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writing for godot

Cover-up: The Nature Conservancy Goes Corporate

Written by Thomas Magstadt   
Friday, 23 May 2014 06:35
The Nature Conservancy has been a champion of conservation, wildlife, and the environment for more than six decades. You count a million members and proudly proclaim that you have protected 119 million acres of land in all 50 US states and 35 countries.

Those are impressive numbers. The nation owes the organization you now head a great debt of gratitude for the legacy your predecessors have created. From its founding 62 years ago, The Nature Conservancy was devoted to "Protecting nature, Preserving life" and pretends to be still.

But the original mission of The Nature Conservancy is incompatible with its current direction under your leadership.

The TNC you seem to be reinventing appears to be devoted to protecting corporations and preserving profits. In politics and philanthropy, as in life itself, appearances matter.

As a professed environmentalist, you have at least three strikes against you (in baseball, America's national past-time, you'd be out):

Strike One: You hide behind a smokescreen of science. You give little credence to anything but the data that is somehow supposed to save Nature from the environmental depredations of Big Oil, strip mining, the Koch Brothers, Big Pharma, and fracking. You are a number cruncher. As such, you have a lot of "street cred" – Wall Street, that is. In the corporate world, your algorithms and statistical models are everyday decision-making tools. But protecting the environment is not the same as boosting the bottom line. If a profit-loss balance sheet continues to be the only thing that the business world cares about, then business and the environment are on a collision course. Pretending otherwise, is not helpful.

Strike Two: In search of lucre and prestige you go hat in hand to such corporate bad actors as DuPont, Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, WalMart, Cargill, and a long list of others -- including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and (surprise!) Goldman Sachs. These corporations give TNC money and credibility in the business community; you, in turn, provide them with cover and legitimacy. Three of the top 10 countries "killing natural the world with pesticides" are US companies – Dow, Monsanto, and DuPont. All three are companies you shelter from criticism ("Companies We Work With"). You have alienated leading environmental scientists and lifelong friends of our national parks and receding wilderness areas.

Strike Three: You are causing a deep rift in the environmental movement. Is that part of your vaunted commitment to science. Or is it a deliberate strategy? In the words of one reporter at Corporate America's iconic media tool, the Wall Street Journal: "Tercek has to manage and inspire the staff, and keep the trustees happy too. “I don’t report to them, but I need their support,” he says. “It’s almost more like politics.”

Professionally, you appear to have made a great leap from a financial institution that symbolizes America's love affair with the profit-motive to a non-profit "with a $450 million yearly budget and $4.6 billion in net assets…". Personally, at least one thing has not changed since you made the big switch from Goldman Sachs to the Nature Conservancy. To quote the WSJ article again: "Whatever trappings his Goldman gig afforded him, Tercek still enjoys the perks of a privileged life."

Of course, you alone cannot have put The Nature Conservancy on such a deviant path without the backing and encouragement of a compliant Board of Directors. I wonder how many people know that the TNC Vice-Chairman is none other than James E. Rogers, who is the Chairman, President, and CEO of Duke Energy, near the very the top – second, to be exact – of the Forbes' list of "America's 20 Worst Corporate Air Polluters"? Or that P. Roy Vagelos, former Chairman and CEO of Merck & CO. sits on your Board. That's the same Merck that paid a $1.5 million penalty a few years ago for running afoul of environmental controls, specifically:

"…a discharge of potassium thiocyanate from West Point which led to the deaths of around 1,000 fish in a nearby creek, and required drinking water to be temporarily shut off in areas of Philadelphia. That case was at the centre of a $20.5 million fine and consent decree levied on the company towards the end of 2007."

Helping big polluters find ways to boost profits while reducing the damage they do to the environment at the margins is not good enough. Masking the reality of what these companies have done – and are still doing to our land, water, and wildlife – is deceitful, to say the least.

Forests and wildlife are defenseless in the face of the slash-and-burn business model that Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street investment banks have foisted upon us. As a former managing director Goldman Sachs, you're no stranger to the cutthroat subculture that has commodified and financialized the US economy in recent decades and is now seeking to do the same thing to the environment.

Shame on you, Mark Tercek, for polluting the mission of an organization that many Americans through the years have supported with volunteer service and cash donations. And shame on the Board Members who handed control of TNC over to you.

Note: Sources (links) used in this article can be found at my open salon blog. your social media marketing partner
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