The Nature Conservancy protects about 119 million acres in 35 nations. For the natural world, this is a big deal.
But at the same time, The Nature Conservancy isn’t your average environmental nonprofit organization. Consider it devoted to the practice of “eco-pragmatism”–the view that the changes wrought on nature by humanity and industrialization are here to stay, and the best way to protect the world from corporate harm is by making environmentalism beneficial to corporations.
“Conservation cannot promise a return to pristine, prehuman landscapes,” Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist, and Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz wrote in the 2012 article “Conservation in the Anthropocene.” “Humankind has already profoundly transformed the planet and will continue to do so… [C]onservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks and wilderness—ideas that have never been supported by good conservation science—and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision.”
For big corporations, which fall over themselves to “partner” with The Nature Conservancy, these are very seductive ideas. The writer D.T. Max summed up the philosophy, if you can call it that, in his May 12, 2014 New Yorker article “Green is Good:”
“Not every species was irreplaceable: the extinction of dodos and passenger pigeons had caused no more damage, from a scientific point of view, than had the arrival of exotic ladybugs on Mt. St. Helens. Even the polar bear, ‘that classic symbol of fragility,’ might well survive global warming, because, as the Arctic ice melted, the seals that are its food source would also move north; they’d crowd together in a smaller but still viable habitat.”
That’s why I wasn’t at all surprised to get a news release the other day stating that The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii was elevating Christopher J. Benjamin, Alexander & Baldwin‘s President and Chief Operating Officer, to chairman of their Board of Trustees.
“It is an honor to serve as the chair of The Nature Conservancy’s Board of Trustees,” Benjamin said in the Dec. 16 Nature Conservancy of Hawaii news release. “I believe strongly in the mission of the Conservancy and its science-based, solution-oriented, collaborative approach. I look forward to working with my fellow trustees, staff and partners in continuing to advance the work of The Nature Conservancy.”
I think Benjamin is being serious and sincere in those statements. But I also believe that his view of the Conservancy’s “mission” is strikingly different than that usually advocated by environmentalists and biologists, who tend to see corporations and industrialization as enemies of the natural world’s preservation. And for his part, Benjamin hasn’t exactly been apologetic about the role his own corporation played in the reshaping of Hawaii’s water and land.
“The plantation lifestyle built this state,” Benjamin told the Wall Street Journal back in 2010, when he was working as Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar‘s general manager. “Our use of water is absolutely in the public interest.”
Still, the news release makes clear that The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii is very happy with Benjamin:
“Benjamin has served on the Hawaiʻi Board since 2007 and has worked closely with Conservancy staff to develop the 10-year vision and current three-year plan for forest and marine conservation. He is focused on ensuring financial stability, sound measures of conservation success and effective partnerships with agency and community partners, business leaders, resource managers, decision-makers and other supporters.”
What’s more, the news release says Alexander & Baldwin has been a lead corporate sponsor of the Conservancy’s Hawaii work “for decades.”
“Last April, the East Maui Irrigation Company, an A&B subsidiary, donated a conservation easement over 3,721 acres of East Maui rainforest to The Nature Conservancy,” states the news release. “The new parcel lies adjacent to the Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve and expanded its size to almost 9,000 acres, making it the largest private nature preserve in the state.”
Photo of Christopher Benjamin courtesy The Nature Conservancy of Hawaii