PBSG invited WWF and PBI advocates to its last polar bear experts meeting

In 2009, for the first time, the polar bear biologists that make up the IUCN’s Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) invited four professional advocates – not one or two, but four – to their exclusive, once-every-four-years meeting of top polar bear biologists (called “delegates”) from the world’s Arctic nations (Canada, Russia, USA, Greenland/Denmark and Norway) – two from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and two from Polar Bears International (PBI).

[Recall that 2009 was also the year that PBSG Chairman Andrew Derocher stripped veteran Canadian polar bear biologist and long-time PBSG member Mitch Taylor of his delegate attendee status because he did not have the appropriate attitude to global warming (see previous post here). Update – just to be clear, Mitch had retired from his government polar bear research job (a valid reason for not being included as a delegate) but with more than 30 years experience and his vast publication record on polar bears – as well as his long association with the PBSG as a delegate – he certainly should have qualified as an “invited specialist” at the 2009 meeting]

I expect Canadian journalist and author Donna LaFramboise would call this inclusion of WWF and PBI advocates in an otherwise exclusive meeting of polar bear biologists a behind-the-scenes lobbying opportunity,” similar to the inclusion of WWF personnel in the IPCC review process (see original article here and email interview here and “WWF infiltrates UK gov’t” here).

WWF and PBI are organizations devoted to changing public policy to suit their idea of how the world should be – whether others agree or not. They are passionate lobbyists with money behind them and they use their influence to pressure politicians – and now, supposedly impartial scientific organizations – to make decisions that fit their agenda.

Meet the four advocates who attended the 2009 PBSG meeting as “invited specialists”:

Robert Buchanan, CEO of Polar Bears International. A retired marketing director from Seagram & Sons, he and his wife founded PBI USA and Canada in 1992. His bio says that “Robert’s vision is to help the world understand the importance of the arctic ecosystems and to inspire individuals to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to conserve polar bears…

Krista Wright, Polar Bears International. Has a Bachelors degree in Outdoor Education and has worked for NGOs for more than 20 years. Joined PBI in 2009 (just before the PBSG meeting), where she is the Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations (i.e. an administrator). She is described as a passionate conservationist who is deeply concerned about the effects of global warming on polar bears, the Arctic, and the planet.”

Viktor Nikiforov, WWF Russia. Has a Masters degree in ecology and has been a member of WWF since 1992; works with the WWF “Russian Arctic team.”

Geoff York, WWF International [now also WWF Canada and Polar Bears International].
Has experience as a program manager and field biologist for USGS. Now Head of Arctic Species Conservation, for WWF Canada’s Global Arctic Programme, based in Ottawa [the capital city of Canada and therefore, where all the federal politicians hang out – how convenient]. He is a “stewardship advisor” for PBI and also represents WWF International.

WWF has been described as “the largest, richest and most influential environmental lobbying organisation in the world”. According to Charity Navigator, in 2011 WWF took in more than US$182 million. They spent almost $40 million on fundraising and only 72% on programs. CEO Carter S. Roberts drew a salary of $458,799 in 2011 – almost half a million dollars a year.

[Imagine what kind of dent could be put into finding out how many polar bears there really are (see previous posts here and here) if WWF devoted a significant fraction of these dollars to polar bear research rather than using it to lobby for policy change? Managing polar bear populations effectively cannot be done if we don’t even know how many there are and WWF is throwing pennies at this problem rather than dollars.]

PBI, by comparison, is a small fish – reporting only 1.3 million dollars in revenues for 2010 (according to the BBC “charity review”). CEO Buchanan must be independently wealthy because neither he nor his wife draw a salary.

WWF has come under serious criticism lately for its transformation from an organization bent on saving endangered species to a multi-million dollar lobbying business. Columnist Christopher Booker at the Sunday Telegraph in the UK said earlier this year that the WWF’s main business is now “sentimental propaganda.” And Jens Glusing and Nils Klawitter wrote in Spiegel Online that “Many of its activities benefit industry more than the environment or endangered species” and that it gives only an “illusion of aid.

The Polar Bear Specialist Group stated in their last meeting report (Obbard et al. 2010), that the organization was formed “to coordinate research and management of polar bears.” I suggest that with the 2009 meeting, they gave up the pretext that they are a group of impartial scientists devoted to doing research on polar bears. By kicking out Mitch Taylor for his unwillingness to go along with the group’s view on global warming and then inviting four professional lobbyists to join them, it has signaled to the world that it is ready to be seen as an advocate association first and a scientific organization second. 

[We should perhaps expect more of this. The PBSG had a special meeting last fall to discuss “internal” matters. This is what their website says (discussed in my previous post here): The IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group will convene in Oslo for an extraordinary and exclusive members-only meeting October 24-27. There is a need for the group to evaluate internal procedures and a variety of additional internal matters in order to be able to respond to future challenges and expectations. Details here. Stay tuned for the next PBSG meeting, scheduled for the summer of 2013.]

Obbard, M.E., Theimann, G.W., Peacock, E. and DeBryn, T.D. (eds.) 2010. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 15th meeting of the Polar Bear Specialists Group IUCN/SSC, 29 June-3 July, 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN. http://pbsg.npolar.no/en/meetings/

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