Time to Shape up or Step Aside: Environmental Defense Fund Must Stop Advocating for Market Based Approaches to Climate Change and Halt Corporate Greenwashing.
From the Daughter of EDF Founder, Robert E. Smolker
Author Dr. Rachel Smolker is with Global Justice Ecology Project and Global Forest Coalition
My name is Rachel Smolker. When I was a child, growing up on Long Island, my father, Robert E Smolker, along with Charlie Wurster, Dennis Puleston and Art Cooley, used to sit around in the living room sipping their beers and discuss environmental issues. My father, an ornithologist, was
observing the thinning of predatory bird eggshells caused by DDT, Rachel Carson’s seminal work on the impacts of pesticides was still relatively warm off the presses, and their were already many, many indications that virtually all ecosystems were in decline: the beautiful wetlands surrounding our island were contaminated and littered with garbage, fisheries were declining, and from afar, the drumbeat of deforestation, pollution, and climate change. Yes, way back then. Climate change was an issue very few knew anything about, but I would say it came as no surprise to those who spent time in the natural world and understood the delicate intricacies of ecological systems on a tiny blue speck of a planet, more or less accidentally blanketed in a thin and accommodating atmosphere.
I watched these men as they talked, sometimes seriously, sometimes with tremendous humor, and almost always with a deep sense of commitment and comeraderie. I was 10-12 years old, on the brink of puberty and frankly not all that much interested, but I respected them and as I grew up
recognized the importance of this phenomenon, called EDF, which germinated out of the couches of my home.
My father and his friends celebrated their capacity to act together when EDF achieved bans on DDT in the early 70s. They brought lawyers and scientists and fundraisers and administrators and many others onboard and expanded the organization, experienced and overcame some growing pains and enjoyed a number of victories.
My father passed away in 1985. By that time, EDF had at least a few offices dotted around the country, and sizeable resources. The organization was, already, under the leadership of Fredd Krupp. Before his death, he complained to me that he “did not approve of the direction in which the organization was headed.”
Why? What was he foreseeing? I think I understand now:
EDF has swelled and mushroomed into the darling of the corporate world: advocating for “market incentives” to “encourage” corporations to stop their destructive practices, provided they do not cause “economic hardship”. Like the corporations you have befriended, you too have become
entirely beholden to the gods of endless economic growth. The goal of protecting the environment has been relegated to the back seat.
EDF’s corporate partnership approach sounded friendly and sort of “new” back in the 80’s. Sure, perhaps there was some potential in trying to reform polluting practices “from the inside”. EDF proudly designed the market trading system for sulphur emissions causing acid rain, among
numerous other accomplishments. That emissions trading model, hailed as a breakthrough in “harnessing market forces in service of environmental goals,” has now been carried over to the international arena and become the central approach to addressing global warming emissions.
Carbon emissions trading is now formally enshrined within the Kyoto Protocol, and within almost every state, federal and international initiative for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It has in fact become pretty much the only game in town.
You argue that it is the “least expensive” means of lowering emissions, allowing companies to avoid costly abatement by purchasing credits from others who could more easily reduce their emissions. A sort of ‘kinder, gentler’ approach to lowering carbon emissions.
But let me ask you. Is it working? Has it worked? Will it work fast enough? Is it in our best interests at this point to make things kind and gentle and inexpensive for these polluters? Is that our priority?
I would ask that you take a trip outside of Washington, put on your boots and jeans and anoraks: travel to the Arctic community of Kivalina and talk with the folks there who are filing suit against your bedfellows in the fossil fuel industry over the extermination of their community and their
entire lifestyle. I say, you are guilty by association. EDF has become the mistress of murderers. While James Hansen and others suggest they should be put on trial for their crimes against humanity, you would have us reward them!
You would have us reward them by turning the atmosphere into private property, dividing it into pieces and generously bequeathing the pieces as gifts to these corporate criminals. And in doing so, you provide them with a license to carry on with their dirty business and pretend to be doing
something other than advancing their own profits. While they drill and mine and pump and plunder with one hand, the other is busy shaking hands with Fred Krupp. EDF has been the primary architects and advocates of “market approaches” which do nothing but pad the coffers of climate criminals while doing nothing to avert global warming.
EDF has turned itself into a corporate makeover facility. The most polluting companies on earth walk in here seeking advice on how to better paint themselves green. EDF does the paint job and then hands out free samples and an eternity’s worth of coupons for future cash-in. What comes
out the other end is business as usual, and a few added digits on the organization’s salary balance sheets.
I have two young children. I am not going to launch into a teary-eyed appeal to you about their future, don’t worry.
No: I am going to tell you something about being a parent that I think is relevant: When my children do something naughty, do I yell at them and take away some privileges? Or do I offer them a candy in exchange for halting their naughtiness? Welllll- some would advocate the candy approach, but what happens when they realize that the outcome of their naughtiness is to receive candy? Of course they can’t wait to be naughty again! That is your approach to dealing with polluting corporations; reward them with permits to pollute and a new paintjob.
That is why they are knocking down your doors. Your Climate Action
Partnership? Well, no shit Sherlock – the dirtiest most polluting industries
made windfall profits off the European Emissions Trading Scheme, which
has been deemed completely ineffective if not counterproductive as a means
of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
No wonder these corporations are eager to sign on to the CAP and have you
championing such an approach! They know the climate change grim reaper is
on his way. They see the writing on the walls. Would they prefer to be
regulated and fined and forced to behave like proper citizens of the
global community? Or would they prefer to hide behind some smoke and
mirrors, receive permits to pollute, pass along the cost of purchasing
those permits to their ratepayers if possible, and then rake in rewards
for sort of maybe doing what they should absolutely for the sake of us all
should be doing in any case? You provide them the means to enhance profits
and paint themselves green at the same time! WoW!
We cannot pretend that handing out permits to pollute and then trading
them around like baseball cards is even remotely related to seriously
reducing emissions. It is a great get-rich-quick scheme for the brokers,
marketers and financiers who enjoy playing games with my children’s
future, and it is a huge gift to the polluting criminals.
Offsetting emissions is a similar deceit, nothing but another fine
arrangement of smoke and mirrors that allow some people to “feel good”
while continuing to carry on business as usual. They provide a convenient
way to sidestep and avoid real and necessary change. It is, without
question, a lovely idea to provide funding to really good “quality”
projects that hold promise of reducing emissions, but there are more
straightforward ways to get there that do not require unfounded and
unreliable measures of carbon flow, additionality, verifiability or
permanence, and do not confuse fossil and biological carbon. We clearly
need to halt, not offset emissions, even where it is a hard thing, a very
hard thing to do.
We are here today because we have simply had enough. In fact we reached
that point quite a while ago, and since then have been gathering our
courage and building the solidarity that is required to stand up for the
very future of life on earth in the most effective, meaningful manner
possible. It is a mightily sad state of affairs, when a group of dedicated
activists, who are keenly aware of the dire crisis we are facing, must
come to the offices of one of the world’s biggest and most influential
“environmental organizations” to protest. People you see before you have
chained themselves to the gates of coal fired power plants and to the
doors of the World Bank. They have stood up to corporate thugs and
threats, they have put themselves in harms way to stand up for what is
right and what MUST be done to protect the future of life.
We cannot afford to wait, or to fail, or to only half succeed at this point.
EDF: It is time to admit to the failure of the market based policies you
are advocating: The Kyoto Protocol, the European Trading Scheme – these
have failed us, and in the process have blinded and bedazzled so many that
the real solutions to the crisis have fallen into the shadows where they
are languishing. Now it is time to face the facts and turn every ounce of
your substantial weight towards DEMANDING that your corporate bedfellows
strip off their phony green veneer, halt the pillaging of our futures, and
give REAL solutions to climate change their due opportunity. Yes it will
be hard, yes it will force change upon the polluters. But the cost of
inaction, or ineffective action, will be much, much greater.
The incoming administration has made it clear that they intend to adopt a
cap and trade legislation, along with a suite of other questionable steps
intended to address the crisis of climate change, including ‘clean coal,’
nuclear energy and agrofuels. EDF as a massively influential organization
will undoubtedly play a role in shaping this legislation. It is time to
stop pandering to the corporate criminals. We can no longer make corporate
profits a priority over swift and severe measures to avoid catastrophe. We
can no longer concern ourselves with making it easy or less costly or any
other such warm and fuzzy goodwill towards the corporations that are
responsible for the destruction. We can no longer count on the magic of
markets to achieve the deep, real, meaningful and essential changes that
EDF: I wish I could say I am proud of my own father’s legacy! But it is,
sadly, the case that I have to apologize, offer disclaimers, make
explanations when pronouncing my relationship to this organization. I can
hear my father rolling over in his grave! EDF has strayed so far from his
vision, from the mission of protecting and advocating for the environment,
that it would now be completely unrecognizeable to him. Were he to rise up
from the dead, I can only hope that these plush digs and six figure
salaries would convince him there is no relationship between the current
manifestation of this organization and himself.
For me, it is deeply ironic that I find myself here today, taking action
against this organization which so shaped my early world view, and which I
have now come to see as a primary obstacle to averting planetary crisis:
the architects and powerful advocates of extraordinarily dangerous and
distracting policy advice.
I HOPE that the people working here will take a very deep look in the
mirror and ask yourselves: are we REALLY doing the right thing? Are we
true to our mission? To ourselves? To our children and to the future of
life on this little blue speck?