When Environmentalists legitimize Plunder

By Michael Barker. January 26, 2009 - copyright Michael Barker
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"For more than twenty years, we have empowered communities in jungles and deserts to make conservation part of their livelihoods. From early partnerships with Patagonia and Starbucks to our ground-breaking relationship with Wal-Mart, we've worked with companies large and small to make conservation part of their business model."
— Conservation International, 2008.
"[T]he big conservation organizations seem more like 'enablers' that are slowing down the corporate awakening to environmental and social responsibilities by providing the companies with easy ways to appear green without making significant changes."
—Christine MacDonald, 2008. (1)


(Swans - January 26, 2009)   Conservation International assert that they have redefined conservation. Formed in 1987, Conservation International boasts of "single-handedly redefin[ing] conservation," and "pioneering" the conservation transition by "keeping places intact as relics of the past" and aiming towards encompassing a vision "in which people [live] in harmony with nature." A closer examination of Conservation International's agenda reveals that they have succeeded in promoting a working model of conservation that will most likely destroy more environment than it protects. (2) A brief perusal of their project affiliates reveals a campaign of greenwashing, (3) and so it is fitting that within six months of opening their doors for business, Conservation International made history by becoming the "first environmental group in the world to do a debt-for-nature swap." (4) Aiming to conserve nature in this manner benefits corporate partners, like Alcoa, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Cargill, CEMEX, ChevronTexaco, and not the environment.

This article will provide a critical overview of Conservation International's organizational history. It will illustrate that rather than tempering environmental destruction, Conservation International's work serves the opposite purpose. This article will provide a historically informed analysis of Conservation International's global greenwashing agenda and extend former Conservation International media advisor, Christine MacDonald's, critique of her former employers and the environmental movement more generally. (5)

Capitalist Environmentalists


Mining, Capitalism, and Forests: A Match Made in Heaven


Free-Market "Conservation" Biology


The World Wilderness Congress and Elite Networks


Uprooting Conservation Multinationals

About the Author

Michael Barker has recently handed in his PhD thesis at Griffith University in Australia. His other articles can be accessed at



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