An angry exposé claims that leading environmental organizations are now headed by overpaid chief executives who solicit contributions from companies that tout their greenness while continuing their predatory ways.
Freelance journalist MacDonald begins by pointing out that, unlike other activists such as labor organizers or feminists, early conservationists were not radicals but respectable gentlemen like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. Matters changed in the 1960s, when outrage over pesticides, toxic waste and nuclear power led to an influx of young militants. They changed even more in the ’80s, when a proliferation of self-made billionaires, many of them former ’60s militants, opened their wallets. From hand-to-mouth organizations existing on membership fees and the occasional bequest, groups such as Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club grew to own skyscrapers, private jets and overseas offices while employing tens of thousands of workers who oversee billions of dollars in spending. Fighting the still-losing battle to save the environment energizes the rank and file, but their leaders have adopted the lifestyle and priorities of private industry: increase revenue, expand markets, outstrip competitors. These leaders are taking advantage of the fact that it is no longer acceptable to sneer at conservationists. Mining and power companies, Wal-Mart, Exxon and Shell now proclaim their concern for the environment, backing this up with a little bit of action and a lot of generous contributions. These come with strings attached, MacDonald emphasizes. She offers depressing examples of polluters who contributed, announced that they were mending their ways, then enjoyed support from their beneficiaries as they proceeded with destructive projects fiercely opposed by local conservationists.
Readers who take for granted that environmental organizations are made up of long-haired tree huggers and wilderness buffs will receive a jolt to learn how Green Inc.’s newfound prosperity has led it astray.