Conservation International is one of the biggest and best-known environmental organizations in the United States. And they've pretty indisputably done some great work in protecting endangered species over the last couple of decades. But, like other high profile enviro groups like the Nature Conservancy, much of their funding comes from major corporations -- some of which are among the world's largest polluters and resource-consumers.
This makes many skeptical about the efficacy of their work, and the above video does a pretty good job of demonstrating why. In it, reporters from Don't Panic magazine pose as reps from Lockheed and Martin, one of the world's largest arms manufacturer, and ask Conservation International to help green their image. CI seems all too eager to comply.Now, there are primarily two competing philosophies on how a green group should work. The first goes something like this: Corporations, especially uber-polluting or deforestation-happy ones like BP, Wal-Mart, McDonald's, and Exxon, are the primary cause of environmental destruction in the world. If a group accepts funding from them, how can they possibly effectively work to prevent that bad behavior? Hence you have groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth that receive no corporate funding at all, raise funds from membership dues, and aren't shy about going on the offensive to take the world's most powerful companies to task.
The other philosophy holds that the best way to influence the actions of such corporate behemoths is to work with them -- offer them a channel by which to use their resources to do some good, whether it be funding a nature preserve or helping to protect endangered species. These groups, like CI and the Nature Conservancy, can muster much larger budgets, and argue they can have a larger impact as a result.
And there are of course different shades of the two models, and some of the best-known green groups like NRDC and Sierra club receive backing from a combination of membership, large donors, and foundations.
What we see outlined in the video above is a cautionary tale of relying too heavily on the corporate model. Conservation International claims the vid was heavily edited to cast the group in a harsher light, but even the practices the group doesn't dispute, and how it panders to corporate culture seem pretty damning. Whether or not the video was over-sensationalized, it nonetheless paints a portrait of an organization willing to comply with dubious corporate demands in order to secure a revenue stream -- with the ostensible end result being the protection of some birds of prey in the Middle East. In short, CI seems pretty willing to help Lockheed carry out extreme greenwashing.
This certainly shakes my faith in Conservation International's ability to meaningfully tackle the most pressing environmental issues of the day, though I suppose we should wait to see if further details about the story emerge before passing judgment.