Protect or Profit?

| 8/5/2014 2:54:00 PM


The Nature Conservancy has come under fire for allowing drilling on its land.

The Nature Conservancy is the largest environmental organization in the U.S., operating in all 50 states and backed by over $6 billion in assets. Being such a big operation, it’s bound to face some controversies, whether it’s animal management methodology or the fact that its current president spent 24 years serving Goldman Sachs. However the latest revelation is particularly surprising. In Naomi Klein’s forthcoming book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate she reveals that The Nature Conservancy has made millions of dollars off of oil being drilled on a piece of land it manages in Texas, a fact acknowledged by the organization.

The primary contention for environmentalists is over the welfare of the Attwater prairie chicken, a critically endangered species, that was supposed to use part of the land as a refuge. However it has not been seen there since 2012 (it’s unknown if drilling played a part in this though internal documents from the organization suggested that drilling would disturb the birds). Many activists and environmental groups have been highly critical of The Nature Conservancy in light of the discovery. Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, asserts that The Nature Conservancy “has just lost its moral compass.”

In its defense, The Nature Conservancy contends that it doesn’t have a say in the drilling. The land was donated by Mobil Oil in 1995, in an effort to save the aforementioned chicken which suffered dramatically dwindling numbers due to hunting and habitat destruction. Under a 1999 contract, the organization allowed new drilling that came closer to the breeding grounds of the prairie chicken with profits to be used for conservation efforts. However The Nature Conservancy now says it regrets the decision. Klein argues that the organization could have fought the drilling requests by utilizing termination clauses in the contract. She adds, “We all need to get off fossil fuels. If the largest environmental organization in the world can’t figure out how to stop pumping oil and gas, how are they going to help the rest of us figure it out?”

Photo by Ray Bodden, licensed under Creative Commons.

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