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The oligarchs of conservation

Friday 8th May 2015

Polar bear toy

Soft toys versus real conservation needs?


The gap between the richest wildlife “conservation” organizations and the rest has never been wider. You will all know these oligarchies, no need to mention them by name.

It is estimated that the top BINGOs (big international NGOs) rake in well over one billion dollars per year. You read that right, one billion. A massive conservation industry exists amongst us while wildlife all over the globe continues to decline. How does that work?

Let’s look at a few reasons, and I’m not the first to mention these. It has these days become “acceptable” that any conservation colossus will spend on the far side of 40% to maintain their “activities”. To keep the massive beast fed, it requires advertising, gargantuan fundraising teams, lawyers, public relation firms, a very big staff, and constant lobbying to earn more and more from governments and big businesses.

This means that of that one billion dollars, well over $400 million is needed to support the basic operations of oligarchies. Per year. That money never touches wildlife. One BINGO just constructed a new office building the UK – cost? In excess of £20 million.

No “self-respecting” BINGO CEO these days would take a salary less than $300,000 to 400,000. The highest-paid conservation corporation exec takes home a cool $735,000 annually. President Obama earns $400,000 and Vice President Joe Biden is paid $233,000 annually. A US Senator earns between $175,000 to $192,000. You might say Presidents and Senators get lots of other “perks” besides their base salary, but not to worry. President Obama gets an “entertainment” budget of only $19,000 per year, a figure dwarfed by a conservation corporation CEO.

So where does all the money come from? Public donations for sure, but only to some small extent. You will all have seen the advertisements on TV, on the internet, on the subways, on billboards. But in actuality such donations only provide a minimum of grease for the conservation corporation gravy train.

Governments and big business provide the most. It is no wonder that the members of BINGO boards are also well represented in big business boardrooms. It is no wonder that BINGO investment portfolios include businesses that are the biggest enemies to wildlife. But hush, those are kept from the public eye. Monsanto anyone? Oil companies? Palm oil companies? Companies that promote “better living through chemistry” and GMOs?

Transparency is not a forte of the oligarchs. While mandated to produce annual financial statements as “non- profit” organizations, you will never, ever, no way, ever penetrate to the nitty gritty. Teams of paid accountants and tax consultants are available to spin and obfuscate.

Sad is it not? Good ideas for conservation initiatives always originate from grassroots and small conservation NGOs. The BINGOs cannot match these because they are so severely out of touch with what is happening on the ground, and cannot realistically put together a needed response for fear of upsetting their big business donors.

The oligarchs of conservation are captains of supertankers that cannot readily change course. A small organization sits at the helm of a speedboat – nimble, quick, responsive, fast. And relevant!

Supporting responsive NGOs should be the trumpet call of our time. We should realize that we are at a fork in the road – support the massive expense to keep the BINGOs alive or accept that wildlife conservation funding can be freed from big business shackles and can lead to a more functional paradigm. Because once liberated from vested interest constraints, just imagine what a few million could achieve for a small dedicated NGO?

Governments also need to get on board. They need to again award good ideas and programmes instead of wasteful ones. Governments are now so overtaken by corporations that they spend hardly anything on innovation – they leave that to the “trickle down” theory. But the internet was built by vast public investment by the US government. The worldwide web was made a reality because of vast amounts of public money – from Europe – allowing the creation of the Cern Institute, the mother of the web. Governments need to rethink their current lazy largesse – to only support the big is a formula for stultification. The worldwide web and the internet provide us with a level of interaction and knowledge unimaginable even a few years ago, and if you want information it is all right there. How do you think I was able to access what Joe Biden earns?

In the world economy, the International Monetary Fund identified “inequality … as the greatest economic risk of the next decade”. Just insert “conservation” in the right place in that statement and you will get my message.

How you chose to donate your money is of course up to you. But here is your challenge – would you continue to donate to the oligarchs or to an organization where your dollars, pounds, euros will actually be valued and guaranteed to make a difference instead of contributing to the already bloated salary of a BINGO CEO?

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Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:05

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