The ‘greening’ of wilderne$$

by Jim Stiles

“...this is what is wrong with the conservation movement. It has a clear conscience...

“To the conservation movement, it is only production that causes environmental degradation; the consumption that supports the production is rarely acknowledged to be at fault.

“The ideal of the run-of-the-mill conservationist is to impose restraints upon production without limiting consumption or burdening the consciences of consumers.

– Wendell Berry

Nobody hates the conservation movement more than Rush Limbaugh.

His daily diatribes against “environmentalist whackos” mock every aspect of it—from the protection of endangered species to the severity of global warming—or even its existence.

Among his most frequent targets is the conservation hierarchy. He entertains his legions of listeners daily as he ridicules venerable institutions like the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society— the mainstream environmental community.

According to Limbaugh, these are the people who embrace environmentalism as a secular religion of sorts. “This group,” Limbaugh declares, “wants to preserve the earth at all costs. They want to roll us back, maybe not to the Stone Age, but at least to the horse-and-buggy era.”

But it’s not true. In fact, when Limbaugh says, “Capitalism is good for people AND for other living things,” he’d find many enthusiastic nods from some of the most powerful environmentalists in America today.

Consider David Bonderman.

Fortune magazine calls him one of the “Kings of American business. They are the architects and managers of private equity firms and hedge funds, amassing untold billions of dollars.”

David Bonderman is a venture capitalist. His private equity firm, TPG Capital, buys failing or marginal or undervalued corporations, “streamlines” the operation, sometimes breaks the company into pieces and makes huge profits.

TPG’s acquisitions are staggering and far too long to list. But consider just a couple— TPG bought a controlling interest in a Texas utility company in 2007 and is currently constructing one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in America.

Yet the acquisition was praised by enviro groups like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), because TPG is building fewer coal plants than originally proposed.

Bonderman sits on the board of Ryanair, the Irish economy airline that recently proposed putting pay toilets on its planes.

Ian Pearson, the UK Environment Minister has expressed alarm at Ryanair’s insensitivity to climate change. “When it comes to climate change,” he said, “Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism. O’Leary (Ryanair’s CEO) just seems to take pride in refusing to recognize that climate change is a genuine problem.”

And according to the Shanghai Daily, in November 2008, “PT Bakrie & Brothers, the investment arm of Indonesia’s richest family, has agreed to sell its stake in Asia’s biggest coal exporter to an affiliate of United States buyout firm TPG Inc.”

The company claims to produce “quality eco-coal for international and domestic power generation companies.”

Bonderman’s estimated worth is $1 billion (he lost over $2 billion of his fortune in 2008). Still he owns a 15,000 square foot mansion in Aspen, CO and another mansion in Moab.

He spends much of his time in his Gulfstream jet. When Bonderman turned 60, he threw a party for himself in Las Vegas. It cost $10 million and he hired the Rolling Stones for the night.

Despite his enormous wealth and extravagant lifestyle, however, Bonderman is highly regarded by the mainstream environmental community in the United States.

He serves on the boards of the Grand Canyon Trust, the Wilderness Society and the World Wildlife Fund and is a major contributor to many other groups, like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). For that, Charles Wilkinson, the president of the Grand Canyon Trust, has hailed Bonderman as “one of the country’s greatest conservationists right now.”

Bonderman is just one of many from the realm of the mega-rich who have embraced environmentalism as their cause celebre. Mega-millionaires, even billionaires, have found seats on the boards of directors of almost every major mainstream environmental organization in America. In fact, the money that pours into the coffers of these groups has made mainstream environmentalism a multi-billion dollar industry. The boards are the policy-makers for these organizations. They are the face of environmentalism in America.

The Wilderness Society boasted net assets in 2007 of almost $35 million. Its top staffers receive annual salaries between $140,000 and $175,000. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claims assets exceeding $73 million. Its president earns $360,000 in salary and benefits.

Even smaller “grass roots” groups like the Grand Canyon Trust and SUWA have assets in the millions. Many who sit on the boards are some of the wealthiest venture capitalists in the world (In 2007, two of SUWA’s board members resigned when they were convicted and sent to prison for securities fraud.).

Now the question must be asked – if the mainstream environmental community believes that climate change is real, and if they accept the dire, shocking warnings from the world’s most brilliant scientists that we face a global environmental crisis of unprecedented proportions, can they simultaneously accept massive donations and allow its policies to be shaped by people whose goals and strategies stand in direct contradiction to the best interests of the planet and, indeed, of its survival?

Do these wealthy benefactors offer their financial resources out of genuine fears for the planet’s well-being or is it simply one more public relations enhancement for their global corporate portfolios?

Or even worse, is it a way of controlling and diverting policy decisions that might well impact their own financial interests?

The answer to that question is critical to the survival of the planet.

(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online. He is also the author of “Brave New West.” Both can be found at Stiles lives in San Juan County and can be reached at

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