Pew Charitable Trust: Environmentalism and contradictions

ahhh…PEW (gesundheit)

Contradictions… a great force in the social world. In some languages the word “contradiction” does not have such negative connotations as it does in English. Some consider contradiction to be a change agent… a balancing force between opposing ideas.

Maybe a sneeze could serve as an example… I know that when I sneeze it generally feels great; a tickle in the nose is satisfied, phlegm is cleared, a burst of energy is released. However, in this day of H1NoFun and other panic hysteria and “germs gone wild” epidemics where few people just trust their immune system (one of our oldest most ancient body systems) — my sneeze may represent a threat to someone’s personal existence and comfort. And ghad forbid I sneeze into my hand and then touch a book or say hi and shake their hand. (I also recognize that sneezes mean different things in different cultures)

As a result of germaphobia — little antibacterial/germ killing stations (motion activated dispensers) are located at various points around the library and other public facilities. (I’ll quietly mention the fact that more and more research is suggesting that this sort of assualt on germs may be doing us all much more harm than good…)

And thus, a simple sneeze becomes a loud, saliva-spraying, snot clearing contradiction….

… parallel to the Pew Charitable Trust.

First, the Pew Charitable Trust was formed through “the sole beneficiary of seven individual charitable funds established between 1948 and 1979 by two sons and two daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew.”

I’ve alluded to this reality in a post from the other day — regarding environmental organizations — many are funded by U.S.-based philanthropic organizations that were formed as a result of an individual or individuals or family making their fortune in some business that exploited natural resources.

This is a curious contradiction.

The Pew Charitable Trust funds some fascinating and potentially meaningful work: civic engagement, media research, environmental issues, health, justice, minority empowerment, and so on, and so on. They suggest that they are “driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems.”

Good on ya, Pew.

However, does this negate the fact that the funds were generated from exploiting oil?

I don’t have the answer.

If BP (British Petroleum, the folks responsible for the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil spill; now suggested to be the worst oil spill in history) forms a large philanthropic organization, or long-time executives of BP form a foundation from over-inflated salaries, bonuses, and stock options — and these funds go to environmental work — does that negate the irreversible damage they’ve done to the Gulf and through their other operations?

Tough one to ponder…

Second, the Pew Charitable Trust is the organization that apparently funded much of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement – “the historic agreement signifying a new era of Joint leadership in the Boreal Forest” — signed between several environmental groups and logging companies operating in the Canadian Boreal Forest.

(If you’re interested you can watch some very stilted, scripted, stiff ‘discussion’ between logging company, or at least Association executives and environmental organization executives at the “media” section of the website facilitated by Pew.)

The Trust suggests that their International campaign regarding Wilderness Protection and Public Lands is focussed on:

The world’s wildest places, the last refuges for nature, are under constant pressure from population growth and associated resource development, including logging, mining and oil and gas drilling. Protecting these global treasures is a difficult challenge, but it is one we must meet. The fate of so many of the world’s endangered species is at risk.

Now, Pew also has an environmental campaign focussed on “Protecting Ocean Life” :

Our marine work is aimed at preserving the biological integrity of marine ecosystems and primarily focuses on efforts to curb overfishing, reduce bycatch and prevent the destruction of marine habitat.

As part of their “marine work”, Pew recently published a news release criticizing the Marine Stewardship Council in its decision to certify the Antarctic Krill fishery. (If you haven’t read my criticisms of the Marine Stewardship Council simply plug their name into the search function of this website). I applaud the criticism; however, here’s the curious contradiction:

The Pew Environment Group today criticized the decision by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to certify Antarctic krill. The certification gives the false impression that the entire fishery for Antarctic krill is sustainable when in reality it is not…

…“Unfortunately, perception is reality,” said Gerald Leape, director of Pew’s Antarctic Krill Conservation Project (AKCP). “The MSC’s label falsely advertises the message that all krill are sustainably caught and that consuming krill-based omega 3 supplements or purchasing farmed salmon raised on krill meal is okay. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Yes, Pew folks (and Greenpeace, and Suzuki, and Forest Ethics, and Nature Conservancy, and so on), isn’t “perception reality”…?

Is not facilitating, co-signing and mass marketing an agreement such as the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement as a “historic agreement” of “conservation”; “protection”; and “sustainability” simply nothing more than giving a false perception of reality?

Especially when we’re only talking about a small portion of the entire Canadian Boreal forest in this “Agreement” .

And truly, please, if this agreement is about:

the true purpose.

Then why didn’t the companies flip the bill themselves if they’re so concerned about securing market share – based on their apparent intention to:

what is this... really?

Businesses green-washing themselves is the flavor of the month these days — I’m not too sure why environmental groups and an organization like the Pew Charitable Trust decided to assist in the greenwashing.

P.S. for those wondering: there are wild salmon inhabiting some large sections of the Canadian Boreal Forest, and certainly into Alaska.

4 thoughts on “Pew Charitable Trust: Environmentalism and contradictions

  1. Fishyfellow

    Hi Salmon Guy, interesting perspective on Pew! I am always suspicious of an organization that wants to mold public opinion in a particular direction, rather than let the public to think for themselves. Also, the comparison between sustainable management of Antarctic krill and Boreal forests does suggest that one needs a system-wide mangement approach to ensure sustainability – not just the management of one commercial fishing operation or one parcel of forest. I think that there is a sustainable forests equivalent of MSC – what is their perspective? I am beginning to think that some of these non-profits have motives outside long-term public good. Keep on blogging!

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment. yes, I agree on the sustainability approach, and of course the challenge is to agree on language. What do we really mean when we talk “sustainable”?

    This term has gone the way of “ecosystem-based management”… what does this really mean?

    Our society is pretty guilty of throwing around terms which give false securities. Sure oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has some of the world’s leading safety standards… but so does NASA and their space shuttle program… howz the old saying go? Shit happens.

    And yes, the Forest Stewardship Council is what the MSC was supposed to be modeled after… however the issues with both is that they become marketing tools in themselves dictated by political decisions – not local decisions, or some level of consensus… I think FSC might be getting involved in this initiative at some point; will read more to find out.

    thanks again for the comments, much appreciated.


    Hi there – here is an interesting thing I stumbled on in a link from NDP reply to my request to mention the government sign that mentions fish farms. . I don’t remember which URL is the right one but apparently:
    Enbridge has donated almost $50,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2005. Former B.C. Liberal MLA Roger Harris, who was defeated in 2005, is also a vice president of the company.

    Good blog today – thanks for the links and support

  4. salmon guy Post author

    And the world grows smaller…. Roger was actually one of my first bosses on Haida Gwaii and softball coach. I have a lot of respect for him — just don’t always agree with his politics. Similar to some other folks involved in promoting Enbridge as a good idea. I have good friends who think it’s a decent idea; and other friends on the complete opposite side… What a fun and crazy world sometimes.

    I suppose it’s these sorts of politics and political views that probably make the signing (or not signing) of the Boreal Agreement a real interesting topic of discussion in the boardrooms and by the water coolers of a few enviro organizations….

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