Environmental Groups Need to Stop Carrying the Weight of the World
By RUSSELL MAX SIMON
ENVIRONMENTAL NONPROFITS lack a compelling vision for promoting lobal sustainability, and without
such a vision, they will fail to galvanize
the support essential to protecting the
earth from irreversible damage.
The current grand vision that has
been promoted for years—that only
through coordinated, unified, international global action can the world solve
the problem of climate change—is intellectually bankrupt.
This has been a painful realization.
After all, much of my professional life’s
work has been devoted to finding and
articulating such a vision.
Until recently I led communications
for the first American environmental think tank, the Worldwatch Institute, as great a platform as any from
which to communicate environmental
That was in fact our mission—to explain to the public, to business, to nonprofits, and to policy makers what conservation steps to take and why it was
so urgent to take action.
But when donations became stagnant,
when grants dried up, when publication sales were in decline, we began to
question that vision. Rather than take
a serious look at revising it, though, we
moved right ahead and started measuring our results.
Like many nonprofits, Worldwatch in
recent years has been pushed by grant
makers to show it is making a differ-
ence. But when the mission is to create
a sustainable world, it’s hard to show
tributed approach to solving the world’s
problems: the popularity of getting information out via social media, the
wave of populist movements, and the
increasing irrelevance (or fecklessness)
of world institutions. This new position
could underpin a rich and compelling
story to tell to individual donors, institutional donors, the media, decision
makers, and the public.
By ceasing to describe the vision in
such broad terms, the vision would become more compelling because it would
be more real.
By making the goals easier to achieve
environmental organizations would
make it more likely that donors would
believe their support could make a real
difference. They would make pitches to
grant makers more focused and thus
more likely to be perceived as deliver-
ing on measurable results. They would
make themselves more credible to the
news media and to the public, both of
which are deeply cynical about the po-
tential for global cooperation or global
Russell Max Simon was director of
communications at the Worldwatch
Institute until August.
Uncovering a Foundation’s Central Role in a N.C. Medical School’s Dark Chapter
NORTH CAROLINA has been trans- fixed this past summer by the gripping, tragic testimony of
victims of its eugenics program, which
forcibly sterilized some 7,600 state residents from 1929 to 1974.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Carnegie Corporation
of New York, it might be instructive
to recall that foundation’s contribution
to North Carolina’s shameful past.
Why bring up this unpleasant, happily obscure historical footnote on the
occasion of the Carnegie Corporation’s
grand centenary? Because philanthropy at last seems a bit weary of self-celebration and has begun to realize
that it will become more effective only if
it is willing to learn from its mistakes.
Eugenics presents a serious opportunity to do so.
Eugenics was a pseudo-science popu-
lar in the early 20th century, champi-
oning the notion that the human race
could be biologically enhanced by en-
couraging the “breeding” of “superior
stocks” while discouraging, even forc-
ibly preventing, the propagation of “in-
In America, the mark of “inferiority”
could be anything from inherited physi-
cal or mental disabilities to being poor
or a member of a disfavored racial or
As the book documents,
eugenics “would not have
risen above ignorant rants
without the backing
of philanthropic largess.”
tutions. Starting with Indiana in 1907,
at least 27 states passed such laws,
ultimately ensnaring some 60,000 victims.
Among the most active states was
North Carolina. Its sterilization program lasted well into the ’70s, which is
why several thousand of its victims are
still alive today.
Some of them testified this summer
before a governor’s task force ponder-
ing compensation for the outrages vis-
ited upon them by the state.
Like Dr. Allan and Dr. Herndon, Mr.
Osborn was persuaded that a genetics-trained medical profession could promote eugenics without the taint of Nazi
That did not diminish his enthusiasm
for state-sponsored sterilization, how-
ever. Writing in A Preface to Eugenics
in 1940, Mr. Osborn noted approvingly
that “the inexcusable process of allow-
ing feebleminded persons ... to repro-
duce their kind is on the way to being
checked in a number of states in which
such persons may be sterilized.”
In his capacity as a Carnegie trust-
ee, he secured several grants from the
Carnegie Corporation for the founding
of the Bowman Gray department of ge-
netics, thereby furthering his goal of
injecting eugenics into the medical pro-
fession. Osborn was as well a director
of the pro-eugenics Pioneer Fund from
1937 to 1958, which also financed Dr.
As investigative reporter Edwin
Black documents in War Against the
Weak, eugenics would not “have risen
above ignorant rants without the backing of corporate philanthropic largess.”
Mr. Black’s exhaustive and authoritative research turned up mountains of
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