The problem with "Environmental" groups

Today’s National Post features a wonderful article by one of my favorite writers, Lawrence Solomon, on the topic of supposed wilderness protection in B.C. (As a convenience, I have pasted the whole article below.)
I’ve followed GreenPeace’s campaign for years to get a large area of old-growth forest in B.C. protected from exploitation. I recall being mildly offended at the organization coming up with the cheesy name “Great Bear Forest” which is in fact their creation, which was quickly followed by posters and a boycott campaign directed at Europeans (e.g., Germany) who don’t know enough about realities on the ground in Canada to see how they were being manipulated.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a conservationist (as opposed to “environmentalist”) and I very much favor settting aside certain tracts of land and water as world heritage sites. Actually, I’m of the school that things we can’t, in fact, be trusted to “manage” wilderness, which is why I favor setting aside large pristine areas for the preservation of habitat and wild creatures, and the enjoyment of future generations of backpackers and canoeists or kayakers.
Which is why, as Solomon so deftly points out, the Great Bear deal is such a sham. It’s not at all what the environmental groups advertised, beforem during or after the deal. And it’s entirely the kind of “manage the wilderness” arrangement that I distrust and that is sought out by rent-seeking corporations.
Sometimes my friends react with amazement when I tell them I have no time for GreenPeace and some of the other mainstream environmental groups. They assume this means I’m somehow against the environment. Nonsense. Read Solomon’s article and you’ll see a perfect illustration why I distrust these groups, and overtly dislike them, in fact. They allow their members and supporters to feel smug and superior to everyone else, while in fact they are the biggest sellouts around. It’s true, and I’ve encountered literally dozens of sad stories like this over the years. This Great Bear sell-out is not an exception — it’s actually the rule nowadays with environmental deal making.
It’s a bit simplistic, but my rule-of-thumb in assessing these things is to follow the money and ask, Is there a subsidy? If there is a subsidy (direct or indirect) that’s usually a red flag that someone is fooling us again. In a perverse way I have to admire the Machiavellian lumber companies for their cynical tactics. I hate the outcome, but I have a sort of awed respect for how good they are at playing this game, actually getting the government to underwrite the costs of logging old growth forests, and getting the world’s best-known environmental groups to applaud them for it in public. Who’d a thought it possible?
Anyway, here’s the story.

Great Bear hug
Environmentalists are cheering, but they are the losers in an agreement reached over B.C.’s last rain forest area
By Lawrence Solomon
Financial Post

Friday, February 10, 2006
The British Columbia government, B.C. resource industries and environmentalists on both sides of the border struck an agreement earlier this week to take down or otherwise exploit almost three-quarters of the Great Bear Rainforest, one of the world’s largest and last remaining intact temperate rainforest. More remarkably still, the environmentalists are cheering.
“A huge victory” exclaimed Greenpeace. “An incredible conflict-to-consensus story,” declared Sierra Club. “This innovative rainforest agreement provides a real world example of how people and wilderness can prosper together.”
In truth, we have a real-world example of how industry can squeeze government for subsidies to extract resources from wilderness areas that would otherwise remain untouched, with environmentalists the catalyst that precipitates the environmental despoliation.
Under the agreement, the BC government and the environmentalists have co-operated to put together an attractive financial package for industry, and all parties will now lobby the federal government for further subsidies. More provincial subsidies will follow, the amount to be negotiated, as is any determination of how much wilderness will actually be protected.
The agreement — really an interim step in a process 10 years in the making, with several more years ahead — couldn’t come too soon for industry. To stop foot-dragging on this deal, needed by wood-product consumers to keep feedstocks full and the cost of wood low, NorskeCanada, B.C.’s largest consumer of forest products and the world’s largest producer of telephone directories, intervened directly in a letter to Premier Gordon Campbell last year: “I am writing to add the voice of our company to those you have already heard from to urge you to move forward … prior to the upcoming Provincial Election,” urged president and CEO Russell Horner.
The industry efforts paid off with this week’s historic deal. With the help of all concerned, the remote Great Bear Rainforest, until now uneconomic and all-but-inaccessible for most kinds of economic development, has been put into play: “When we work together, we can produce meaningful benefits for everyone concerned,” an enthused Reynold Hert, Western Forest Products CEO, told the press.
Premier Campbell was also enthused. The central and northern coast of his province has mostly been unused wilderness, save for the coastal wolves, goshawks, spirit bears and other animals that sport there. Now, he will put this part of the province to work. As his Ministry of Agriculture and Lands reported the deal, in a Backgrounder under the theme “Jobs and the Economy, Environmental Management,” a key element in the province’s new vision for its coast is the “Promotion of stability, certainty and long-term resource use.” As the cherry on top, the Premier also knows the way is clear to making the now-protected spirit bear the mascot of the Vancouver Olympics, without fear of embarrassment.
The only losers in the deal are the environmentalists — Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network and ForestEthics –who have unwittingly been outmanoeuvred at the negotiating table. The David Suzuki Foundation, originally co-operative, to its credit turned critic when the consequences of the negotiations became evident.
Helping industry and government promote the subsidization of remote resource extraction, and helping to snooker the environmentalists, is a new enviro-industrial concept called “Environment-Based Management.” EBM, intended to base decisions on the social and economic needs of resource-dependent communities as well as on environmental factors, is now employed in aid of resource extraction worldwide. Japan uses EBM to justify its whaling industry. EBM B.C.-style will not only promote uneconomic logging in the Great Bear Rainforest, it will even allow mineral exploration and mining in the region’s new biodiversity areas.
These mineral lands constitute more than half of the so-called “protected areas” the agreement establishes. As further example of the little environmentalists can show for their years of coziness with the forestry industry, the industry has needed to make only trivial concessions on lands containing merchantable timber. In effect, industry will now get subsidies for giving up next to nothing, and will also receive the blessings of Greenpeace et al as it carries on with its removal of old-growth species.
The success by industry and government in getting the environmentalists to sign on is all the more remarkable in light of what seemed to be impossible-to-ignore benchmarks. The Great Bear Rainforest is the name of the Canadian portion of the West Coast temperate rain forest. In the more northerly U.S. portion, a region in the Alaskan Panhandle that is topographically and ecologically similar, the United States Forest Service in 1999 protected — rather than opened up — approximately 80% of the rain forest from development.
Canadian industry also needed to convince environmentalists to overlook one other detail: the findings of the independent scientific panel they themselves had helped establish. Known as the Coast Information Team, this multi-year, multi-million-dollar government-funded study concluded that as much as 70% of the Great Bear Rainforest needed to be protected to conserve the habitat of its large mammals. Yet the environmentalists accepted a proportion of protected land so low they can have no assurance that important habitats will be protected.
In a way, the environmental outcome is hardly surprising, In other attempts by environmentalist to negotiate agreements with government and industry, environmentalists have invariably come up short. In this case, the environmentalists have not only been worn out by the endless negotiations, they also faced enormous pressure from backers — mostly U.S. foundations — that put up an astonishing $60-million to seal a deal and wanted to see results.
A Suzuki Foundation report last year on the emerging agreement, which has not materially changed in the interim, lists the results:
“The proposed land-use agreement for the area would leave:
– 80% of critical Kermode [spirit bear] habitat unprotected [from logging and other forms of development]
– 65% of the most-intact and highest conservation value ecosystems unprotected
– 86% of the timber harvesting land base unprotected
– 77% of cedar old-growth forests unprotected
– 65% of the most productive salmon rivers unprotected.”