Monday, May 24, 2010

In Defense of The Nature Conservancy

Joe Stephens has an interesting piece in the Washington Post about The Nature Conservancy's ties to BP.

While a lot of Nature Conservancy supporters and environmentalists are upset to hear this information, I don't really have a problem with it. There are many ways to create change. We tend to romanticize those who work outside the system. We certainly need radical groups who protest BP and other companies. That's absolutely vital to forming a successful environmental movement. But it doesn't hurt to have organizations who work within the capitalist system as well.

The Nature Conservancy does a remarkable job of protecting (often) small pieces of important habitat that is threatened by development. They don't focus on the southwestern deserts, sublime beauty, or highly touristed areas. Rather, they worry about biodiversity--which is really far more important to protect than more desert wilderness.

In order to protect these lands, they work with big corporations. As the article states, BP has helped The Nature Conservancy protect Bolivian forests and gave TNC 655 acres of land in Virginia for wildlife conservation.

Does this strategy allow BP and other corporations to greenwash their actions? Yes. Does the 655 acres make up for the massive damage caused by the oil spill? Of course not. But BP is going to drill for oil regardless of whether TNC exists or not. And those 655 acres have important meaning. It's a good thing TNC worked with BP to save this land.

There's no question that TNC gets a bit too cozy with its corporate sponsors. A few years back, there was a small scandal when it came out that TNC executives were working with corporations to get those companies big tax breaks on conservation easements. Groups like TNC or the Sierra Club or the World Wildlife Fund need watchdogs to make sure they stay true to their mission. But that doesn't mean they don't do good and valuable work.