The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a very effective, amazing organization in many ways, engaged in direct conservation action and making great strides in protecting beautiful and biodiverse areas around the world. They do some incredibly important work. Thus, I struggled with the decision for quite some time about cancelling my membership. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I cannot in good conscience continue donating to them given what I have learned.
My first eye-opener was reading in Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything. In it, she talked about an incident several years ago- verified in the New York Times– when TNC purchased conservation land in Texas to protect an endangered species pledging not to allow oil and gas drilling, but then continued to allow those activities on the conserved land. When I started looking more closely at the kind of relationships the Nature Conservancy has with private industry, I had some more eye-openers as well.
I absolutely understand that one of the goals of the Nature Conservancy is to work with industries so that they can guide and push them towards better management practices. Clearly, working with industry to green their practices can have huge positive effects for the environment. Its also understandably tricky to navigate a relationship with a for-profit company that does not necessarily put the environment first, and I don’t think its fair to insist that everyone on TNC’s business council is a paragon of sustainability practices. Cargill, for instance, is one of their partners, and they have a very checkered record with respect to their overseas holdings in soy and palm oil, crops with a devestating history of deforestation and environmental destruction- but they have also made some promising commitments, and even some actions, to improve those processes.
Cargill is probably pretty representative of many of the company’s on TNC’s list: they may well do they right thing when they feel they can economically afford to and when they are in the spotlight. I’m quite sure I do not know everything about all these companies, and I cannot speak to all their pros and cons. But there are a few companies on this list that I know some things about, and I have an incredibly hard time swallowing as a result that they are part of TNC’s business leadership. This includes Dow Chemical, which has a well known, extensive history of agrochemical production and in line with this priority, a substantial and ever-growing investment in lobbying the federal government to roll back regulations that protect public health and the environment from pesticide impacts, culminating most recently in an overturn on the ban on Chloropyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide with known links to human toxicity and neurological damage, by our new, industry-friendly administration.
Sitting on their council is also Monsanto. Monsanto, the company that GMO-reactionists love to hate. I think some of the bad rap this company has gotten is overblown or at least oversimplified. But some of their behaviors point to a very deep-seated set of ethics I absolutely do not share. Such as systemically treating genetic materials as patentable and suing hundreds of small farmers for propagating genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto has said it is “committed” to not suing farmers for trace amounts of their GM crops inadvertently appearing in farmers’ fields- but outcomes of recent legal court cases leaves no recourse for farmers who want to keep Monsanto’s GM crops out of their fields in the first place. In a broad sense, while Monsanto touts its commitments to sustainability, its basic activities- including creating crops that can tolerate increased chemical applications; promoting large-scale monocultural crop production; and using their significant lobbying muscle and internal policies to block independent research on their products and processes- are antithetical to the goals I think of when I consider agricultural sustainbility, including reduction of chemical use, diversification of agricultural landscapes, and transparency of process.
I know my little bit of money I donate to the Nature Conservancy isn’t going to be greatly missed. But at this point, I can’t in good conscience continue to give to an organization who has gone past what I think of as some real lines in the sand with their corporate alliances and some very serious mistakes in prioritizing profit over their own mission. Sorry, TNC, but you are on my no list, at least for now.