foundations influence grantees but not the other way around." In response, I would argue that it is clear that any process like foundation funding is dialectical, and it is important not to write off the work of those she presents as "one-way models" because clearly each funding relationship will vary from another, and the latter models benefit by incorporating the unequal power evident between funders and grantees. McCarthy notes that activist/funders often have to trick their foundations to support environmental justice projects by using "terminology with issues that their foundation's boards and donors already fund." McCarthy discusses some ways in which activists and funders may begin to work around three major problems associated with foundation funding of the environmental justice movement which are: "programmatic emphases on project-specific grants, outcome-specific evaluation criteria, and short-term grants."

Craig Jenkins, "Channeling Social Protest: Foundation Patronage of Contemporary Social Movements," in: Walter. Powell and Elisabeth Clemens, (eds.), Private Action and the Public Good (Yale University Press, 1998), p.212; Deborah McCarthy, "Environmental Justice Grantmaking: Elites and Activists Collaborate to Transform Philanthropy," Sociological Inquiry, 74 (2), 2004, p.254, 258, 263.  (back)

62.  Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale, p.201.

A study of three of the most important foundations for recent mainstream environmentalism, the Pew Charitable Trusts, W. Alton Jones Foundation, and the Rockefeller Family Fund showed that they invest heavily in industries (e.g. arms manufacturers and chemical, oil and mining corporations) which contradict the aims of many of their environmental grantees. For example, in 1995, the Rockefeller Family Fund had its funds invested in twenty-eight oil and gas development companies and the timber corporation Weyerhaeuser and Boise Cascade.

Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn, "Tainted Money, Toxic Sources," Wild Forest Review, October/November 1995.  (back)

63.  Robert Brulle and J. Craig Jenkins, "Foundations and the Environmental Movement: Priorities, Strategies, and Impact," in Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy (eds.), Foundations for Social Change, 2005, p.168.  (back)

64.  Robert Brulle and J. Craig Jenkins, "Decline or Transition?," p.14.  (back)

65.  The limits of most foundation funding for progressive social change have been summarised by Roelofs who suggests that: "The elite embraces such 'radical' ideas as economic planning, world federalism, social responsibility of corporations, social responsibility of the legal profession, and racial integration to promote stability and forestall radical change. On the other hand, the foundations do not sponsor research or issue pamphlets on the desirability of supplanting the multinational corporations with collective or cooperative ownership." On the contrary, they have made respectable the idea that public 'seed' money should be provided to revitalize capitalism." Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (State University of New York Press, 2003), p.10.  (back)

66.  Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale, p.214.

"The clear, though rarely uttered message from the largest environmental grantmakers is this: be cautious reformers, challenge specific violators, take the worst of them to court, lobby for environmental regulations, educate the public, but don't rock (or knock) the industrial boat if you intend to rely on significant foundation funding." Mark Dowie, American Foundations, p.94.  (back)

67.  Mark Dowie, American Foundations, p.258.

For example, while the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) debate was raging, the Ford Foundation supported the Economic Policy Institute which actively objected to the agreement. At the same time though, the Ford Foundation was funding the Institute for International Economics which supported NAFTA, and also distributed grants to environmental groups like WWF and the Southwest Voters Research Institute to organize NAFTA forums which led to an alliance of 100 groups supporting the agreement. Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy, pp.98-9.  (back)

68.  Robert Bothwell, a former president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (an organization that works to promote the work of alternative foundations), considers that there are "limited possibilities in changing mainstream philanthropy" itself. Yet despite the evident failure of most philanthropy to support progressive social change he "sees excellent possibilities in reforming philanthropy through the creation of new progressive foundations and alternative funding institutions. ... [O]f course, [he notes that] raising new money to do this is uncertain, difficult, and time-consuming. But compared to convincing hidebound, sometimes straitjacketed philanthropists to make very different funding decisions - controversial ones that may jeopardize their salaries, privileges, statuses, and world views - raising the new money is easy"

Robert Bothwell, "Up Against Conservative Public Policy: Alternatives to Mainstream Philanthropy," in Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy (eds.), Foundations for Social Change, 2005, p.137.  (back)

69.  Theda Skocpol, Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life (University of Oklahoma Press, 2003), p.230.

That said, it is important to recognize that a small cadre of alternative foundations has "played a critical role over the past fifteen years in providing the minimum levels of necessary support to key components of the Environmental Justice movement, especially in regional/national networks and their main locally based anchor groups." However, when Deborah McCarthy interviewed numerous staff from these progressive environmental justice foundations, she still found that "the boards of these foundations are still considerably less progressive than the social movements that they fund and are often less progressive than the grantmaking staff they hire."

Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy, Foundations for Social Change, p.176; Deborah McCarthy, Environmental Justice Grantmaking, p.258.  (back)

70.  Brian Tokar, Earth for Sale, p.214. For more on solutions see, INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence's book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (South End Press, 2007).  (back)


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About the Author

Michael Barker recently completed his doctorial thesis at Griffith University in Australia, where he studied the influence of the National Endowment for Democracy on global media systems. He is currently co-editing a book with Daniel Faber and Joan Roelofs that will critically evaluate the influence of philanthropic foundations on the public sphere.



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