Comrade Naomi Klein exposes the hypocrisy of her allies.
From Klein’s “Time for Big Green to go Fossil Free” in The Nation:
The Natural Resources Defense Council is halfway there. It has a $118 million endowment and, according to its accounting team, for direct investments “we specifically screen out extractive industries, fossil fuels, and other areas of the energy sector.” However, the NRDC continues to hold stocks in mutual funds and other mixed assets that do not screen for fossil fuels. (The Fossil Free campaign is calling on institutions to “divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.”)
The purists will point out that no big green group is clean, since virtually every one takes money from foundations built on fossil fuel empires—foundations that continue to invest their endowments in fossil fuels today. It’s a fair point. Consider the largest foundation of them all: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As of December 2012, it had at least $958.6 million—nearly a billion dollars—invested in just two oil giants: ExxonMobil and BP. The hypocrisy is staggering: a top priority of the Gates Foundation has been supporting malaria research, a disease intimately linked to climate. Mosquitoes and malaria parasites can both thrive in warmer weather, and they are getting more and more of it. Does it really make sense to fight malaria while fueling one of the reasons it may be spreading more ferociously in some areas?
Clearly not. And it makes even less sense to raise money in the name of fighting climate change, only to invest that money in, say, ExxonMobil stocks. Yet that is precisely what some groups appear to be doing.
Conservation International, notorious for its partnerships with oil companies and other bad actors (the CEO of Northrop Grumman is on its board, for God’s sake), has close to $22 million invested in publicly traded securities and, according to a spokesperson, “We do not have any explicit policy prohibiting investment in energy companies.” The same goes for the Ocean Conservancy, which has $14.4 million invested in publicly traded securities, including hundreds of thousands in “energy,” “materials” and “utilities” holdings. A spokesperson confirmed in writing that the organization does “not have an environmental or social screen investment policy.”
Neither organization would divulge how much of its holdings were in fossil fuel companies or release a list of its investments. But according to Dan Apfel, executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, unless an institution specifically directs its investment managers not to invest in fossil fuels, it will almost certainly hold some stock, simply because those stocks (including coal-burning utilities) make up about 13 percent of the US market, according to one standard index. “All investors are basically invested in fossil fuels,” says Apfel. “You can’t be an investor that is not invested in fossil fuels, unless you’ve actually worked very hard to ensure that you’re not.”
Another group that appears very far from divesting is the Wildlife Conservation Society. Its financial statement for fiscal year 2012 describes a subcategory of investments that includes “energy, mining, oil drilling, and agricultural businesses.” How much of WCS’s $377 million endowment is being held in energy and drilling companies? It failed to provide that information despite repeated requests.
The WWF-US told me that it doesn’t invest directly in corporations—but it refused to answer questions about whether it applies environmental screens to its very sizable mixed-asset funds. The National Wildlife Federation Endowment used to apply environmental screens for its $25.7 million of investments in publicly traded securities, but now, according to a spokesperson, it tells its investment managers to “look for best-in-class companies who were implementing conservation, environmental and sustainable practices.” In other words, not a fossil fuel divestment policy.
Meanwhile, the Nature Conservancy—the richest of all the green groups—has at least $22.8 million invested in the energy sector, according to its 2012 financial statements. Along with WCS, TNC completely refused to answer any of my questions or provide any further details about its holdings or policies.
It would be a little surprising if TNC didn’t invest in fossil fuels, given its various other entanglements with the sector. A small sample: in 2010, The Washington Post reported that TNC “has accepted nearly $10 million in cash and land contributions from BP and affiliated corporations”; it counts BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell among the members of its Business Council; Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, one of the largest US coal-burning utilities, sits on its board of directors; and it runs various conservation projects claiming to “offset” the carbon emissions of oil, gas and coal companies.