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.
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:
— Pascoe Sabido (@pascoesabido) December 6, 2014
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.
— CDN Youth Delegation (@CYD_DJC) December 5, 2014
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.