A number of environmental organizations spend a majority of their resources lobbying in Washington (e.g. the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, etc.). In a recent mailing I learned that upwards of 90% of my annual monetary contributions to these groups are used to lobby and petition members of the Congress and many large businesses. Many of these “Green” groups have offices on the same street in Washington and in reading their publications, I find that most of their core beliefs and lobbying efforts overlap. Why are these groups not taking advantage of the potential economies of scale that they could recognize by pooling constituents’ efforts and member resources? An additional question arises when I consider how (un)successful a large number of these lobbying efforts have been. Why do these groups not use their membership fees and other means to provide direct stewardship of the resources they fight so hard for others to protect? Wouldn’t a better solution to the current state of environmental affairs occur if these groups made direct land purchases, managed land directly, undertook more research on pollution and natural resource allocation and usage, and provided more services to their members? Why do these groups insist on more government action and involvement in stewardship when one of their major complaints is that government sponsored and managed programs are traditionally both under-funded and mismanaged?
Perhaps the most interesting question raised is why these groups don’t make more of an effort to take advantage of economies of scale (e.g. cheaper mailing costs, fewer lawyers, smaller phone bills, fewer offices, etc.). Maybe these organizations feel that it would be difficult to attract many new members if they were seen as a large conglomerate. Would I have been more hesitant to donate $400 to a large “Green Lobby Group, Inc.” than if I were asked in twenty different mailings to donate $20 apiece to groups like the “World Wildlife Fund” that had pictures of lush emerald forests and cute panda bears on their envelope? Certainly, when a large portion of these green groups’ constituents fit profiles similar to myself (fairly young with little income), the latter option would seem more attractive to potential donors. Smaller green groups would therefore have a better chance of attracting members. With a larger constituency in the latter situation, the total lobbying power of the entire environmental lobby would be stronger than under a unified group (since a democracy is supposed to be a government BY the people, etc.), although the direct influence of each individual group is weaker (i.e. lower total donated amounts). Another possible reason for the stratification of the “green lobby” market is that the chance of a successful lobby may be increased if there are twenty different organizations pushing for passage of a bill as opposed to one large organization. With twenty different green groups, when Congress is turned off by one group, there are still nineteen other groups that would not automatically be “blacklisted”, unlike a situation where there were only one large lobby. With all of this to consider, one may wonder why an organization would choose to lobby at all.
The question of why many environmental advocacy groups take so little direct action has puzzled me and continues to do so. One theory is that certain environmental practices hit close to home. For example, the NPCA wants to ban all motorized recreational vehicles from Yellowstone NP. If the government is the institution that mandates such a ban, it would not alienate the people who partake in the activities as much as if the NPCA had a way to prohibit the activity itself. The people that make up these environmental lobbies are people from the local communities whereas the government is the “evil big brother”, from which “unfair” actions and sanctions are easier to swallow. Another explanation may be that if people saw private companies beginning to manage lands, etc. it would take the urgency out of the environmental cause. Surely, people can sympathize with the NPCA when it pleads with Congress to stop allowing unmanaged clear-cutting along the Pacific Crest Trail; it may be harder to muster up the same sympathy for the cause if the NPCA was trying to purchase these lands itself in order to stop this harvesting.
In any case, it is clear that the benefit and cost decisions of these groups run very deep and in many cases run far beyond simple measurable dollars and cents analyses.