MAC: Mines and Communities

Saving the bathwater while throwing out the baby: the unacceptable warp of Woof

Published by MAC on 2006-10-08

Saving the bathwater while throwing out the baby: the unacceptable warp of Woof

Isn't it high time that mining critics spoke out about the consequences of massive tar sands exploitation in Canada and Venezuela? After all, much of it is mining under another name, requiring the extraction of huge chunks of land by shovel-and-truck.

And when will we finally declare WWF (colloquially known as "Woof" ), or at least WWF-Canada, to be an Enemy of the People?

This week's announcement that WWF has accepted a million dollars (Canadian) over five years from Inco to "advance a number of conservation initiatives" is just the latest in a wave of corporate bribes taken by the world's largest subscription "conservation" NGO over the past twenty years, in several countries including Australia and Indonesia . Take it from the horse's mouth: "“We have a track record of engaging with companies to reduce their ecological footprint. WWF works with big industry, like mining and forestry, because it is vital to achieve our conservation goals.” That's according to Arlin Hackman, Chief Conservation Officer for WWF-Canada. “Expanding our relationship with Inco is a logical and welcome next step for us both. We are excited about what we can accomplish together.”

What they can be pretty sure to accomplish is a another fraudulent "green card" awarded to Canada's most disreputable big mining company, more sinecures for WWF staff, and further sleepless nights for peoples at the sharp and bitter end of Inco's (and some of WWF's) operations on their doorstep.

It seems barely credible that WWF-Canada would sign its deal with Inco when the corporate villain of the piece was, at that very moment, being blockaded by thousands of inhabitants of Goro, New Caledonia. They were up in (nonviolent) arms, to halt the company's illegal construction of one of the world's biggest nickel-cobalt mines.

The Indigenous Peoples' organisation, Rheebu Nuu, began campaigning against the project five years ago. It said it wasn't against the mine per se (New Caledonia is hugely dependent on nickel mining for its GNP); but the company had culpably failed to evaluate the mine's likely impacts: the vast open-pit would spew 10,000 tonnes of dissolved metals a year into the ocean; while manganese contamination was likely to reach 100mg/litre of water - a hundred times the level allowed in France. The Kanak Senat Coutumier has also demanded that Inco introduce an impacts benefit agreement with the landowners.

Backing the protesters' case, on June 14 this year the administrative tribunal of Noumea (the territory's capital) cancelled the lease. []. Ignoring this, Inco continued its construction work. Late last month, Rheebu Nuu and several other groups demanded a court injunction against further work on the project until a new environmental impact assessment was carried out . Following this, residents took to the streets and imposed a blockade on Inco's offices, joined later in the week by some eighty local lorry drivers and their vehicles.

Tarred with a nasty brush

Let's return for a moment to the murky world of tar sands - because the Inco deal is only half the story behind WWF-Canada's complicity in destruction. According to researcher, Peter Cizek (writing in the July/August issue of "Canadian Dimension" magazine) ten years ago WWF and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) got a grant from the Pew Family Trusts based in Philadelphia. The scion of the family had originally set up Suncor, a prime exploiter of tar sands, when he was backing the neo-Nazi John Birch Society and declaring war on "godless communists". Though the original business fell on the rocks, Pew still owns Sunoco, a refiner of "syncrude".

A 1999 grant of $1.8 million over two years from Pew to the WWF aand CPAWS was designed to“protect at least 20 million acres of boreal forest wilderness in the Yukon and Northwest Territories of Canada.” Declares Peter Cizek: "Even though they never came even close to this lofty objective, the Pew kept cranking the dose of crackerjack cash higher and higher, from $2.1 million per year in 2000 to $4.5 million per year in 2002-03, topping out with a mind-blowing speedball injection of $12 million — the Pew’s single biggest grant in 2004."

We all know that (to paraphase Lord Action) "money corrupts and absolute money corrupts absolutely" - and this came pretty close to absolute money, even for an already well-heeled group like WWF-Canada. Says Cizek: " Just like they do not oppose the tar sands in Alberta, WWF and CPAWS also do not oppose the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in the Northwest Territories. After all, the new president and CEO of WWF, Mike Russill, is a former senior executive of Suncor."

So, no surprise there. And no surprise that WWF and CPAWS are only lobbying to establish a network of protected areas before the start of construction, while ignoring the impacts of tar sands extraction itself. Last year, WWF, CPAWS and another outfit, called Ducks Unlimited, squeezed an additional $9 million to conduct more studies to identify such a network under the government-approved Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy. This time it came from the Canadian federal goverment

According to Cizek, in 1996 WWF had threatened to sue that same federal government for approving Canada’s first diamond mine, without designating protected areas for the central arctic region. "WWF then withdrew its lawsuit in exchange for the government’s commitment to develop a Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy. Since this strategy was approved in 1999, WWF has not formally identified, much less established, any protected areas in the central arctic, while only two areas have received temporary protection elsewhere in the Northwest Territories under this strategy."

Buying silence

As pointed out in many postings on this site, WWF is not unique among environmental (and development) NGOs in its readiness to "sup with the devil." But it does use a shorter spoon than most. The trade-offs it makes with mining companies have potentially more serious consequences than those done by smaller organisations within other industrial, or consumer, sectors. This is not just because it's universally known and active, but because it claim to employ the best science in defending global habitats.

When an NGO ignores the impacts of a company's core operations ( mine and infrastructure), in return for a bag of corporate money to go and do its own thing elsewhere, what else can can we call it but "buying silence"? True, not all national WWF branches operate in the same way, or sing to the same songsheet. WWF-UK's work on tightening mining standards in Europe is, no doubt, commendable. WWF-India took strong issue with its parent body in Geneva after it signed up to a quasi-certification scheme for the world's largest cement manufacturer, Lafarge, in 2001.

Nonetheless, one WWF group will rarely - if ever - publicly criticise another when one of the "family" makes disturbing errors of moral judgment, as WWF-Canada has been doing. Defending the "brand" counts for much more than solidarity with the numerous victims of the companies with which WWF collaborates .

[Comment by Nostromo Reserch, London, October 8 2006]

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