Eco-racketeering, a business with a future

The arrest of an environmental activist who demanded money to withdraw his opposition to real estate projects has lifted the veil on a new type of blackmail, which writer Ivan Brezina maintains pales in comparison with the stock and trade of major public figures in the environmental movement.

Published on 25 January 2010 at 10:25
© Presseurop

A few days before Christmas, Lubomír Studnička, a member of a conservation group in the town of Litoměřice in the Czech Republic was arrested for blackmail. According to police, the self-proclaimed "environmentalist" employed a simple method to extract money from his victims. Studnička filed court actions against large private building projects, alleging that they were damaging to the natural environment — in one instance, successfully torpedoing a plan to build a new bridge over the Elbe, and delaying the completion of work on the D8 Prague to Litoměřice motorway in another. In exchange for dropping proceedings, he demanded "sponsorship donations," and investors worried about the scheduling of their projects were often tempted to pay him off. But his scheme began to unravel when a group of entrepreneurs lost patience with his demands, and decided to trap him. The group pretended to agree to the terms of a deal, and then informed police shortly after they had handed Studnička a suitcase filled with counterfeit notes. It was the first case of environmental racketeering to make headlines in the Czech Republic, but the practice it revealed is not new among environmental NGOs, who take advantage of the fact that the law grants "professional project killers" the means to exert considerable pressure on investors.

Studnička's case is only the tip of the iceberg. How many other similar cases have simply not been reported? The South-Korean carmaker Hyundai wanted to set up a factory in the Nošovice industry park in eastern Czech Republic. A group of activists moved to block the project with a court action claiming that it was a threat to the environment, and retained the services of a legal firm specializing "in environmental law," with a mastery of all the different strategies necessary to hold off any construction work for several years. Naturally, the Koreans were worried that the factory would be delayed, but a solution was at hand — they only had to approach the activists with an offer "to come to an agreement between reasonable people." The upshot of this process was that the Koreans happily handed over 750,000 euros to finance a "fund for citizen initiatives" to be managed by the activists. The official statement explained that this money would be used for "projects to raise awareness of environmental and conservation issues."

A myriad of lucrative links

Whereas common or garden environmental blackmailers need to be discreet with their demands for cash, larger global players can be much more vocal. And small fish, like local investors, are really of no interest to big-time environmental blackmailers, who know that if they successfully target the entire human race, the rewards will be counted in billions and not millions of euros. Their method of operation does not depend on threats, but aims to engender a universal sense of guilt. Take for example, the evangelical author of "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore. Mr. Gore piously recommends that we adopt "carbon neutral lifestyles" to forestall the effects global warming, and he does not say so for the good of his health. One of the most successful beneficiaries of the "crusade against carbon" is the London company Generation Investment Management (GIM). And who founded GIM? The very same former vice-president of the United States: Al Gore.

Here is another example. In late December, around the time that Lubomír Studnička was arrested, the British broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph published a detailed account of the business interests of Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Environmentalists and the media like to present the IPCC as "the world's most important group of independent climate experts," but it turns out that Pachauri has no qualifications in climate science — he is in fact a railway engineer. However, he has more than made up for this lack by establishing a myriad of lucrative links with what has come to be known as "the climate protection industry" — working as a consultant for numerous "green" companies and investment funds specializing in sustainable technologies. At the same time, he also serves on the advisory board of the Chicago Climate Exchange, which organizes the trading of carbon credits


Rapidly growing Nimby population

Green energy, endorsed by three quarters of the German population, now faces a new and formidable foe: namely the neighbours. Der Spiegel reports that more and more citizens’ initiatives are pitting themselves against local wind, biogas and solar energy projects. "Not many Germans have a conventional power plant in the immediate vicinity. Renewable energy plants, on the other hand, can pop up anywhere,” putting the obnoxious side of green energy “right in your face”: the noise, the stench, the eyesores. The weekly magazine quotes a Bavarian activist – a staunch advocate of the Greens, as it happens – who is hell bent on mobilising his neighbours against the influx of solar modules. “In energy terms, it’s sheer nonsense for Germany,” he fumes, and wonders aloud whether nuclear power plants couldn’t be kept going longer. Then there’s the Brandenburg burgher who impugns the efficiency of solar energy production in Germany and objects to the underground storage of CO2: he has gathered 27,000 signatures against wind farms. Up in Schleswig-Holstein, a village full of green-leaning residents actually succeeded in blocking the advent of a biogas plant.

What all these initiatives have in common is the fear of making a sacrifice for others without reaping the benefits thereof – and the absence of a real energy blueprint for the nation. The bottom line according to Der Spiegel: most villages would be willing to put up with the nuisances of increased “traffic, stench and redevelopment” if it was a matter of generating power for themselves.

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