Intermission (And Why Bill McKibben is an Utter Fool)

August 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

This blog will return in mid-September. In the meantime, here’s a video of a presentation I gave in Australia last month – and some thoughts on the bankruptcy of contemporary green analysis.

To those of you who’ve been checking this blog for new material, please accept my apologies for the radio silence.

The climate debate can be a difficult place in which to live. Emotions run high. Chronic simple-mindedness abounds. Sometimes a person needs a bit of a holiday.

In a recent interview prominent green activist Bill McKibben declared that “fossil fuel barons” are “taking away the future” and must therefore be stopped (backup link here).

Those of us who regard affordable energy as a golden ticket out of drudgery, as providing access to light, heat, refrigeration, and safe cooking facilities can only marvel that there still are people who consider McKibben’s perspective “a riveting fresh look” at the climate debate.

I mean, the man has been beating the global warming drum for a quarter of a century. His emotional book, The End of Nature, appeared in 1989. It began as a series of magazine articles written prior to that. I’ve blogged about him on other occasions, explaining that his track record of predicting the future is worse than feeble.

In the recent interview, McKibben says that pensions, universities, and churches should all withdraw their investment funds from fossil fuel companies. He calls this “the moral issue of our times” and compares it to the struggle against South African apartheid.

But he is living in an imaginary universe. The real one includes some scandalously inconvenient facts.

For starters, the planet’s wealthiest, most influential green group is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Where both fossil fuels and apartheid is concerned, that group is thoroughly tainted. It has no business preaching to the rest of us.

Let us turn, once again, to the 2011 Saving the World’s Wildlife: WWF – the first 50 years. Written with the cooperation of WWF officials, here’s what it says on page 145:

the conservative, upper-class naturalists who founded WWF [in 1961] did not have a problem with approaching oil companies for funding…WWF’s earliest corporate sponsor was the petrochemical giant Royal Dutch/Shell. In 1961 it gave WWF-UK the remarkable sum of £10,000.

That donation is equivalent to well over half a million US dollars today. On page 271 we read that the WWF only began to “phase-out” fossil fuel funding from “BP, Shell and others” in the year 2000.

The WWF, therefore, has depended on fossil fuel money for four of the five decades it has been in existence. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the Sierra Club has also taken fossil fuel money. As has the Nature Conservancy and Conservation International. Should Greenpeace want us to believe it is pure as the driven snow in this regard it will have to give back its Rainbow Warrior flagship vessel – since it was partially paid for by the fossil-fuel funded WWF.

And then there’s that little matter of apartheid. Saving the World’s Wildlife makes it abundantly clear that the WWF was one of those organizations where white, wealthy, apartheid-era South Africans could count on receiving a warm welcome. The WWF, you see, was happy to accept money earned in a nation that had a law prohibiting blacks from attending “white” churches. Here’s what the book says on page 120:

WWF-South Africa was in many ways a special branch of the [WWF]. Instead of appealing to the general public it derived its income from corporate members. Seventy-two companies joined within a year thanks to Anton Rupert’s active canvassing among the South African business community.

Who is Anton Rupert? Why, scratch the surface of the WWF and you also find big tobacco. Rupert, one of the richest men in the world – and one of the founders of the WWF – derived his fortune from selling cigarettes. According to a 2006 obituary:

Calculating that there would always be a great demand for tobacco, regardless of what happened in the world, he developed a cigarette-making company named Voorbrand, soon to be renamed Rembrandt Ltd, whose overseas tobacco interests were eventually consolidated in Rothmans. [backup links here and here; see here also]

Bill McKibben is in desperate need of a history lesson. There is no emotionally-satisfying, tidy parallel between fighting fossil fuel companies and fighting apartheid. His supposed good guys are up to their eyeballs in money associated with big oil, big tobacco, and racist oppression.

McKibben also needs to grow up. It’s embarrassing to be his age (52) and to still think the world is a comic book. Fossil fuel companies are not uber villains. Green activists are not remotely like superheroes. Indeed, they are looking more and more like bumbling, ineffectual whiners.

Although I strive to be courteous and respectful toward people with whom I disagree, some days I find it difficult not to concur with the plain-speaking Walter Russell Mead. He writes scathingly of “green unicorn hunts” and of the inability of green activists to even recognize – never mind deal with – reality. See, for example:

In recent months Mead has penned some of the hardest-hitting commentary I’ve ever read concerning the bankruptcy of contemporary green thought. I encourage you to check out his blog until I return to a full-time writing schedule in mid-September.

Between now and then I will try to answer the hundreds of e-mails that have accumulated in my inbox and will spend 2 hours per day reading news sites and blogs in order to keep current. I will also be entertaining a 9-year-old, renovating an old house, photographing a wedding, and hopefully enjoying a swim or two as summer fades in this part of the world.

Keep well. Until we meet again in mid-September, here’s a presentation I delivered in Australia last month:

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Entry filed under: big oil, Bill McKibben, Greenpeace, money & funding, World Wildlife Fund. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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