Recently, The News & Observer chose to publish an exposé on dangerous, big-money, environmental lobbying groups–a three-part series titled, “Environment Inc.,” from the pen of a Sacramento Bee reporter. The series came across as informative and illuminating, a good investigative piece about the financial dealings of a dozen or so of the country’s best-funded environmental groups. Yet, I read a strong bias in the articles that adds up to a quiet attack on the environmental movement.
The premise of “Environment Inc.” is that the movement has grown stronger and better funded, and that to become an effective lobbying force, it has often assumed the face of the corporate giants it contends with. In reality, the environmental ranks are still fragile and fragmented, encompassing everything from “green anarchists” to Green Party members, to conservative conservationists who are willing to compromise. It’s a movement unified by concern for nature and our communities, but the spectrum of strategies is very broad. These differences are being worked out locally and nationally through conversation and direct action. “Environmental Inc.” merely focused on the most divisive issue–money.
But the Sacramento Bee‘s series failed to place the fundraising activities of environmental groups in the context of the interests that actually have political and economic sway. I’m talking about the Oil and Gas Lobby, the Southern Sacred Coal and Cigarette Lobbies, The Gun Lobby, the Mining and Logging Lobbies, the Nuclear Lobby, the Automobile Lobby.
Within these lobbies, there are none of the six-figure executive salaries paid out by the smallest fraction of nonprofit environmental groups–the ones the series focused on. Instead, we’re talking salaries in the seven to nine figures. Big industries also spend billions of dollars a year to discredit environmentalism via press releases and advertisements about “junk science.” And that’s on top of what they spend on campaign contributions, legal settlements, product advertising and political lobbying.
By venting frustrations with a few well-funded groups, the writer of “Environment Inc.” tarred the entire environmental movement with the same brush. Nonprofit fundraising issues need to be addressed in the press. But if a greater context is omitted, the results can be needlessly damaging.