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Big Oil Plays Fairy Godmother to Environmental NGOs: A Twisted Tale of Greenwashing

Posted by John Donovan: 4 March 24

In the most bewildering plot twist since Darth Vader declared paternity, it turns out the big, bad oil giants are the puppeteers of some of our favourite environmental guardians. That’s right, folks! Royal Dutch Shell, the fairy godmother of the environmental realm, waved its magic wand (or, more accurately, its hefty chequebook) and helped birth the World Wildlife Fund International. And just when you thought this fairy tale couldn’t get any weirder, Shell’s former president, John Loudon, moonlighted as the WWF’s president for a spell, bringing a whole new meaning to “keeping it in the family.”

But wait, the plot thickens. British Petroleum, not wanting to miss out on the fun, showered WWF with love (and cash) for a cool 40 years, spending a princely sum of $238 million in 2011 alone. It seems like these oil barons were on a philanthropic spree, with Shell Oil kicking things off with a generous donation of $663,000 to WWF-UK back in 1961. Over the next four decades, this turned into a veritable flood of donations from the likes of BP, Shell, and their oily friends, all the way until the year 2000.

Now, one might naively ask, “Why on Earth would oil-polluting multinationals finance anti-pollution projects?” Well, dear reader, perhaps it’s their way of tidying up the environment they’ve been merrily soiling. Or, and just hear me out here, could it be a masterclass in smoke and mirrors, allowing them to continue their polluting ways under the guise of green benevolence?

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more “What the actual f**k,” let’s ponder the existential crisis that is the relationship between environmental advocacy and oil magnates. These fossil fuel champions are campaigning against nuclear energy (because heaven forbid we have alternatives) and hiring scientists to peddle the myth that fossil fuels aren’t the bad guys in our climate change saga.

It begs the question: Are organizations like Greenpeace unknowing pawns in the oil industry’s chess game against nuclear energy, or are they willing participants, turning a blind eye in exchange for the almighty dollar?

And then there’s the kicker: The campaign to debunk climate change, potentially puppeteered by the oil tycoons who fear a shift away from fossil fuels. A cover from Newsweek once screamed, “Global Warming Is a Hoax,” which might as well have been sponsored by Big Oil, considering the cosy relationship between the industry and some green giants.

Greenpeace, bless their hearts, once said, “There’s a difference between free speech and a campaign to deny the climate science to undermine international action on climate change… Freedom of speech does not apply to misinformation and propaganda.” Yet, the likes of Standard Oil are bankrolling them, alongside the Sierra Club, as per the enlightening revelations of Activist Cash.

The Sierra Club cosied up to the gas industry, pocketing over $25 million from Chesapeake Energy’s deep pockets between 2007 and 2010. Meanwhile, BP’s CEO snagged a seat on the board of Conservation International, which received a cool $12 million from BP.

Even the Environment Defense Fund, which prides itself on shunning corporate donations, partnered with the likes of BP and Shell for the Partnership for Climate Action. And let’s not forget the American Wind and Wildlife Institute, a joint venture with BP Wind Energy.

Is it possible that WWF’s conservation efforts in the Coral Triangle were merely laying the groundwork for oil exploration in an area teeming with marine biodiversity and, coincidentally, vast oil reserves?

So, there you have it, folks. In this twisted fairy tale, the green sheep are being shepherded by oil wolves in a world where the line between polluter and protector is as blurred as the smog over a refinery. And the moral of the story? In the grand theatre of environmental conservation, it seems Big Oil has bought the best seats in the house.

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