Earth Island Institute


The Earth Island Institute (EII) is a deep-pocketed environmental activist group that was founded by David Browser—the same environmentalist who founded the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and other environmental organizations. Like the Sierra Club, EII has grown from a humble group of mountaineers to a radical multi-million dollar organization.

EII is a public interest organization that was established “to encourage the efforts of creative individuals on critical ecological issues” by supporting new ideas and initiatives that it believes will promote ecological sustainability. No one would doubt that EII’s mission statement is laudable, but EII’s priorities include eliminating the livelihood of indigenous fishermen, promoting its allegedly fake “Dolphin Safe” rating system, protecting an energy inefficient green building rating system, and generating needless fears regarding the safety of plastics and genetically modified foods.

To support its causes EII relies on a number of big-money donors, including the Hugo Chavez-supporting Global Exchange and the liberal money pass-through, the Tides Foundation.

Dubious Donations

Every organization needs money to accomplish its goals, and the Earth Island Institute helps some charities to meet their fundraising goals. But not all charities are created equal, as some of the groups that the Earth Island Institute donate to have questionable pasts. Global Exchange, for instance, was given $456,095 by EII from 2006 to 2011.

This is the same Global Exchange that spearheaded much of the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez’s propaganda campaign by offering “reality tours” of Venezuela to Americans and that states on its website “Good Chavez leaves a legacy to follow their principles and work for the poor and that is what must continue to be done…CHAVEZ WILL LIVE IN HEARTS FOREVER!” And this is the very same Global Exchange whose founding director, Medea Benjamin, is an ardent pro-Castro and Marxist Sandinistas advocate.

The controversial Tides Foundation is another of EII’s recipients. Tides behaves less like a philanthropic organization than a legal front for laundering donations that might otherwise draw scrutiny. Tides has collected over $200 million since 1997, most of it from other foundations, and in turn uses that money to fund environmental activist campaigns. This way, more mainstream foundations can donate to more radical causes without a money trail.

Fake “Dolphin Safe” Labeling Program

On top of receiving money from shady organizations like Global Exchange, the Earth Island Institute uses this money for allegedly fake programs. EII claims to have a tuna monitoring program that was established “to ensure tuna supplies are indeed “Dolphin Safe.” This label is supposed to help consumers determine whether or not companies catch tuna in certain, dolphin-friendly ways. But EII doesn’t actually have monitors in most of the world to determine which tuna is dolphin safe.

Sylvester Pokajam, managing director of the National Fisheries Authority for 20 percent of the world’s tuna catch, said “There are no EII observers whatsoever, I am 110 percent confident, I know they don’t have observers, they are telling lies. They don’t have any program in place.” And EII’s own Associate Director of EII’s International Marine Mamal Project admitted that it is mostly the case that EII monitors don’t go on board of the vessels, and that EII doesn’t have the resources to observe the thousands of ships catching the tuna.

Even if EII could accurately label tuna as “dolphin safe” tuna, most consumers believe that dolphin safe means no dolphins were killed or injured in the capture of the tuna. In reality, EII’s label does not include the guarantee that dolphins were not harmed or killed. Essentially, EII’s “Dolphin Safe” label is meaningless.

In 2012, the World Trade Organization ruled that the “dolphin safe” tuna label unfairly discriminates against Mexican tuna—a move that was heavily criticized by EII. The Campaign for Safe Tuna criticized EII’s labeling program and position on Mexican tuna:

While Earth Island continues to bad-mouth competitors who refuse to pay for their false and deceptive labeling scheme, countries like Mexico have reduced dolphin moralities to historic lows by added countless marine safety measures to their fishing practices.

Opposition to Indigenous Traditions

The Earth Island Institute has now made an enemy out of indigenous villagers in the Solomon Islands. In 2010, EII agreed to pay villagers up to $400,000 to stop their tradition of hunting dolphins – dolphins which, if the villagers had sold to aquariums, could have brought in as much as $150,000 per animal. But when the villagers barely received 1/3rd of what they were owed after giving EII a nine-month extension on their payments, the villagers had no choice but to go back to their traditional ways of hunting dolphins to survive in the local economy.

A Fanalei village elder, Charles Saru, told the Solomon Star that “We are hunting dolphins as it is our way of life, part of our tradition and most importantly it is our means of survival and obtaining income to move on with our lives. “We hunt dolphins for its meat and teeth. The bones we bury them back into the sea as a form of respect to God’s given blessing to us through catching dolphins,” Mr Saru said.

After providing incentive for the Solomon villagers to forego their traditions and past way of life, and then allegedly not following through on their agreement to pay the villagers, EII then claimed that the local villagers were killing dolphins as “a way to get press attention and sympathy.”

Plastic Scaremongering

Another item on Earth Island Institute’s radical agenda includes eliminating the use of plastics. To achieve this, the organization runs the Plastic Pollution Coalition, “a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policy-makers working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals and the environment.”

To scare the public about the “danger” of plastic, the Coalition promotes dubious studies claiming that plastic is toxic. For instance, the Coalition calls on the Food and Drug Administration to ban bisphenol-A, a key component in plastics that has been widely studied and determined to be safe at normal exposure levels by a large body of research.

In fact, scientists with the FDA and the National Institute of Health recently published two major studies that, according to researchers, “both support and extend the conclusion from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that BPA is safe as currently used.” The overwhelming amount of research showing BPA’s safety at normal exposure levels has led government regulators, including the European Food Safety Authority, to conclude that BPA is far less risky than some advocacy groups suggest.

Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the Plastics Pollution Coalition still claims that if individuals “want to lose weight, reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer, and ward off diabetes” they should avoid canned food or plastics containing BPA.

The Coalition works to promote plastic-free college campuses and even plastic-free towns. Even plastics not made with petroleum aren’t approved by the coalition—plant-based plastics must meet a rigorous set of standards to receive the coalition’s approval, including a ban on plastics made from genetically modified plants.

Fighting Greenwashing…By Defending Greenwashing

In conjunction with Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, EII launched “Greenwash Action”—a new project to defend the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards from criticism. Yet LEED itself has been criticized by environmentalists as “greenwashing”, or promoting green-based environmental initiatives for public image benefits while actually operating in a way damaging to the environment.

LEED standards are environmentally friendly in name only. In practice, LEED buildings are no more energy efficient than conventional buildings. In fact, LEED certified buildings don’t even have to prove that they’re energy efficient to maintain certification. They just have to show that, based on computer models, they’ll achieve a certain level of efficiency. Evaluations of actual energy and water usage of LEED-certified buildings continually call into question whether LEED buildings are really “green.”

Buildings can achieve LEED certification by earning points for things like adding a bike rack (1 point) or building only the minimum number of parking spaces (2 points)—not exactly items that promote energy efficiency. A USA TODAY review of 7,100 LEED-certified commercial buildings found that building designers targeted the easiest and cheapest points available, including trying to create pleasant and healthful office spaces, using common building materials, providing preferred parking for fuel-efficient cars, bike racks and showers, and posting educational displays about the building.

It’s ironic, then, that EII’s Greenwash Action defends the very thing it purports to expose.

Opposing Life-Saving Technology

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, British Royal Society, World Health Organization, American Medical Association, and American Association for the Advancement of Science and even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have all expressed their belief that no adverse health effects have been attributed to genetically modified foods (GMOs).

Yet, despite the agreement that GMOs are safe, the Earth Island Institute is pushing for the labeling of foods containing GMOs. By promoting anti-GMO organizations such as Surfing for Change, and by supporting rumors that foods containing GMO’s lead to suicide, can’t help the hungry, and harm people with gluten-related disorders, EII is stirring up needless fears about the safety of GMOs.

Many environmental activists, such as Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore, have come out against the very GMO labeling tactics that EII supports, saying that such labeling contributes to the death of millions worldwide. Moore tells us to ask: How do these activists “abandon up to 500,000 children who go blind every year in the developing world from Vitamin-A deficiency” when GIFs like Golden Rice – genetically  improved rice infused with Vitamin A – could prevent such suffering?

 Growth in the GMO [“genetically modified organism”] sector is severely limited under a labeling regime, so much so that fewer and fewer corporations will develop new GMO crops, thus guaranteeing that this still untapped field of science never becomes fully accepted by the masses. Existing GMO crops will continue to either be highly restricted as in Europe, or labeled like a package of cigarettes here in America, while a new crop like Golden Rice is just best left on the back burner while every possible angle on its side-effects is studied to death… literally!–Patrick Moore

The labeling campaign supported by EII, however, has refused to ask such questions, and ignored the very people who need GMOs most: the hungry and the poor. Contrary to scientific consensus that GMOs are harmless, and despite many environmental leaders calling for increased use of GMOS to help save the poor, EII continues to aid groups that oppose GMOs’ use.