It wouldn’t be okay for Amnesty to take donations from military dictators or for Animal Liberation to accept abattoir-owners as sponsors.
Such scenarios are so unlikely they just sound bizarre.
So why should we accept that it’s okay for Australian environmental groups to take money from fossil fuel corporations?
Surely it’s the ultimate conflict of interest. How can groups set up to stop climate change accept cash from companies that make millions from polluting the planet?
But big Australian environmental research group The Climate Institute does not appear to see the problem.
Its “climate partners” include AGL, one of Australia’s biggest fossil fuel companies.
AGL has extensive natural gas assets and runs coal seam gas projects at sites near Camden and Gloucester in NSW. It also has a 32.5% stake in Victoria’s Loy Yang power station. Loy Yang burns brown coal — the planet’s dirtiest fuel.
Australia’s biggest energy infrastructure company, Jemena, is another of the institute’s partners. Jemena is the builder and owner of the Queensland Gas Pipeline, designed to transport huge amounts of coal seam gas for export.
US-based multinational General Electric (GE) also backs the Climate Institute.
Until the 1990s, GE was heavily involved in the nuclear weapons industry. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was found to have conducted “human experiments with nuclear radiation”, says Corpwatch.org.
Today, GE says it provides “equipment and services for all segments of the oil and gas industry, from drilling and production, LNG, pipelines and storage to industrial power generation, refining and petrochemicals”.
It says on its website that “coal will continue to fuel the world’s furnaces for years to come”. GE boasts it “is experienced in the mining industry and is prepared to meet the expected growth” in transporting coal.
GE also has a stake in oil production in Canada’s tar sands. Because it emits up to three times more emissions than conventional oil, US climate scientist James Hansen said in 2009: “The tar sands of Canada constitute one of our planet's greatest threats.”
The Climate Institute is not the only environment group to accept sponsorship from companies that trash the environment. Climate group 1 Million Women lists Origin Energy as a partner.
Origin is another fossil fuel giant that is taking part in Australia’s coal seam gas rush.
It’s not hard to work out why big polluters are happy to sponsor green groups. It’s a marketing strategy, an advertising gimmick. When they donate to green groups, big polluters are buying green credentials.
It’s far harder to grasp why any environmental group would accept such tainted support.
There’s an argument that it’s better to engage with polluting corporations rather than campaign against them. The hope is that the environmental ideals will rub off on the CEOs, and encourage them to clean up their act.
But in the US, where business donations to green groups began earlier, it is the corporations that have influenced the green groups — not the other way around.
British writer Johann Hari documented the capture of some of the biggest US conservation groups by corporate interests in a 2010 article in The Nation.
Hari said: “After decades of slowly creeping corporate corruption, some of the biggest environmental groups have remade themselves in the image of their corporate backers: they are putting profit before planet.”
He picked out two big US NGOs, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, for special censure. “They are not part of the environmental movement,” he said. “They are polluter-funded leeches sucking on the flesh of environmentalism, leaving it weaker and depleted.”
Things are not as bad in Australia as they are in the US. But it started the same way there as it has started in Australia — “with a financial donation”.
Environmental groups should stop accepting donations and sponsorships with fossil fuel corporations. It’s dirty money — coal dirty, oil dirty, methane dirty.
It’s money made by stealing a safe climate from future generations. Green groups should not help greenwash it.