NGOs are weird. And green NGOs are even weirder. Even at face value they are weird, precisely because we are supposed to take them and the issues they seemingly speak for at face value, as plainly as we would take the Campaign for the Abolition of Stubbed Toes (CAST) which doesn’t exist yet. But give it time. Nobody likes stubbing their toe, so it stands to reason, right(?), that we should all get behind a movement to end pain caused to the lower extremities. CAST will speak not just for anyone who has ever stubbed their toe, but the friends, lovers and families of people with toes, who are vulnerable (i.e. they have toes) to stubbing. Research has shown that some people are at risk of stubbing their toe as often as once a month.

But take a step back from your concern for people with stubbed toes, and outrage about toe-stubbing. Who said CAST speak for us? Who appointed them? Who said they should raise awareness of stubbed toes? And why should their demand of action against stubbed toes be taken seriously by politicians, who were elected by us, to represent our concerns? This is the question that no NGO can answer: who the **** do NGOs think they are?

The latest Green NGO weirdness comes via Donna Laframboise. Donna notes the case of Greenpeace’s disturbance of the Nazca Lines, and adds the case of the Cross on Mount Royal, Montreal, which was hijacked by a Greenpeace publicity stunt. The effect, says Laframboise, is to say “We spit on your sacred spaces”.

Other instances of NGO weirdness emerged out of the UNFCCC meeting in Lima… Guardian “journalist” turned WWF activist, Leo Hickman chaired a discussion organized by the Met Office Hadley Centre, Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and the University of Reading, which “explored the challenges of making climate projections and linking damages from extreme weather events to changing emissions; risk management in the face of uncertainty; and the ethics of loss and damage”.

This is weird for several reasons. First is Hickman’s own emphasis on expertise — the consensus — in the climate debate, whereas he has none himself. Indeed, some might argue that a donkey has a greater intellectual qualification to chair a discussion between climate researchers than the Graun’s former ethical agony aunt, who in the past laboured with such questions as ‘how green is your web search‘. Having been so keen to reduce the carbon footprint of such trivialities as searching the internet for information about how green the internet is, however, Hickman seems happy to have jetted off to Lima, spewing tons of CO2 into Gaia’s face for the sake of a jolly in Lima. So much for ‘ethics’, Leo.

I digress. The point is the omnipresence and influence of green NGOs like WWF is a question which has been raised by Donna Laframboise again. Last Year, she braved the shenanigans of COP19 in Warsaw, and found them creepy. Here, again, is the WWF, chairing events at COP meetings, as though it were natural. And this brings me back to the point raised above about taking NGOs at face value.

Survival International — who may not thank me for highlighting their campaign — suggest that the WWF’s moral standing isn’t what it seems, and that they are ‘complicit in tribal people’s abuse‘.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has uncovered serious abuses of Baka “Pygmies” in southeast Cameroon, at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported and funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The Baka are being illegally forced from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation” because much of their land has been turned into “protected areas” – including safari-hunting zones.

Rather than target the powerful individuals behind organized poaching, wildlife officers and soldiers pursue Baka who hunt only to feed their families.

A later article goes into more detail.

But now the Baka are forced to stay in roadside villages and fear going into the forest which has provided them with most of what they needed for generations. Anti-poaching squads routinely arrest, beat and torture Baka and their neighbors in the name of “conservation” and many Baka say that friends and relatives have died as a result of the beatings.

Imagine, though, if it were an oil company that was accused of such human rights violations. Or, for that matter, an energy company had desecrated a sacred historical monument in blind pursuit of their aims. What might be the response?

Godwin Uyi Ojo of Friends of the Earth Nigeria had this to say about Shell at the conference in Lima.

Since 1956, when Shell came to Nigeria’s Niger Delta, the Niger Delta have known no rest. It has been conflict, violence, human rights violations, killings and series of deaths. You all are aware of the situation of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Shell has polluted our rivers. Shell has taken our land. Shell has destroyed our livelihood. We say it is time that the world stand up against Shell, that they cannot continue in their violence against people, in their violence against communities. Shell has no place in Nigeria. Shell has no place in these negotiations.

[Full story]

I wonder if we can now see WWF in any better light than FOE want us to see Shell. Indeed, we now see WWF accused of hiring helicopter death squads, to protect large areas of land for rich people, by evicting people from the land they have occupied for countless years, on a scale greater than any attempt of genocide in the Western world.

Without taking sides, then, we can see that the world is far more complicated than the story offered by environmentalists — of indigenous people at the mercy of powerful companies, who rule over corrupt governments, with only NGOs holding the wrong-doers to account. It seems green NGOs are much closer to that story than they will admit.

And the story gets murkier. Uyi Ojo words were uttered as a group of green activists attempted to disrupt an event at the Lima COP meeting.

We’re now at the entrance of the International Emissions Trading Association Pavilion, where they’re trying to present themselves as part of climate solution. In fact, the event they’re about to hold is with Shell, one of the biggest polluters in the world; the World Coal Association, that’s trying to work coal in a solution to climate change; and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute. This event is also sponsored by Chevron. These are not players we want to see in our climate solutions, in our climate policy. So we’re here to ask them if they’ll politely, please, to leave, and we don’t want to see fossil fuels anywhere near these talks.

These words belong to Pascoe Sabido, a member of Corporate Europe Observatory, an NGO which aims to “expose the power of corporate lobbying in the EU”.

An aside… As much as Corporate Earth Observatory claim to be against ‘the power of corporate lobbying’, they admit:

Corporate Europe Observatory receives grants from a number of trusts and foundations. Currently we receive funding from the Adessium Foundation, Isvara Foundation, Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation, RH Southern Trust, Sigrid Rausing Trust, JM Goldsmith foundation, Misereor, Human Earth Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind and the Marisla Foundation. CEO doesn’t receive any EU or member state government funding.

So where would the Corporate Europe Observatory be without cash from billionaires, eh?

Back to the story.

Who are Corporate Europe Observatory to say who should and should not be at side events at COP meetings? Who, apart from JM Goldsmith and Joseph Rowntree appointed Corporate Europe Observatory to police these discussions?

In fact the green activists had very little to complain about, as is revealed by the object of their anger — Climate Change Advisor to Shell, David Hone — who was speaking at the event. The event was about Carbon Capture and Storage, which Hone points out,

The Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI) held an excellent and well attended side event on Monday afternoon which was initially mobbed by some 100+ demonstrators and their press entourage. The demonstrators crowded into the modest sized room and the hallway outside, waited for the start of the event and then promptly left as Lord Stern opened the side event with his remarks on the need for a massive scale-up of CCS. Arriving and then departing en masse allowed them to tweet that civil society had walked out on Lord Stern. The demonstrators were equally upset that Shell was represented at the event with my presentation on yet another sobering reality; 2°C is most likely out of reach without the application of CCS; also a finding of the IPCC in their 5th Assessment Report.

Hold on to the thoughts about Stern for a moment. Green NGOs might not like CCS as a solution to climate change. But it is as viable as solution to the problem of climate change as is, for example, wind energy. To illustrate the point, we can do some back-of-an-envelope maths, to work out that if the approximately 8,300 COP20 delegates had each taken a five hour flight to get there, they would have used approximately half of the power output of the world’s 80GW of net wind generating capacity while they were in the air (i.e. 4MWh per person).

The delegation from European Corporate Observatory would be stuck in Europe if it were not for fossil fuels.

I don’t particularly like CCS or wind energy, for that matter. But I don’t want to stop people who think it might be a solution, and who have worked on it being a solution putting their ideas across in appropriate fora. European Corportate Observatory don’t like Stern rubbing shoulders with Shell. It’s bad PR, they explain

By speaking, Stern gives all involved – and particularly the WCA – the veneer of respectability they received when Figueres spoke at their International Summit last year. It would be a gift for the IETA and the WCA, but there’s nothing to be gained from his side. If the intention is challenging them, it’s a lost cause. The room is tiny – maximum 30 people – and no-one outside the room will hear about it. Instead, IETA and the WCA will write it up, pull out a nice quote and show how they’ve engaged and even won-over serious climate change thinkers. His name will forever be there, associated with organisations who are stopping progress on tackling the crisis. Should he even be attending? Christiana Figueres’ attendance at the coal summit didn’t weaken the industry, it legitimised them (she said they had an important role to play and that they were key for development). At least since then she has taken a tougher stand against coal, perhaps as a result of the backlash.

Stern should set example to us all

If Lord Nicholas Stern decided not to go, it would send a strong signal to those very industries undermining the effort to tackle the crisis. It would question their legitimacy and stop their march towards the heart of our governments with false solutions like CCS. If we’re going to tackle climate change, then we need to delegitimise the role that dirty industry currently plays, remove its access to power and channels of influence it has with our governments. And as an influential person himself, with strong climate credentials, Lord Stern has an important role to play. Those fighting against lung disease would not speak at a tobacco event, so Stern should should do the right thing and not attend this one.

Corporate Observatory have done so much more to publicise the event than the sponsors could ever have achieved by themselves, it’s hard not to imagine that they asked them to try to shut it down for the free publicity.

Stern, of course, is supposed to be some kind of climate hero, who shouldn’t get his hands (or shoulders) dirty in this way. his are hands (and shoulders) that carry the weight of the entire planet’s future, if Pascal Sabido’s attempt to hashtag his somewhat poorly-conceived campaign is to be understood properly:

Another delegation at COP 20, tweeted to remind us to ignore the corporations, and to tell us just how cheap it would be to save the planet.

Bargain!

This weird NGO protest mirrors the ‘civil society’ ‘walkout’ staged at previous COP meetings.

The Guardian reported last year that,

Environment and development groups together with young people, trade unions and social movements walked out of the UN climate talks on Thursday in protest at what they say is the slow speed and lack of ambition of the negotiations in Warsaw.

[…]

Frustration with the climate talks has grown in the past two years but progress in this year’s conference of the parties (COP) has seen negotiations deadlocked in technical areas, and rich and poor countries at loggerheads over compensation and money. Anger has also mounted over the perceived closeness of governments to industrial lobbies, and because several developed countries have reneged on their commitments to cut emissions.

But although they walked out with shared purpose — to disrupt the, erm, failing talks — they were undecided about why. ‘Lobbying from fossil fuel companies was impeding progress at the talks’, claimed Hoda Baraka, global communications director for 350.org. Kumi Naidoo, director of Greenpeace International, said that ‘The Polish government has done its best to turn these talks into a showcase for the coal industry’, and that ‘backsliding by Japan, Australia and Canada’ was a ‘slap in the face to those suffering as a result of dangerous climate change’ (i.e. nobody). ‘We are walking out of these talks because governments need to know that enough is enough’, said Winnie Byanyima, director of Oxfam International, ‘The stakes are too high to allow governments to make a mockery of these talks’. ‘Civil society is being suppressed’, said Anjali Appadurai of youth group Earth in Brackets. ‘Developed nations would rather spend their time playing to vocal minorities at home rather than meet this global threat head-on’, said Friends of the Earth International’s climate campaigner, Asad Rehman. But though NGOs had failed to get their story straight about why their ‘spontaneous’, and not at all pre-planned, arranged months in advance walkout was happening, they had in fact had time to have T-shirts bearing the slogan “Volverermos” (We will return) printed to commemorate it.

So NGOs will blame big businesses, intransigent governments, disinterested publics and narrow interests for failed negotiations. But never themselves. Rather than recognising that the UNFCCC process, at best, suffers from something of a democratic deficit, and furthermore attempts to negotiate many competing interests, and seeking to find ground on which those differences might be reconciled, environmental NGOs actively disrupt negotiations that are not to their taste. Green organisations don’t like CCS, so rather than seeking to hold a debate on CCS, they try to shut down the discussion on CCS.

Is it possible that one, major reason that talks fail is due to the fact that NGOs act like complete jerks?

“Civil society” groups’ direct action/disruption is utterly incongruous with their actual status. It’s like a teacher refusing to behave properly, a policeman breaking the law. They’re at the top table, demanding to be at the top table, but complaining that they are not getting their own way. They represent nobody at all. They produce nothing. They have no mandate. Yet they are invited to the highest levels of political negotiations, such as the COP meetings, and to national and supranational governments. But you or I, as members of the public, could not go to see these events for ourselves, much less could we walk out of them to register our disgust.

And yet they behave, when things don’t go according to their plan, in such a way as to disrupt proceedings — either of day-to-day life, or of political business.

There is no distinction between this and the destruction of ancient monuments. In both cases, green NGOs imagine themselves to be above the rest of the world. The most illustrative case of this was Greenpeace UK’s demand to ‘change the politics, save the climate’ — a stunt in which activists climbed the Houses of Parliament, to unfurl their banners.

Just as Greenpeace activists in Peru trample over the country’s history in order to achieve the NGOs’ look-at-me objectives, UK activists believed that the elected representatives in the debating chambers below should be doing as they — not the public — had instructed. Greenpeace put itself above — on top of — democratic institutions. And NGOs also see themselves above the undemocratic UNFCCC process in Lima.

This is what organisations which feel they need no mandate from ordinary people, who feel themselves to be above the institutions of mere people, and who feel able to judge ordinary people do. This is how they behave. Like the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, or the tyrants of feudal Europe, they do not recognise that they are accountable to anyone. Not to the public, and not to the law. They have a higher purpose.

Their ‘direct action’ in the West usually consists of little more than inconveniences — the blockages of airport runways, roads and railways. But where their money gives them more power, they are no less toxic than the companies they attack, and no less intransigent than the governments they criticise. Indeed, they may be more toxic and more indifferent to suffering than any business and any corrupt government. This power is unchecked. Whereas we can hold governments and businesses to account, there is no mechanism for voting out of office an NGO, or boycotting it.

The weirdest thing about NGOs is that they are there because governments needed them. They are a construction of governments, and processes like the UNFCCC, because political institutions such as these are so remote from ordinary life. “Civil society” has developed in the gulf between power and people, not to hold power to account, but to hold people further away. Their attacks on power — ridiculous, childish publicity stunts — are charades, or rituals, intended to convince those who play them out more than the public, that they really are in opposition, and that there isn’t a revolving door between NGOs, government, media, and big business.

8 Responses to We Need to Talk About Green NGOs…

  • Christopher Monckton got banned from all UN climate talks as a result of sneaking in to say something at the Doha synod. I wonder what Greenpeace’s indulgence will be?

  • An excellent piece, Ben. One addition I might suggest (particularly for the edification of any newcomers) is wrt, for example, your:

    Greenpeace put itself above — on top of — democratic institutions. And NGOs also see themselves above the undemocratic UNFCCC process in Lima.

    It’s not that Greenpeace (or any of the other NGOs) was an uninvited participant in Lima. In fact, the UNFCCC’s parent (i.e. the UNEP via ECOSOC) has done much to encourage and facilitate the participation of an ever-increasing number of NGOs at these annual confabs.

    Consider, for example, that in 1946, there were a mere 4 NGOs that were so privileged. And by 2011 there were 3108 NGOs with varying types of “status” (excluding 412 for which no year of “admission” was provided). I know that these numbers have increased in the interim, but I haven’t yet found the time to sort out and rationalize the “differences” in categorization in the intervening years!

    For the record, Greenpeace was added to the roster of those with “General consultative status” in 1998. As near as I have been able to determine, the only act that might (at least temporarily) preclude an organization from exercising its right to participate in these annual confabs would be a failure to file a required (once every four years) “report”.

    IOW, no one can claim that Greenpeace (or any of the other NGOs) was crashing the party!

    [For further details – quite possibly more than anyone might want to know! – on this veritable “hockey-stick” of NGO participation in UN confabs, pls see my post Introducing … the UN’s jolly green sustainable hockey stick]

  • Don’t forget the Sea Shepherd being found guilty of polluting the pristine waters near the Great Barrier Reef with diesel earlier this year:

    http://www.cairnspost.com.au/news/cairns/sea-shepherd-guilty-of-diesel-spill-that-dropped-up-to-500-litres-of-diesel-into-the-trinity-inlet/story-fnjpusyw-1226836574239

    “Sea Shepherd guilty of diesel spill that dropped up to 500 litres of diesel into the Trinity Inlet

    Grace Uhr
    The Cairns Post
    February 25, 2014 7:08AM

    Sea Shepherd images claiming unsafe overtaking and bow-crossing of The Steve Irwin by Yushin Maru

    Sea Shepherd was found guilty of an oil spill.

    A FAULTY switch and instruction manuals written entirely in Japanese have been blamed in court for why a ship owned by conservation group Sea Shepherd dropped up to 500 litres of diesel into the Trinity Inlet.

    The environmental organisation, whose Australian arm is chaired by former politician Bob Brown, yesterday pleaded guilty to the marine pollution offence in the Cairns Magistrates Court.

    Defence barrister Tracy Fantin admitted the irony of the charge given Sea Shepherd’s charter to protect and preserve marine life around the world.

    She said the spill, which took place while the ship was moored alongside a wharf at the Cairns Port on October 13, 2012, happened after a crew member named Gabor Nosty failed to manually flick the “low level” switch during a fuel transfer, despite being aware the switch was faulty.

    The court heard Sea Shepherd Australia had only bought the boat, named New Atlantis, from Japan a week earlier and had yet to translate signage and manuals or repair the switch.

    According to court documents, crew members had been given basic handover information but the chief engineer had to work out the ship’s systems “by his own devices” due to instruction manuals and other materials all being in Japanese.

    All crew members were volunteers and were either German, Dutch or American.”

    Of course, if some nasty commercial outfit had done this, due entirely to incompetence, they would have been baying at the moon.

    Just like the “carbon footprint” of the Lima junket, it’s different when they do it.

  • NGO’s are increasingly parasites. They produce nothing, do no real work. Little if any of their resources actually go to mitigating or repairing environmental damage. Shining a light on this situation is a good start.

  • The Green NGOs are more than ordinary single-interest organisations like a slimming club or SCOPE. These are groups of people that come together to promote a common area of interest and help the members. Nor are they simply a lobby group for political change in a particular area. Greenpeace and some of the members of the Green Blob cannot appreciate that their views are just opinions, and might be distinctly inferior to those of others. Neither can they appreciate that there are other, maybe more important, priorities in the world – or at least people might have very strong reasons for believing that there are more important issues. Nor can they appreciate that they might be either wrong, or have grossly exaggerated the issue. In fact they find reasons not to recognize alternative views, alleging extreme blinkerdness, mental inferiority or outright lying in anybody who contradicts them.

  • The NGOs represent many people, who give them donations. If you were a person of integrity you should write a post criticising the business lobbyists who are also present st these talks and have much more orivileged political access than NGOs. Despite representing considerably fewer people.

  • Ian is wrong to say that the fact of an individual donating to an organisation is sufficient to say that the beneficiary organisation represents them. As is discussed in previous posts here and more widely, the phenomenon of the Green Blob is one in which the very same interests — business lobbyists — provide the bulk of the support enjoyed by green NGOs in particular. The remainder of the income may well come from people who, for instance, might want something amounting to ‘save the whales’, but not necessarily the compact between NGOs governments and supranational political bodies that has developed at the expense of democracy.

    I have written about business interests who have more privileged access to politics than ordinary people in this very post. Perhaps you missed it.

  • Four main points in response:

    You’re right that some charities and campaign groups may act sometimes in unethical ways because they’ve become too committed to a particular aim to see the bigger picture. And sometimes there are even corrupt people who find their way into such organisations.
    But that may not invalidate their overall aims, even though such wrongs must be investigated and such behaviour must be changed.

    There is no such thing as ‘the Green Blob’. There are thousands of different environmenatl organisations. They are not all the same. Your article implies that if one of them can be shown to be unethical in some way then the whole environmental movement is undermined and discredited, but that is not a reasonable assumption.

    Ian’s point about business lobbysists and their power is a valid one. The same thing applies to businesses as to chariities and camapign groups, that there are thousands of them and they are not all the same, so just because some of them behave unethically it does not follow that they all do – but I don’t see how your remarks answer his point. If people who give money to charities and campaign groups don’t like what is done with their money they may not only stop giving it but write to the organisation to say so, and a good organisation will publish such letters in their magazines and repsond – isn’t that the kind of democratic involvement you can approve of? Charities and campaign groups usually have trustees who also provide oversight. Many businesses have less accountability.

    But worst of all is your flippant remark
    ‘those suffering as a result of dangerous climate change’ (i.e. nobody)’
    What about the people suffering from increased droughts, or floods, or sea-level rises?

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