Poisoned environmentalism: Corruption inside NGOs and green businesses

Protecting and caring for the world we live in is the most natural instinct in the world.

Sadly, however, this noble desire to help Mother Nature is often hijacked by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and large corporations, who use environmental activism as a platform to score higher profits and grab more power.

Large multinational companies and organizations use various techniques to increase their reach and power, co-opting climate change activism and environmentalism.

These corporate giants and crony capitalist chameleons cynically use words like “sustainability” and “green” to corner the market and cement consumer loyalty, meanwhile continuing practices that harm human beings and nature.

It’s called “greenwashing,” and it’s going on all around us. There’s no other way around the issue: it’s time to take an honest look at poisoned environmentalism.

Carbon credit market corruption

There’s no better example of the cynical corruption that’s wormed its way into environmentalism than the carbon credit market.

As the 2017 French film Carbon explores, there’s a whole world of criminality and dirty money inside the carbon market. Director Olivier Marchal takes a look at the true story of businessman Antoine Roca, who tries to come back from bankruptcy by creating a network of fake companies and selling off carbon allowances on the carbon market.

It all goes horribly wrong, but this particular scam is a perfect example of how supposedly good intentions can get snarled up in a bureaucratic nightmare. As Marchal says:

“Following the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the European Union pledged to reduce their carbon emissions. Pollution permits were launched in a cap-and-trade system.

“The scam, called the Carbon Connection, lasted from September, 2008 to June, 2009. The EU lost 5 billion Euros, France lost from 1.5 to 1.8 billion Euros.”

Carbon market corruption is nothing new, and it’s far more widespread that climate-crats would like you to think. It’s on the mind of negotiators as well, who often discuss how to address this issue as they move forward with carbon schemes.

As Dave Keating notes:

“Today, as the world marks international anti-corruption day, global negotiators meeting at a climate summit in Madrid are considering greatly expanding a system that some say is already greatly compromised…

“As the global system for climate finance is fleshed out, more and more attention is going to be paid to making sure corruption in national parliaments doesn’t lead to a misuse of these funds.”

Meanwhile, Interpol has put out numerous warnings about carbon trading markets being subject to criminal misuse, especially through “securities fraud, insider trading, embezzlement, money laundering and cybercrime.”

As Interpol notes, the carbon trading market isn’t very well policed and is the world’s “fastest-growing commodities market, with its current value estimated by the World Bank at around $176 billion USD.”

That’s some serious money, and it’s no surprise that many criminals and criminal networks want to get their hands on it. Numerous criminal networks are shut down annually by organizations like Interpol and national police forces, as people game the carbon credit scheme where companies who don’t pollute as much can sell off unused credits to rich polluters who want more license to produce.

As Interpol Environmental Crime Director David Higgins explains:

“ It is not just the financial harm it causes investors, but this criminal activity risks seriously undermining the environmental integrity of the carbon markets globally.”

Inside the secret world of shady NGOs

Non-governmental organizations are supposed to be humanitarian, helpful and competent. They’re often founded for idealistic reasons to help the disadvantaged and overlooked. Environmental NGOs tend to be especially idealistic. Sadly, however, far too many are crooked.

Columnist Johann Hari digs deep on this, pointing to the issue of just how crooked many environmental NGOs truly are. While he’s been around the world seeing the horrific impact of environmental decline and what he calls “ecocide” from the Sudan to the Arctic, Hari always assumed that large NGOs were more or less wanting to actually make a positive impact.

He was wrong.

“It is now clear that many were on a different path–one that began in the 1980s, when environmental groups like the National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy began accepting donations from the big polluters they’d previously fought.”

Talk about a conflict of interest! As NGOs took corporate money and big corporations like Shell were able to pad pockets in return for these organizations soft-pedaling responses and “slowly, other groups saw themselves shrink while the corporate-fattened groups swelled–so they, too, started to take the checks.”

This cycle of corporate corruption just kept gaining ground and, sadly, the examples are too numerous to list. There are plenty, however, that come to mind.

As Hari notes:

“To take just one example, when it was revealed that many of IKEA’s dining room sets were made from trees ripped from endangered forests, the World Wildlife Fund leapt to the company’s defense when IKEA claimed–wrongly–that it “can never guarantee” this won’t happen. Is it a coincidence that WWF is a “marketing partner” with IKEA, and takes cash from the company?”

Of course, it’s not a coincidence. Another prime example is when “the Sierra Club was approached in 2008 by the makers of Clorox bleach, who said that if the club endorsed their new range of “green” household cleaners, they would give it a percentage of the sales.”

Outrageous, no? Well, they took the deal, complete with a fake analysis of the Clorox product line to give it some pseudo-environmental stamp of approval. Inspiring stuff. All the hypocrisy is building up, with real consequences. Prominent environmental consultant Charles Komanoff says that we’re approaching a point of no return when it comes to divisions inside environmental NGOs.

“We’re close to a civil war in the environmental movement. For too long, all the oxygen in the room has been sucked out by this beast of these insider groups, who achieve almost nothing,” he says.

“We need to create new organizations that represent the fundamentals of environmentalism and have real goals.”

As environmentalist Christine MacDonald discovered after she started working for a conservation group in the mid-2000s, the outer glamor was very hollow on the inside. Like she describes in her 2008 book Green Inc., there is deep rot at the core of the movement.

“While Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) often make important scientific contributions, they cancel out all the good works by taking millions of dollars from corporations in an array of polluting industries,” McDonald says.

“Their contributors include power companies, mining conglomerates and grain traders that are fueling the transformation of the last remaining rainforests in Latin America and the Asian Pacific into vast soybean and palm oil plantations.”

Like McDonald says, NGOs often play a double game of pretending to help the environment while just being stewards in its destruction.

“In the last few decades, with the urging of international conservation groups and the enticement of foreign aid dollars, millions of people have been evicted from their ancestral homes around the globe according to sociologists who study the trend, and the land turned into national parks and other protected areas.

“At the same time, conservation groups have come under fire for cutting deals with corporations operating in these same remote places. The groups often trade their acquiescence of large-scale logging operations, open pit mines, oil drilling and pipeline building in exchange for corporate money to do conservation work nearby.”

Biopiracy in the Amazon

Biopiracy is defined as the “appropriation of the knowledge and genetic resources of farming and indigenous communities by individuals or institutions who seek exclusive monopoly control (patents or intellectual property) over these resources and knowledge.”

In plain language, biopiracy is stealing agricultural, medicinal, commercial, and cultural resources from indigenous and rural communities. Considering that 67% of plant ingredients used by pharmaceutical companies come from tropical rainforests, you’re looking at a lot of biopiracy.

Although Brazil has enacted several laws to stop biopiracy across its vast Amazon region, the practice is still widespread and has grown under recent administrations including current leader Jair Bolsonaro.

“Bluntly put, governments from the extreme right to the extreme left have been responsible for violating the rights of Indigenous peoples either directly or by omission and commission,” write Salo de Carvalho, David R Goyes and Valeria Vegh Weis in The British Journal of Criminology.

“In Brazil, as in the rest of Latin America, this phenomenon combines racist ideologies that sustain internal colonialism and the normal functioning of the capitalist treadmill of production that seeks expansion in all regions regardless of the cost in human lives.”

As these authors further note:

“Brazil is the most lethal country for environmental activists, most of whom are Indigenous: more than 150 environmental activists were murdered in Brazil between 2012 and 2015 and, in 2016 alone, 65 human rights activists were murdered. This is a trend that continues to grow.”

“Between August 2017 and July 2018, the destruction of the Amazon forest hit an unprecedented level—1,185,000,000 trees were destroyed. An area equal to two soccer fields was deforested every minute.”

“The statistics published by the INPE (2019) show that the deforestation of the Amazon increased by 90 per cent in June 2019 and 278 per cent in July 2019 over the same months in 2018.”

This is all part of a larger trend that has been devastating to the Amazonian ecology and its people.

As Vanessa Danley writes:

“In Brazil, the uncontrolled withdrawal of natural resources is a regular occurrence that threatens Brazil’s rich biodiversity and creates social injustices contributing to poverty within the indigenous community.

“The increase in poverty leads to corruption. The indigenous peoples’ lack of better opportunities accompanied by the loss of natural resources allows for the growth of illegal trade in the Amazon. The indigenous communities need to sell animals and plants to meet their subsistence needs.”

Biopiracy is a very widespread phenomenon that touches on many products and resources.

“Products and byproducts derived from Amazon biodiversity are mostly used by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries (usually located in the North) and are also referred to as “green oil.”

“Biopiracy causes Brazil to lose $16 million per day, mostly as a result of lack of better public policy and poor enforcement of existing legislation. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology markets yield approximately $700 billion per year. The market for medicinal plants alone, with the help of traditional knowledge, is $43 million.”

Biopiracy is far from only an issue in Brasil.

As Delfin Ganapin writes about the situation with ongoing abuse of Africa’s natural resources:

“Without both political leadership and investment in tackling environmental crime and corruption, our efforts to ensure Africa’s natural resources flourish and benefit its citizens and economies for the long-term will come to nought.”

iEAHf5TMg6hWcRnL 1 Poisoned environmentalism: Corruption inside NGOs and green businesses

Fake environmentalism and greenwashing

Greenwashing was a concept developed by American conservationist Jay Westerveld in the mid-1980s to describe how corporations pretend to care about the environment to sell more products and perpetuate ecologically destructive practices for profit.

Greenwashing is all over the place these days, and it’s spreading largely unchecked thanks to consumer naivety. People buy products that pretend to be green, so businesses are emboldened and keep churning them out in increasing quantities.

As Adryan Corcione explains:

“Greenwashing is when a company or organization spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact.

“It is a deceitful advertising gimmick intended to mislead consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands.”

Common examples of greenwashing include Walmart selling plastic products and falsely claiming they’re ecologically friendly: a claim it later had to pay out $1 million for in a lawsuit. Another common example is bottled water with nature imagery all over it, green-sounding names and large recycling symbols on the bottle.

Greenwashing often involves making vague and unscientific environmental claims in advertising and packaging that doesn’t actually mean anything substantive, along with claims of sustainability that aren’t actually based on any hard data or proof.

More classic examples of greenwashing include when:

“Fossil fuel giant BP changed their name to Beyond Petroleum and publicly added solar panels on their gas stations.

“In December 2019, an environmental group called ClientEarth lodged a complaint against BP for misleading the public with its advertisements that focused on BP’s low-carbon energy products, when more than 96% of its annual spend is on oil and gas.”


“In 2018, Nestlé released a statement saying that it had “ambitions” for its packaging to be 100% recyclable or reusable by 2025…

“In Break Free From Plastic’s 2020 annual report, Nestlé, along with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, were named the world’s top plastic polluters for the third year in a row.”

It’s also important to mention that Nestlé has been hit by ongoing and credible child slavery allegations at various of the cocao plantations it sources from in West Africa. A lawsuit is currently ongoing against them by former child workers at an Ivory Coast plantation as well as against Mars, Hershey and Mondelēz.

But just in case you were confused about its ethics, Mondelēz wants you to know that they’re “committed to making our snacks the right way to preserve our planet and meet the aspirations of our consumers every day.”

The bottom line about environmental corruption

The bottom line about environmental corruption is that it’s far more rampant than it should be. As we can see in the work of McDonald and others, far too many NGOs are overrun by pay-for-play schemes, and far too many giant corporations use the environmental movement as a mere plaything and PR front to sell more products.

Airheaded hippies and idealists are the perfect fuel for the fire when it comes to these kinds of organizations. They want people who will be swept up in emotional states without demanding facts and figures.

They want the kind of folks who get awed by meaningless “green awards” and fancy looking stamps all over products that actually mean nothing. The solution is to start by not being one of those people.

If we really want to help our planet we need to turn an objective eye on the organizations in our society who are cranking the cycle of our consumer economy. There’s no doubt that they won’t start truly changing until we start truly demanding change and ceasing to fall for gimmicks and feel-good slogans.

Related: 10 books every aspiring environmentalist should read to make a difference

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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