Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Environmental neoliberalism

The story that Greenpeace lost over $5 million in currency speculation doesn't surprise me in the least.  Mainstream environmentalists are usually "totebaggers" and such people are often fine on social issues but utter crackpots when it comes to economics.  As regular readers here know perfectly well, I believe that if you get the economics wrong, you will almost always get the environmental issues wrong too.

I have a friend who sat on an environmental board that had a comfortable endowment because they had been paid off to drop their opposition to a major infrastructure expansion.  So their meetings usually consisted of discussing how they should invest and spend their money.  Like most such groups without imagination, they decided they had to choose between holding a conference and building an "interpretive center."  The building project won out because it also had rooms that could be used for small conferences.  It's been open for several years now and is gloriously under-used because there are already many such places where people can go to be hectored about the human scaring of the planet.  The center has a very large parking lot built in anticipation of the curious hordes so the folks who have visited and been given a newly raised consciousness do not have to travel far to find a good example of scaring.

But even if one can argue that this environmental group has its heart in the right place, that argument crumbles pretty quickly when the talk turns to managing their portfolio.  There they engage in all the forms of neoliberal madness including currency speculation.  My friend discovered one night that his organization had a position on a currency swap between the Thai Baht and the Malaysian Ringgit. Instead of purchasing endangered wetlands or somthing close to the mission of the group, they had taken to gambling.  What's worse, when my friend suggested that gambling with the endowment might appear to be irresponsible if not illegal, the rest of the board promptly voted him "off the island."  In their world, a few currency swaps is something that should be included in any "well-managed and prudently diversified" portfolio. (sigh)

Greenpeace is an organization that chugs around the oceans in a fossil-fueled old boat so they can disrupt the activities of the companies tasked with finding their fuels.  So they start out pretty confused, but blowing the donations of roughly 40,000 supporters in the casino means that even if their descriptions of the environmental problems are essentially sound, they are lightyears away from any understanding or strategy that will actually solve something.

Greenpeace employee loses over $5 mn worth of donations in currency speculation

RT June 16, 2014

Environmental organization Greenpeace has acknowledged that a staff member lost a record $5.1 million in currency speculation. The group offered apologies, saying the finance employee was fired, but acted 'in the best interest of the organization.'

In a statement released by Greenpeace on Sunday, the organization said that its soon to be published 2013 annual report will show a budget deficit of 6.8 million euros (US$9.2 million) for the year. "This deficit includes the loss of 3.8 million euros ($5.1 million) from an ill judged contract aimed at managing foreign currency exchange costs," explained Greenpeace, saying it "understands that supporters and donors will rightly be surprised and disappointed by the loss."

The contracts, which were a "serious error of judgment" by the organization's international finance unit employee, speculated on a weak euro. Euro strengthening later in the year resulted in the huge loss of donation money, which Greenpeace had to file into its 2013 accounts.

It is indeed a sensitive amount for Greenpeace International, which had an income of 72.9 million euros ($98.9 million) in 2013, out of a global budget of around 300 million euros (over $400 million). Like many big charities, it usually agrees fixed-rate currency exchange deals with third-party brokers, not to be affected by market fluctuations.

In its statement, the organization said it understands that it can only exist thanks to supporters' trust and contributions, adding that it is "determined to ensure their trust is not misplaced."

The organization said those responsible for the miscalculation acted "beyond the limits of their authority and without following proper procedures." It offered a "full apology" to its supporters, but said there was "no evidence of personal gain." An independent audit of the error will be conducted.

Greenpeace reassured its donors that none of its frontline environmental campaigning would be financially affected, as adjustments for the losses would be made through "amending planned infrastructure investments" in the next couple of years.

It remains unknown whether the organization's supporters will overlook the lost funds. Greenpeace exists through donations from individual supporters rather than governments or corporations. Small donations of under 100 euros make up 90 percent of Greenpeace's funding – meaning nearly 40,000 of its supporters may have had their money lost in the speculation.

Greenpeace has recently faced criticism from those who believe it's the small things that make a big difference. When a giraffe was killed and dissected publicly at a zoo in Copenhagen in February, Greenpeace kept silent. "Maybe that’s because Marius [the giraffe] was, in all senses, a poor giraffe," some disappointed social media users suggested. more

No comments:

Post a Comment