A movement is building to shut down the tar sands, one of the most destructive projects in human history. Decisions are being made about the strategies that will be used and the goals that will be pursued.
But as the number of people opposing the tar sands grows larger, the number of people making the crucial decisions is getting smaller -- and closer to the oil and gas industry.
A small, secretive group of insiders has been collaborating with large American foundations and industry to concentrate decision-making power concerning anti-tar sands campaigns. Headed by Michael Marx, one of the architects of the Great Bear Rainforest deal in northwestern British Columbia, these groups have a track record and a documented trail of funding relationships that steer them--whether they intend to or not--into closed-door, backroom deals with industry and government.
The lack of transparency, the absence of any democratic structures, the questionable sources of funding, and the track record of these corporate and foundation-funded Environmental NGOs are the subjects of a new report by Macdonald Stainsby and Dru Oja Jay. Offsetting Resistance: The effects of foundation funding from the Great Bear Rainforest to the Athabasca River examines the role of ForestEthics and other Environmental NGOs in the Great Bear Rainforest deal and in the Northwest Territories Protected Areas Strategy. From there, it reveals the hidden structures behind the emerging "North American Tar Sands Coalition," which seeks to keeps its decision-making body "invisible to the outside," while funnelling millions of dollars to its preferred groups -- to the potential detriment and sidelining of community organizers across North America.
"After researching the history of these foundation-driven organizations," says report co-author Macdonald Stainsby, "the thing that stands out is the repeated use of temporary structures where transparency and democratic input is non-existent. Worse, funding may be used to force a specific agenda on the communities who are at immediate risk from tar sands extraction."
"The other thing we found," adds Stainsby, "is that the communities who win battles with industry tend to do so despite the work of these groups."
"We're at an important point," says report co-author Dru Oja Jay, "where we have to decide what kind of anti-tar sands movement we're going to build."
"We can choose to become beholden to secret puppet-masters, funded by massive American foundations and industry, or we can choose a process that's accountable to the communities who are fighting for their lives, a process that's democratic and transparent."
"Everything depends on which way it goes," Jay adds. "We're trying to provide relevant information so that people can make informed decisions. Will money be used to silence more critical voices, or will grassroots initiatives be placed at the forefront of the struggle?"