The Hidden Wealth of Earth Day

The environmentalist movement is warmly tucked in an image of a grassroots movement of concerned and dedicated citizens engaged in a desperate race to save the earth from development and destruction.

Faced with the threat of ozone holes, global warming, acid rain, destroyed rain forests, vanishing species, sewage filled rivers, unsafe drinking water, blackened skies, overflowing landfills, overdevelopment, overpopulation, and plain old human selfishness, Americans have responded to the crisis.

Everyday, Americans dutifully separate their glass, paper and plastic refuse for recycling and buy recycled paper and greeting cards so that landfills are protected. Industry has been heavily regulated to stop pollution of the air and water, the timber industry has been severely curtailed to save trees and the fishing industry must now carry environmental observers to assure dolphins are not caught in tuna fishing nets.

Almost every movie, television program and cartoon carries the proper environmental message. School children are drilled on the proper environmental attitudes. And newspapers make sure not to print scientific reports that are contrary to proper environmental thought.

People have taken up the crusade, answered the call and await the day when man and nature live in harmony. After all that effort, surely redemption, or at least clean air, must be close at hand.

But, according to continuing environmental doomsday alerts emanating from green activists all the way to officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air is still filthy, drinking water is dangerously contaminated and species are being wiped out faster than at any time in history. After all the effort, how can that be?



A study of the environmental industry shows the huge financial stakes it risks if their doomsday message ceases to be effective.

An investigation of financial reports of the leading environmental organizations shows startling evidence of a movement that is driven more by money and power than by environmental salvation. It shows a tangled web connecting environmental groups with big business that’s interested in using environmental regulations to kill off competition, government agencies looking to expand power and wealthy foundations working to promote their own social agendas.

In fact, the evidence is mounting that the benevolent grassroots movement, that Americans have been proud to serve for the good of man and nature, is really little more than a front for market and stock manipulation and real estate transactions.

Research shows that some of the best known and most publicly supported environmental groups own huge stock portfolios and real estate holdings. It further indicates that these groups use their non-profit status and reputations as selfless defenders of wildlife to buy and sell land at huge profits, and control the legislative process that regulates competing companies and developers. According to MONEY magazine, environmentalism is a $2.5 billion a year industry.

Consider the incomes, assets and the executive salaries of just three of the top ten environmental groups. According to 1993 fiscal records:

Ÿ The Nature Conservancy took in revenues of over $278 million with overall assets of almost a billion dollars. Its President, John Sawhill, earned a salary of $185,000.

Ÿ The World Wildlife Fund showed income of over $60 million with assets of more than $39 million. Its Executive Director, Kathryn Fuller also earned an annual salary of $185,000.

Ÿ The National Audubon Society, in 1992, received income of over $40 million and stockpiled assets of over $61 million. President Peter Berle raked in a cool $178,000.

Just these three environmental groups (and there are more than 12,000) account for assets in excess of a $1.1 billion dollars. Huge revenues like that don’t come from $15 checks from concerned donors. This money comes from foundation grants, government grants, real estate holdings, product marketing, business deals and well-managed stock portfolios.

And their tactics to acquire the money and build the portfolios are as ruthless and single-minded as any business has ever employed, but with a twist. These green groups have the power to create and control legislation to their own advantage. If private enterprise tried this on Wall Street, the perpetrators would probably be arrested and jailed for stock manipulation, price fixing and insider trading. The Environmental industry is hailed as heroic.



Businesses and foundations see the leadership of environmental groups as powerful political leaders. So they cultivate their trust and friendship with their checkbooks, hoping to assure an ally and political partner. They also see the green groups as a means to promote their own agendas. The results are huge transfers of money.

The Foundation Center, one of the most reliable sources for foundation grant-making activity, reports that in 1989 and 1990 there were 2,937 grants to environmental groups of $10,000 or more with a total value of $237,744,080 made by 429 foundations. Foundations making those grants included two Mellon Foundations, MacArthur Foundation, Pew Charitable Trust, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Packard Foundation, W. Alton Jones Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to name just a few.

Many of these foundations are part of an informal coalition of more than 160 private money givers called the Environmental Grant Makers Association that is responsible for most of the $340 million given to environmental groups each year.

This informal coalition of big-money people hold informal annual retreats to plan strategy and goals for the programs and policy outcomes they desire. They then set about making strategic money outlays in the form of grants to selected groups to assure their goals are carried out. There are no minutes kept and no formal organization in place to carry out these plans. The work of the Environmental Grant Makers Association, though powerful, is very much in the shadows. The social goals of the grantmakers are almost exclusively left-wing and anti-business.



The Surdna Foundation was established in 1917 by John E. Andrus who made his fortune in gold, timber and real estate. “Surdna” is Andrus spelled backwards. About half of Surdna’s annual grants go to Community Relations and the Environment. As part of an investment portfolio of $338,074,279 in assets, Surdna also owns and operates approximately 75,000 acres of timber in Northern California. The Andrus timber partners also own approximately 90,000 acres of timber in Northern California.

Documents show that Surdna Foundation made contributions of $35,000 to Environment Now, an environmental organization that held training seminars to teach group leaders how to file legal actions to stop federal timber harvesting. Surdna also gave grants to the Sierra Club ($90,000), Oregon Natural Resources Council, Wilderness Society ($325,000) Western Ancient Forest Campaign ($175,000) Audubon Society ($100,000) and the Natural Resources Defense Council ($557,000). All of these groups filed legal action to stop timber harvest on Federal land in “an emergency action to protect the forests and save the environment.”

As a result, thirty six mills were closed in Northern California, 8,000 loggers were unemployed and the price of lumber, now in severe shortage, rose dramatically.

Meanwhile, Surdna Foundation, which of course owned timber land in the same area, harvested its timber without the harassment of environmental legal action and reported a $2.7 million profit in the otherwise devastated industry. The $2.7 million can now be recycled into more grants for more environmental activity.

Other organizations buy stock in companies that would seem to be alien purchases for organizations that advocate such radical environmental policies. These would include stock purchases of companies like Caterpiller and John Deere, which make bulldozers and other logging equipment; some buy stock in lumber and mining companies; still others round out their portfolios with holdings in real estate, utilities and government securities.

These are, of course, sound, secure investments for entities with huge amounts of money, but strange for those who advocate the destruction of whole industries. Not so strange however, when considering the legislative and legal power held by the green groups to control the destinies of those industries.



There’s great profit to be made by huge corporations who support environmental regulation of their own industry, as well.

Consider the case of “dolphin safe” tuna fishing. In 1987 a radical environmentalist named Sam LaBudde worked out a deal with the Earth First Institute and the Marine Mammal Fund, anti-tuna fishing groups that had vowed to destroy the tuna industry.

LaBudde managed to lie his way onto the worst, non-American tuna fishing tub he could find. It’s crew was inexperienced, its nets were illegal and its equipment was wholly inadequate for tuna fishing. The ship was hand-picked for the mission simply because it was not your typical tuna boat.

LaBudde managed to film the boat butchering some dolphins in the process of capturing tuna. You see, tuna swim under dolphins and fishermen have to separate the two in order to catch tuna. American ships have special nets and procedures to do it with safety for the dolphins. This hand-picked ship did none of these things.

LaBudde got what he was after, a bogus propganda film that showed, through creative editing, the pre-planned disasters and horrible deaths of the dolphins. Armed with the film, LaBudde set off for Hollywood where, after showing the film, he was able to recruit major stars who would shed tears, cash and generatepublic outrage, calling for the end of the tuna industry.

One of those recruited was Jerry Moss of A&M Records, who organized a meeting with Anthony O’Reilly, Chairman of the Board of Heinz and owner of StarKist Tuna. A few weeks later StarKist announced its compliance to blatant and unnecessary tuna fishing demands made by Earth First Institute called collectively “dolphin safe” fishing. Immediately, two other major tuna companies, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee, announced compliance. Together they accounted for 70 percent of the U.S. market.

The rules have virtually no effect in protecting dolphins. Rules already in effect did much more to protect them. In fact, the true effect is the possible destruction of tuna because compliance to the rules forces fishermen to capture only young tuna which do not swim with dolphins. That means tuna breeding is diminished as the younger, female tuna are the first captured.

But the real effect was in favor of StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee. Overburdened by the unnecessary regulations, smaller companies were forced to close processing plants and canneries. Over 10,000 jobs were lost. Meanwhile, the big three grabbed a bigger share of the market hiding behind legislation, activism and propaganda about helping the environment. Free enterprise was never this easy.


There’s so much more to the story of big business environmentalism. The Nature Conservancy thrives on buying land from unsuspecting land owners at a reduced price and selling it back to the government for an inflated price. It bought and sold more than 73 million acres in just one year. Meanwhile landowners are losing control of their land, their business and their freedoms – all in the name of saving the environment.

As the environmental debate continues to rage, the alert and informed may want to investigate new claims of disaster before rushing to the recycling bin or sacrificing the use of heat or water. You may be giving up daily essentials or comforts simply to help some environmental group reap greater profits from their stock options.

Special thanks to Ron Arnold and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise for research provided to this article.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.