When Environmentalists Team Up With Industry

By Keith Kloor | June 22, 2013 7:37 pm

In March, several green groups, notably the Environmental Defense Fund, formed a partnership with Chevron and other energy companies to, as the LA Times reported,

provide more stringent standards for fracking of natural gas in parts of the eastern United States.

The collaboration, which also includes several philanthropies, has been formalized with a non-profit organization called the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. Grist took note of the alliance, referring to it as “oxymoronically named.” The initiative has been scorned by dozens of grassroots environmental groups and prompted Salon to recently ask:

Is the Environmental Defense Fund ruining environmentalism?

Oddly, that headline is divorced from the article’s otherwise measured take on fracking. Still, I think it’s safe to assume that any time a green group joins with industry to tackle a big problem, many environmentalists are going to cast a leery eye.

Or not.

From Grist, here’s news of a similar new effort:

Wind industry and enviros team up to study bird deaths

Interestingly, I couldn’t detect any sarcasm in this piece, unlike the one reporting on the shale gas/enviro alliance.  Is it because Grist doesn’t view the wind industry as villainous and untrustworthy as the oil & gas industry? Does the wind turbine industry get special dispensation from the environmental community because wind energy has the official green stamp of approval?

Mind you, I’m not trying to whack the wind industry, whose most vocal opponents have latched on to junk science and fear mongering to advance their agenda. (Of course, many anti-fracking campaigners, it should be noted, are no less hysterical and loose with the truth to advance their own cause.) I’m just wondering if it’s okay for greens to team up with one kind of industry but not another?

  • stevesavage

    Keith,
    Consistency and rigorous application of science are not, as you know, common attributes of a certain wing of the environmental movement or of the “green” blogosphere. Nice commentary

  • andrew adams

    I’m just wondering if it’s okay for greens to team up with one kind of industry but not another?

    Well greens are naturally going to be more sympathetic too industries which are, or are at least perceived as being, more environmentally friendly. So yes.

    • Kevin Bonham

      But if any corporation invests money or makes an effort to reduce their environmental impact, shouldn’t that be a good thing? Of course, we should be wary of green-washing, but if EDF can get Chevron or any other company to invest money in sustainability, more power to them.

      As long as it doesn’t interfere wit legitimate criticism of their other activities.

  • Steve Crook

    The EDF raised $116.5m in 2012, and their net assets were $156m with more than 400 employees and offices in China and Mexico. This makes them a small to medium multinational corporation.

    They are as interested in making money as any other corporation, because without the money, they won’t run the business and do the work they want to.

    Chevron also want to make money, and will do whatever they need to do to keep the revenues coming in. A partnership with EDF is going to do them little harm, cost little compared to advertising and could improve their image. I can see the “Chevron: In Partnership With The EDF” bumper stickers…

    But the reluctance of many environmental corporates to have ties with those they’re supposed to be ‘fighting’ is unsurprising. The ideology and beliefs of their members won’t allow them to accept those sorts of partnerships. If they offend those who fund them, their funding dries up. It’s all about the money.

    • jh

      “The EDF raised $116.5m in 2012, and their net assets were $156m”

      If the $156M is treated as book value, EDF would be a “micro” corporation in stock market terms – with a net market value very roughly between $100M and $500M.

  • mtobis

    Nicely said.

    I am now reconsidering some harsh things I said about you in the past. I clearly see your point here. I am somewhat more reluctant to see it when climate science itself gets dragged into the picture, but of course the same phenomenon exists once climatology gets dragged into the public sphere.

    • Tom Scharf

      The arrogant one once again assumes that what he thinks about other people is of great value to them. Hyper-inflated ego.

      • mtobis

        Looks like somebody REALLY wants me off C-A-S.

        Interesting.

    • jh

      Well, speaking of environmentalism and industry, what if climate science was subject to the same restrictions that, say, the medical device or pharma industry is subject to when making projections about the performance of it’s products?

      I saw a commercial today for a new knee joint product. The commercial said that the product had been tested in the lab to exceed 30 years of wear and tear. Later in the commercial – in the fast-talking part at the end – the announcer said that lab testing isn’t a clinically proven testing method and results may vary.

      It made me think of proclamations about climate model results. What if every paper making claims about climate models had to state what everyone knows: that the results of climate models have never been demonstrated as valid in real-world (clinical) conditions? :)

      I think it would be kind of fun to see what would happen.

      • mtobis

        Papers tend not to state things that everybody knows. What would be the point?

        Most climate model papers are in part (and occasionally entirely) about model flaws.

        Climate models are an immense achievement, but they are frequently misunderstood and misused by client disciplines and often subject to straw man attacks by naysayers.

  • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

    I noticed the wind turbine / save birds grist link the other day which really angered me after their snarky post about Syngenta studying bee deaths and decline. You know, because a pesticide maker can’t care that their products may be having unintended consequences.

  • mem_somerville

    Funny, I just looked up an old ad I got from Grist. It was about their sponsor Pear Energy. Has a big windmill on the top of the email, and a Dylan quote.

    Dear Fellow Progressives,

    I want to introduce you to a better option for your energy use. Pear Energy is a simple way to buy clean energy for your home or business.
    Pear Energy buys from small-scale, cooperative-owned wind farms — 100% clean energy that does not pollute our air, dirty our water or put our families and our planet at risk of disaster. We are also developing new sources of both solar and wind power.

    We know the answer is blowin’ in the wind. We also know that our customers deserve great service. Pear is determined to be a company you will be proud to have chosen….

    Jes’ sayin’.

  • Joshua

    I’m just wondering if it’s okay for greens to team up with one kind of industry but not another?

    Oy. So if environmentalists support the solar energy industry, they shouldn’t criticize what happened in Bopal? If labor partners with one industry, they shouldn’t criticize the practices that lead to those recent deaths in Bangladesh?

    Two perfectly legitimate questions, IMO:

    (1) Is there an upside to environmentalists partnering with any particular industry in order to reduce harmful environmental impact?

    (2) Is there a downside to environmentalists partnering with any particular industry in order reduce harmful environmental impact?

    My guess is that hyperbole from either side (that environmentalists should necessarily rule out partnering with any given industry or that environmentalists are necessarily hypocrites if they find more downside than upside in partnering with particular industries) will not advance finding answers to those questions.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      “Oy. So if environmentalists support the solar energy industry, they shouldn’t criticize what happened in Bopal? If labor partners with one industry, they shouldn’t criticize the practices that lead to those recent deaths in Bangladesh?”

      Oy, that’s quite a strawman you built there.

      • Joshua

        Still, I think it’s safe to assume that any time a green group joins with industry to tackle a big problem, many environmentalists are going to cast a leery eye.

        I learned my mad building skillz from a journeyman strawman builder, Keith.

        As usual, I think that AA nails it. Why would it be inappropriate or unexpected for (at least some) environmentalists to view different industry partnerships differently?

        I think that it is a legitimate point that partnering, say, with gas companies to reduce ACO2 emissions from fracking should not be dismissed out of hand. Go for it. But like it or not, many people have concerns about fracking. Really, what was your point?: that anyone who’s concerned about the fracking industry should not support the wind industry? That enviros are hypocrites if they support one industry but not the other?

        MT sees the point – but seriously, I don’t.

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

          Joshua,

          What you read into my posts are the points you take away. I can’t help that. But hey, everyone has their own filter.

        • harrywr2

          Joshua,

          Chevron’s primary business is ‘oil’.

          The count of the number of times ‘climate skeptics’ have been accused of being paid shills for ‘big oil’ is substantial.

          So now the Environmental Defense Fund…one of the largest environmental groups in the US is getting in bed with ‘Big Oil’….

          EDF = Paid Shill of Big Oil

          • Joshua

            Harry

            EDF = Paid Shill of Big Oil

            Sure, some enviros will go there, or perhaps some are being hypocritical if they don’t (assuming that everyone who doesn’t demonize oil companies is the devil except if they’re a friend).

            But again, on the other hand, it’s hardly hypocritical or illogical for enviros to have a different take on partnering with wind companies than with oil companies.

            Yes – there are illogical fanatics out there. The problem is that when your focus on them is disproportionate in comparison to their prevalence, you run the risk of only increasing or at least only maintaining the degree to which people are locked into their polarized perspectives.

  • jh

    It’ll be interesting to see how this EDF-Chevron pairing pans out. Is EDF hoping that Chevron will expose damaging proprietary information that they can use against Chevron later? Is Chevron hoping to put a green stamp on it’s own company while not really doing anything? Or is this a good-faith effort on both sides?

    There are a few enviro groups that have a long record of successfully pairing up with industry. Nature conservancy, for example. That’s the reason you don’t hear to much about them. They’re too busy accomplishing things to bother with the kind of hyperbole that Sierra Club, GreenPeace, WWF, and other groups (usually including EDF) frequently use.

    But the screams of “traitor”! from greens at EDF’s effort shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, the God of the Greens and Global Warming, Mr. Hansen himself, has claimed that FF execs should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, and numerous other greens have been screaming that using FFs is immoral. I can’t imagine McKibben endorsing this deal. If there’s no FF companies to rail against, how would he sell books? Good lord, if this is successful, next thing you know Sierra Club will be working with TransCanada. Poor old Billy would probably have a hernia.

    Perhaps the two organizations – unlike Democrats and Republicans – have actually recognized that they’ll both be better served by fining some kind of deal. Let’s hope so.

  • Eli Rabett

    You are charmingly naive about the level of inside baseball played in the fossil fuel industry.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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