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Wildlife Conservationists need to Break out of their Stockholm Syndrome

Global Policy

August 30, 2016

by Margi Prideaux

 

Instead of fighting a destructive economic system, international conservation NGOs are bonding with its brutality.

staved-polar-bear

“A male polar bear starved to death as a consequence of climate change. This polar bear was last tracked by the Norwegian Polar Institute in April 2013 in southern Svalbard. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals, their main prey. The winter of 2012-2013 was one of the worst on record for sea ice extent. The western fjords on Svalbard that normally freeze in winter remained ice-free all season.” Ashley Cooper/Corbis [Source: Polar Bears on Thin Ice]

Conservationists like me want a world where wildlife has space, where wild places exist, and where we can connect with the wild things. Yet time after time, like captives suffering from Stockholm syndrome, wildlife conservation NGOs placate, please and emulate the very forces that are destroying the things they want to protect.

Despite our collective, decades-long, worldwide commitment to protect wildlife, few indicators are positive. The Red List that’s issued by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature now includes 22,784 species that are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss is the main problem for 85 per cent of species on the list.

The number of African rhinos killed by poachers, for example, has increased for the sixth year in a row. Pangolins are now the most heavily poached and trafficked mammals on the planet. One third of the world’s freshwater fish are at risk from new hydropower dams. Two hundred amphibians have already gone and polar bears are probably doomed. Human beings are simply taking too much from the world for its rich diversity to survive.

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A close up of Katiti the Pangolin  ©Christian Boix

None of this is news to people in the conservation movement. The reality of devastation has been apparent for many years, which should prompt some soul-searching about why we are failing.

The main reason is that we are allowing the market to dictate conservation while ignoring the very people we should empower.

Communities everywhere know their non-human kin—the animals that live among them. We know the seasons we share, and what grows when and where. We know the ebb and flow of life in our shared places. For some, those vistas are forests. Others look out to the sea, and some on endless frozen horizons. These are not empty places. They are filled with wildlife with which human beings commune.

But if wildlife are local, the impacts of human activity on them are unquestionably global, and they require global management. Industrialized fishing, mining, forestry and mono-agriculture raze whole areas and replace diversity with a single focus. The illegal international trade in exotic species provides a path for the unethical to hunt, kill, package and commodify animals and plants. The market’s quest for resources and power floods, burns and devastates whole landscapes.

For the last two decades, the conservation movement of the global North has believed that little can be done to counterbalance the might of this vast economic system, so the reaction has been to bond with it and accept its brutality—to please it and copy its characteristics. In the process, organizations in this movement have developed the classic symptoms of psychological capture and dependence through which victims develop a bond with, and sympathy for, their captors.

I’m being deliberately provocative here by evoking Stockholm syndrome because it clarifies the crucial point I want to make: I believe that the conservation movement’s unhealthy relationship with the global economic system exacerbates harm to both people and wildlife.

NGOs in Europe and North America raise money from philanthropists, corporations and other donors to arrange or establish protected areas that extend over large, pristine and fragile lands in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The public in the global North flock to their ambition, hoping it will lock precious places away from harm and raising even more money in the process. But this support turns a blind eye to the inconvenient fact that these areas exclude local communities—people who have lived for millennia beside flamingos and tigers, orangutans and turtles and who are just as wronged by big business and globalization as are wildlife.

These agencies also court the market by selling ‘adoption products’ and ‘travel experiences’ to these protected areas. They smooth out the ripples from their messages so that their supporters’ sensibilities are not offended. They deflect attention away from harmful corporations. They expand their marketing departments and shut down their conservation teams. They adopt the posture and attributes of the very things—capitalism, consumerism and the market—that destroy what they seek to protect.

Hence, their capture-bond is informing how they see the world. In their efforts to please and emulate the market they fail to look for the broader, systemic causes of elephant poaching or killing sharks for their fins. They trade stands of forests for agreements with corporations and international agencies not to campaign against dams that will flood whole valleys. They defend sport hunting by wealthy western tourists as legitimate ‘conservation’.

For example, the Gonds and the Baigas—tribal peoples in India—have been evicted from their ancestral homelands to make way for tiger conservation. Tourist vehicles now drive through their lands searching for tigers, and new hotels have been built in the same zones from which they were evicted.

Or take Indonesia, where massive illegal deforestation has burned and destroyed huge areas of precious rainforest. Even though a court order and a national commission have compelled the government to hand ownership of the forests back to the people who live there, the corporate sector is resisting. At times they hide behind their NGO partners through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a global, multi-stakeholder initiative that includes many conservation NGOs as members.

International NGOs have scuppered efforts to control polar bear trophy hunting in the Arctic while they benefit from lucrative corporate partnerships for other areas of polar bear conservation. A major project run by Conservation International in the Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor of Madagascar has restricted villagers’ use of their traditional forests for food harvesting in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yet Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and NRG Energy are all members of the organisation’s Business & Sustainability Council.

Even worse is the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), which stands accused of breaches of OECD Guidelines on the Conduct of Multinational Enterprises and of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. The complaint in question alleges that WWF has financed and supported ecoguards that have brutally displaced the Baka tribespeople who have traditionally lived in the area now declared as a national park in Cameroon, while turning a blind eye to the destruction of the Baka’s way of life through logging, mining and the trafficking of wildlife.

wwf

Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International (which in this case is blowing the whistle on another NGO), has this to say:

“WWF knows that the men its supporters fund for conservation work repeatedly abuse, and even torture, the Baka, whose land has been stolen for conservation zones. It hasn’t stopped them, and it treats criticism as something to be countered with yet more public relations.”

Writing on openDemocracy, Gordon Bennett argues that NGOs might avoid toxic situations like this if they undertook proper investigations before committing to new parks and protected areas. I agree, but I also believe that WWF should have supported the Baka people to propose their own solutions to conserving their forests instead of assuming that a park and ecoguards were the answer.

These depressing examples are being replicated around the world. The situation will only get worse as human populations increase. Local communities and wildlife are bound to lose out.

The world is changing, however, and local civil society is on the rise. International conservation NGOs therefore need to think long and hard about their relevance as local groups grow stronger. As more communities gain access to international politics, they will be trampled on less easily by agendas from afar. The challenge is to ensure that they become empowered to look after their own land and the wildlife around them.

If the conservation movement is brave enough to transform the ways in which it works, it can support this process of empowerment and the radical changes that come with it. It can connect with local civil society groups as a partner and not as a decision maker. It can devolve its grip on how conservation is conceived and respond to community ideas and wisdom about protecting the wildlife with which they live.

In this task the conservation movement has a lot to offer. International NGOs are skilled and experienced, and they have access to international processes of negotiation and decision making. If they free themselves from corporate pressures and transform themselves into supporters of local civil society, together everyone is stronger. NGOs can help to project the unpasteurised voices of local communities into the halls of the United Nations.

To do any of these things, however, they must remember who they were before they were captured. It’s time to break free from Stockholm syndrome.

 

 

[Dr Margi Prideaux is an international wildlife policy writer, negotiator and academic. She has worked within the conservation movement for 25 years. Her forthcoming book Birdsong After the Storm: Global Environmental Governance, Civil Society and Wildlife will be released in early 2017.  She writes at www.wildpolitics.co and you can follow her on twitter @WildPolitics.]

 

FURTHER READING:

Fundacion Pachamama is Dead – Long Live ALBA [Part VII of an Investigative Report]

WKOG Op-ed | The Prosecution of ExxonMobil – A Path to Nowhere

Wrong Kind of Green

November 13, 2015

by Forrest Palmer

CLINTON & REX

Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., President and CEO of United Negro College Fund (UNCF), President William J. Clinton, Rex W. Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, Walter E. Massey, Ph.D., President of Morehouse College. 

Recently a big to do has been made about ExxonMobil withholding information on climate change that was generated by the company’s own scientists. It has been a ‘told you so’ moment for the liberals which will mean little other than giving them a smug feeling for a short period of time.

To understand why and how this occurred though and also why it will have no impact on the people who spearheaded these corporate actions, you must look at the type of individuals who run these institutions. In the book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, the author Steve Coll details a story of what happened when Lee Raymond, the former CEO of ExxonMobil was approached by a colleague in the oil and gas industry:

Excerpt:

“ExxonMobil’s interests were global, not national. Once, at an industry meeting in Washington, an executive present asked Raymond whether Exxon might build more refineries inside the United States, to help protect the country against potential gasoline shortages.

 

“Why would I want to do that?” Raymond asked, as the executive recalled it.

 

“Because the United States needs it . . . for security,” the executive replied.

 

“I’m not a U.S. company and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.,” Raymond said.

 

ExxonMobil executives managed the interests of the corporation’s shareholders, employees, and worldwide affiliates that paid taxes in scores of countries. The corporation operated and licensed more gas stations overseas than it did in the United States. It was growing overseas faster than at home. Even so, it seemed stunning that a man in Raymond’s position at the helm of an iconic, century-old American oil company, a man who was a political conservative friendly with many ardently patriotic officeholders, could “be so bold, so brazen.” Raymond saw no contradiction; he did indeed regard himself as a very patriotic American and a political conservative, but he also was fully prepared to state publicly that he had fiduciary responsibilities. Raymond found it frustrating that so many people—particularly politicians in Washington—could not grasp or would not take the time to think through ExxonMobil’s multinational dimensions, and what the corporation’s global sprawl implied about its relationship with the United States government of the day.”

As people are wont to do in this world, they rarely look at things in an honest fashion since they want to believe in a narrative that fits their belief system. If you ask most Amerikkkans if Lee Raymond was capable of saying something like this, as he is an admittedly patriotic person and his life is an example of the “Amerikkkan Dream”, they wouldn’t believe it and even after finding out the truth would somehow find a plausible rationale in their mind for it or not acknowledge it all in a convenient form of memory loss.

Exxonmobil Teachers Academy Supporting Image

Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy: 150 highly-qualified third through fifth-grade teachers from around the country are selected to attend the intensive one week, all-expense-paid professional development program each summer.  April 2014: “Since its inception, more than 4,100 teachers have been trained at the Academy, impacting the lives of more than 290,000 students nationwide.”

This exchange is telling though because what it shows is that ultimately patriotism and the ones who promote it in the media to indoctrinate people into this mindset, such as Raymond, are utter shams. Hence, if ExxonMobil or any corporation had all of its interests in the United States, it would have no problem claiming itself as 100% patriotic. Therefore, building refineries in this country would not be an issue at all. However, the day even .00001% of a company’s business interests reside outside of the Amerikkkan borders, then these business interests at that juncture cannot be on equal footing with patriotism, with the former superseding the latter . (The fact that Raymond says “I’m not a company” and doesn’t even use the more prevalent term “We are not a company”, when he is still just a CEO of a public corporation and not even a private one that he personally owns, is a whole other level of psychosis in all honesty)

In relation to this statement though, it illustrates completely why it has been revealed recently that ExxonMobil suppressed the information of its own scientists regarding climate change. The corporations entire existence is to look after its best interests. And acknowledgement that climate change is a reality and that your product is contributing to it or putting patriotism before profit aren’t things conducive to serving your ONLY objective, which is the financial success of the company.

ExxonMobil_United_Way_Photo_(cropped)

Update: April 23, 2015: ExxonMobil Donates a Record $13.4 Million to the United Way of Greater Houston

That being said, although many people on the liberal side of the aisle are hopeful that there will be some criminal prosecution of the responsible people (who are probably old, infirmed or dead by now), it will NEVER happen. (To what end, I am not exactly sure since there can be no restitution regarding the environment). In terms of the act itself from a legal standpoint, I believe the primary reason why Lee Raymond or Rex Tillerson (current CEO of ExxonMobil) or any of the executives of the past thirty or forty years will not pay any penalty whatsoever for their transgressions is because of the difficulty of proving that what they did was actually harmful since the presence of climate change and even the effect of human actions on the climate are up for debate in the court of public opinion by most people. Although some people are comparing it to the recent fight against the tobacco industry, this is unlike tobacco in the fact that there is visual evidence in seeing people have health effects from smoking , such as heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, etc. But with carbon emissions, the byproduct is tangible in climate change, but to look at the everyday atmosphere in front of your face stay relatively the same isn’t helpful to getting people to understand emissions inherent harm as it doesn’t affect any of the five senses of which we judge the impact of something being good or bad in this world.

Yet outside of the legal framework (which I will admit is debatable unlike science and mathematics, no matter how some people want to make it so) as to whether or not ExxonMobil will be judged to have done anything malfeasant, even from a practical standpoint nothing will come of this. The reason is that to believe that the entire government system which is comprised of the same individuals that are part of the overall capitalist power structure will pursue charges against the most lucrative corporation in the world is foolhardy at best. Consider the following reasons as to why the various government law departments will do nothing about any crime, perceived or otherwise, by ExxonMobil:

1)   Personal and professional relationships – Many of the state and federal law employees live in the same areas, frequent the same establishments, are married to the same people, have children that go to the same schools and are ultimately part of the same network as the people they are allegedly trying to prosecute regarding this case. To say this plays no part in the actions of those who are investigating this flies in the face of reality. I seriously doubt that an assistant Attorney General today will be trying to prosecute his own father who was one of the culprits of this cover up back in the 1980s.

2)   Revolving door of corporate and government jobs – As with any industry in Amerikkka, there are many times that various individuals go back and forth between private and public jobs in countless capacities. This means that we could potentially see a lawyer working today in the state or federal government who at one time worked for ExxonMobil. Who are going to police the police when these people go back and forth between their current positions and other positions in the same system that committed this atrocity and many others?

3)   Establishment mentality – The state and federal organizations that will be investigating this are comprised of primarily white, conservative men who don’t believe in climate change or at most think that it is not as bad as the ‘worry warts’ pretend it is or will be (just a simple change in the thermostat and voila! No problem). Hence, as they believe in Amerikkkan ideals of what is right and wrong, the focus will always be on prosecuting deeds seen as detrimental to the individual (murder, theft, rape) and never pursuit of those industries and acts that provide us the Western comforts of which we feel entitled (mountaintop removal for coal, oil spills, rail accidents, etc.)

Plus, and this is most important, any of these people back in the 1980s who are guilty of the crimes against humanity, ultimately were looking out for the fiduciary strength of ExxonMobil. The belief that somehow they withheld information from stockholders which impacted their holdings is worthy of a roll of the eyes. The same stockholders, who promote the media lie that climate change is a hoax and support think tanks and political groups that sponsor these untruths, are now being portrayed as the “victims” of the dastardly executives and corporate miscreants who lied to them about the deleterious effects of the product that enriched them? It is almost impossible to get more comical than that.

Ultimately, this act was in the company’s best interests, which is what executives are supposed to do when they sign on the dotted line and accept their positions in the corporate hierarchy. No matter how people on the liberal side like a Naomi Klein or Bill McKibben or the members of these organizations, such as 350.org and Greenpeace, want to believe it or construe it, nothing will come of this because if ExxonMobil would have admitted that climate change is a reality, then theoretically it would have destroyed their business or affected it to some extent. (This is ONLY in theory. In reality, if ExxonMobil’s scientific data about the legitimacy of climate change would have been released to the public it would have done NOTHING since you can’t get most people to accept climate change or at least its severity TODAY even with the evidence of its reality exponentially increasing since that time)

And finally, this will not be seen as important at all by U.S. citizens since climate change hasn’t impacted our lives in Amerikkka. At this juncture, climate change has been a minor inconvenience. For example, taking a daily blood thinner pill is an inconvenience. Having a massive stroke will impact your life. One has no effect upon your daily actions, while the other drastically changes your relationship with the world. As most Amerikkkans judge economic health simply upon their ability to get up in the morning, exist in a relatively Westernized resource intensive domestic situation, toil at a job all day, go home and enjoy the diminishing returns on said labor for a scant few hours and repeat it all over again, the minor inconveniences of economic inflation for goods and services presently haven’t impacted our collective lives, which is unlike the radical adjustments coming forth of daily water scarcity which is approaching relatively soon. Until that day, it will be “business as usual”.

Mallon Award Rex W.Tillerson CEO, Exxon Mobil Corporation-Dallas World Affairs Council

November 10, 2014: World Affairs Council Honors Exxon Mobil’s Rex Tillerson (left) with the 2014 Mallon Award. (Right) Dr. Robert M. Gates, the former secretary of defense.

So, nothing will come from this minor blip on the screen as people live myopic lives, little concerned about tomorrow as long as things stay relatively calm today. The Lee Raymonds and Rex Tillersons of the world have nothing to worry about and unlike low level criminals who are always fearful of policemen busting through their doors, one thing you will never see: Raymond, Tillerson and the like doing the “perp walk” on the evening news. So, don’t hold your breath waiting to see any of these people in orange jumpsuits. Ain’t happenin’, cap’n.

And in the off chance that some ultimately meaningless financial penalty is imposed against ExxonMobil, it will have no benefit on a world that has been wrecked by its actions.

And besides, when the inconveniences turn into impacts, most of these men will be a distant memory in the dustbin of history.

No matter what happens though, the description of their actions will be that” they did what they were supposed to do”. And sadly enough many people who will be the future victims of their past and present actions, will still agree with these thoughts – until their dying day.

 

“It’s a White Man’s World” – Your Exclusive Daily Dose of Reality. Raw. Unedited. Uncomfortable.

 

Rex-Tillerson

Above: Tom Russo (Vice President-GS Electronic Trading Goldman Sachs 1999-June 2013, Vice President-Global Execution Services at Merrill Lync June 2013 to present), Amy Brandt, Rex Tillerson (CEO of Exxon Mobil), Denise Benmosche, and Mark Angelson (Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of New York, the Chicago Club and the Pilgrims (London and NYC). The Institute of International Education (IIE) held its 90th Anniversary Gala Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and honored ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, Maestro Lorin Maazel and the Founders of the Iran Opportunities Fund. “IIE is involved in many different aspects of international educational exchange, from administering the flagship Fulbright program for the U.S. Department of State, to rescuing scholars in danger, to working with corporations and foundations to support global leadership by investing in human capital.” [Emphasis added.]Photo credit: Patrick McMullan, September 23, 2009 | Note: *The Iran “Opportunities” Fund operates under the auspices of the IIE.

by Forrest Palmer, WKOG Collective

July 22, 2013

For today’s proof that this is ‘a white man’s world’ before anything else and that it is to the detriment of all living creatures on Earth, I provide Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil. Exxon Mobil is the most profitable corporation on the planet with revenues of $44.9 billion in the 2012 fiscal year.  As a modern day version of Standard Oil, the company’s coffers begin to fill from the moment oil is drilled out of the ground to the end user filling up his or her gas tank every morning on the way to a job, the symbol of enslavement under the current capitalist system.  Although Rex Tillerson is reminiscent of John D. Rockefeller, the CEO of Standard Oil and at one time the richest man in the world, in sitting at the helm of such a profitable company, a more apt comparison may be of Captain Ahab on a perpetual quest for the white wale Moby Dick, which will lead to Ahab’s ultimate demise.  The white wale in this real life story is man’s conquering the physical Earth through the holy grail of infinite energy extraction that is only a dreamlike illusion and on the way to quickly turning into a nightmare for us all.  The same myopic search infused with madness of which Ahab was guilty is the life’s work of Tillerson and the men like him who are in the midst of leading us all down a path of inevitable destruction.