Firewall Philanthropy: Blind-Eye Denialism In A Changing Climate


We all love it when the wealthy give to a good cause that government can't seem to come to grips with. Or, when a self-directed creative genius wins a MacArthur Fellowship. Such well-targeted giving provides inspiration and hope beyond all headlines. So, it is disconcerting when we learn that philanthropic money, well spent, and for worthy cause, is found to originate from investment in corporations that have been contributing to serious environmental and health problems. Such is the example given of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, according to the LA Times investigative piece just published, has invested in corporations that fouled the nests of the very people the Foundation's work intends to benefit. Rather than excerpt at length from the LAT, we will rely on a photo to symbolize. The picture is of an oil well gas flare in Nigeria. Throughout the Niger Delta, oil well, by-product gases are openly burned to avoid asphyxiation and fire hazard, producing, by one account, 70 million tons of CO2 annually. It is considered uneconomic to capture and sell the gas as fuel. So, up it goes. Nigeria supplies much oil to western nations, and the added climate impact of flaring is not counted when we calculate the climate footprint of our personal vehicles.Thus, we may feel double-blinded by a philanthropy that enables continuation of the flaring through its investment choices, made, apparently, without stipulation. On the otherhand, the choice to flare was made decades ago, and is not the Gates Foundation's to re-make. Many other shareholders have a stake. Paralysis by analysis of such convoluted issues can be avoided by open dialog, which the LA Times has enabled through its investigative journalism, and by a "who owns the problem" analysis that anyone is capable of. The bottom line for this writer: use less oil and oil-related products. Image credit: Climate Law. Writing done in Movable Type, under Mac OS.