Heads up, Canada! Our one and only big energy customer, the United States, isn’t going to need Canadian oil any more. That’s the implication of the International Energy Agency’s latest predictions. The U.S. will be the world’s largest oil producer by 2020 and the largest oil exporter by 2030. Some say this could happen a lot sooner.
At the same time that the U.S. is fast becoming an energy exporter, American charitable foundations are restricting Canadian fossil fuel development with conservation initiatives that put huge areas of land off-limits to natural resources development. Whether it is their intention or not, large conservation areas are de facto trade barriers that would restrict Canada’s marine access to global energy markets — on all three coasts — and maintain the U.S. monopoly on Canadian exports, keeping Canada over a barrel and on the sidelines of the global energy market.
The downside of the U.S. monopoly on Canadian exports is huge. Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources told the B.C. Business Council in a speech Tuesday that the Canadian economy loses out on $18-billion annually – $50-million every day – because Canadian oil is sold into the U.S. market below market value.
For the Canadians on the front lines of environmental conservation initiatives, it’s all about saving the bears, caribou, salmon and so forth. But for the U.S. foundations that fund these initiatives, this is about oil.
The largest environmental initiatives in Canada are the Great Bear Rainforest on the north coast of B.C., the Canadian Boreal Initiative and the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative. In all three, the big funder is an American foundation.
Since the late 1990s the San Francisco-based William & Flora Hewlett Foundation (“Hewlett”) and the David & Lucile Packard Foundation (“Packard”), both created by the founders of tech giant Hewlett-Packard, have paid US$90-million to First Nations and environmental groups, tax returns show.
The Seattle-based Wilburforce Foundation, created by Gordon Letwin, one of the founders of Microsoft, has granted at least US$23-million to B.C. ENGOs and is the big funder behind the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative which would restrict mining and energy development on a huge swath of North America, 3,200 km long and 500 km wide.
Hewlett’s Western Conservation strategy, co-funded by Wilburforce and others, aims to protect iconic species such as grizzly, lynx, beaver and bighorn. But there’s more to it than that. This initiative aims to restrict fossil fuel development on 85-million acres in the U.S., Alberta, B.C. and Yukon. In essence, they want eight parks, each the size of Switzerland.
Another Hewlett goal is that the energy supply is at least 25% renewable. As such, the focus on British Columbia is peculiar. B.C.’s energy is already 94% renewable, one of the best in the world.
The Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI), co-funded by the Hewlett foundation and the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, aims to restrict roads, hydro, forestry, mining and energy development on 1.2 billion acres of northern Canada. That’s 40% of Canada! Federal and provincial governments have pledged to put off limits nearly 600-million acres of northern Canada, an area a third larger than Alaska and California combined. Under Jean Charest, Quebec agreed to restrictions over an area the size of Texas, with strict restrictions on an area double the size of all U.S. national parks, combined.
Pew’s arctic initiative, Ocean’s North, aims to restrict offshore oil and gas drilling but what we hear about most is protecting the belugas, polar bears and the people of the north.
The same U.S. foundations that fund conservation in Canada also fund American groups working towards energy security, including a foundation called Securing America’s Future Energy. The name says it all.
“U.S. dependence on foreign sources of energy constitutes a serious threat – militarily, socially and economically,” says Pew’s Project for National Security, Energy and Climate. In Pew’s view, renewable energy is not only clean, it’s patriotic.
American foundations aim to reduce fossil fuel dependence to stop global warming and strengthen U.S. national, energy and economic security. That’s clear. What’s unclear is whether they fund conservation initiatives in Canada, in part, to foster U.S. energy security.
To address climate change, lead American foundations fund grassroots campaigns that bring about a “massive shift in investment capital” towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. This strategy is described in Design to Win, the touchstone project of the Presidential Climate Project which aims to create the climate legacy of President Obama.
The main funder of the Presidential Climate Project is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the same foundation that is behind-the-scenes on the campaign to block the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and ban oil tanker traffic – but only on the strategic coast of British Columbia and in the Canadian arctic. Never mind the dozens of tankers that import oil to the U.S. on a daily basis, the Rockefeller Brothers are only against the tankers that would export Canadian oil to Asia.
The Rockefeller Brothers have powerful connections in Vancouver. The founder and long-time chair of the U.S. Presidential Climate Action Project was the late Ray Anderson. One of many positions that he held was as a long-time director of the David Suzuki Foundation.
RBF’s point person for both the Presidential Climate Action Project and the campaign against pipelines and tanker traffic is the same person: Michael Northrop.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, now leading the charge to block expansion of oil tanker traffic, met with Mr. Northrop in 2010, at taxpayers’ expense, at the Rockefeller Brothers’ offices in New York. In a letter earlier this year, Robertson said that he met Northrop “on the advice of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office” and that “the discussions focused solely on Mr. Northrop’s work as a member of Mayor Bloomberg’s Sustainability Advisory Board and New York City’s long-term sustainability plan.”
Since the late 1990s, environmental organizations (ENGOs) in Canada have received at least 2,000 grants for a total of US$425-million from 40 American foundations, according to my analysis of U.S. tax returns. (Earlier this year, I reported US$300-million from 15 foundations.)
Tides Canada, the charitable foundation at the center of the foreign funding fuss, reported 45% of total revenue from outside Canada in 2011, up from 40% in 2010.
Almost all of the U.S. foundations that fund Canadian ENGOs are members of the San Francisco-based Consultative Group for Biological Diversity (CGBD), an umbrella organization created in 1987 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an agency of the U.S. State Department. CGBD members have more than US$50-billion in assets. They granted a total of US$3.2 billion in 2010; they can’t be out-spent. The Hewlett foundation and the Packard foundation alone have spent more than US$1-billion on climate and energy-related initiatives since 2008.
The CGBD’s focus on Canadian oil is no coincidence. Back in 2000, the CGBD had a pivotal meeting in Vancouver with a focus on energy and “Northern North America” (read: Canada). A CGBD report on that 2000 meeting says that its focus on B.C. goes back to “an historic CGBD briefing” in the early 1990s. “Local hosts, the Endswell and Vancouver Foundations, threw a rollicking party for the region’s environmental workers and visiting funders at the Web Café” (at the Vancouver aquarium), says another CGDB document on that same meeting. For 15 years, Endswell’s president has been Joel Solomon, a big backer of Mayor Gregor Robertson.
In 2002, the CGBD held its annual meeting in Yoho National Park, near Field, B.C. The focus was “interrelationships of global warming, energy extraction and large-scale landscape protection.” Keynote speakers were David Suzuki and David Schindler of the University of Alberta.
Some U.S. grants are unusually large. For example, in 2003 the Rockefeller Brothers Fund granted US$1-million to First Nations on the B.C. coast. Of all 2,500 grants for US$227-million made by the Rockefeller Brothers since 2003, that was the third largest, according to my analysis of data from the U.S. Foundation Center.
Environmental and aboriginal groups say they call the shots with their American funders and yet many U.S. foundations don’t even accept unsolicited proposals. They have agendas of their own and have been funding the same groups for years.
In terms of earning and keeping a social license to operate, dialogue with front-line environmental and aboriginal groups is important but not enough. There’s an elephant in the room. Government and industry need to deal directly with the deep-pocketed foundations that write the big cheques.