Americans should be able to influence Canada's environmental debates. They should not be able to do so under the radar.
But they do, and not just in the case of the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta to the West Coast - today's hot environmental topic. Unbeknownst to most Canadians, over the past two decades Canada's fabulously influential environmental movement increasingly has had U.S. paymasters. As elsewhere, he who pays the piper calls the tunes.
It wasn't always so, and foreign money wasn't always a problem. Canada's environmental groups in the 1970s and 1980s were a diverse lot advocating all-over-the map solutions to the many environmental problems they tackled. The Canadian groups would write up funding proposals for their ideas, shop them around to potential funders on both sides of the border, sometimes finding takers among them, sometimes not. It was largely a hit and-miss operation, and especially hard to obtain funding from the U.S. foundations, which tended to favour U.S. environmental groups. In this marketplace of ideas few funding proposals found much favour, and most environmental groups on both sides of the border struggled to survive.
Then the funders - typically the well-heeled U.S. foundations, most of them offshoots of corporate fortunes - got down to business.
"We have the money, we have the sophistication, we have the organization," they said to themselves. "In contrast, these well meaning environmentalists, though they may have the public's ear, are unsophisticated, disorganized and inefficient."
The funders compared notes with each other over cocktails and at confabs, commissioned high-priced consultants to conduct expert studies into how best to manage grants to the environmental sector, had the consultants present their findings to the funders' executives at colloquia called for that purpose, and decided to take charge.
The funders started by trying to professionalize the environmental groups - capacity-building, they call it - by offering them management courses and access to managerial expertise. Then the funders decided to eliminate what they saw as wasteful competition among the environmental groups.
"Why should so many different groups have competing strategies to accomplish the goal of renewable energy?" they wondered. "Wouldn't it be more sensible to decide on the optimum strategy, and then all pull together for the shared goal?"
Co-operation, not competition, became the watchword. At future joint meeting of funders and agreeable environmental groups, common strategies would be set, and differing roles carved out for the agreeable groups. Environmental groups that weren't agreeable found themselves without funding.
Then the funders decided that they, themselves, were being inefficient, by scattering their funding among the endless environmental causes that came in to them, whether wildlife protection, water quality, air quality, overpopulation, overfishing, or protecting the rainforest, or myriad local niche issues. Wouldn't it be more sensible for the funders as a group to focus their efforts on the most pressing problems facing society, have an enormous push to solve them, and then move on to the next most pressing problems?
It would be, many of them decided.
With that decision, the environmental funders took the steering wheel away from the environmentalists. No longer would environmentalists set the agenda, with the funders acting as enablers. Now the funders became the agenda setters and the environmental groups became, in effect, their contractees. For U.S. issues, the funders work through U.S. environmental groups, to capitalize on their credibility with the public. For issues that involve foreign countries, the funders will also enlist local environmental groups in the foreign countries, to put a home-grown face on their campaigns.
This organizational model has been fabulously successful. The first concerted effort to change Canada's domestic policies in the 1990s and 2000s involved Canada's forestry industry. The Boreal forest and much of Canada's land mass is now subject to a legion of MadeintheU.S. certifications and other restrictions. But no issue holds a candle to the #1 priority for the U.S. funders: global warming.
"Our investigation produced a chilling conclusion: If we don't act boldly in the next decade to prevent carbon lock-in, we could lose the fight against global warming," explains Design to Win, a major report commissioned by six funders, including the $7-billion William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (the Hewlett of the Hewlett-Packard Corp.), the $6-billion David and Lucile Packard Foundation (the Packard of the Hewlett-Packard corporation), the $1.6-billion Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (heiress to the American Tobacco Co. fortune), and the $900-million Joyce Foundation (lumber).
This 2007 report, which involved "more than 150 of the world's leading experts on energy and climate change," helped them develop "an exhaustive list of possible interventions and used existing mitigation models to quantify each strategy's expected cost and emissions reduction."
It decided what policy changes were needed to get the most bang for their buck, and that funding from U.S. philanthropic organizations would need to quadruple, to $800-million annually, to accomplish their goals. It also decided to create funding bodies in foreign countries to "oversee highly leveraged, strategic interventions," all this in aid of influencing voters and changing policy at all levels of government.
The upshot of these and other interventions by Big Philanthropy is the greatest environmental advocacy effort in history, of which the controversies involving Northern Gateway pipeline, the Keystone XL Pipleline, and the Tar Sands form a small part. The concern for Canadians, apart from the environment, is the integrity of our democratic decision making. When Americans tell us what is good for us, we rightly take the source of the advice into consideration. We should do no less when the advice comes from Canadians in the pay of Americans.
- Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and the author of The Deniers.