Some large conservation organizations have a problem. They have to get the money needed to run their programs without being co-opted by the organizations and corporations who donate to them, but whose goals may conflict with theirs. And sometimes they fail. I have to make it clear that I support engagement with industry, ranchers, farmers, and other interested parties, because they are not inherently evil, as some more extreme environmentalists tried to portray them, and they are a part of our reality. However, it is awfully easy to slip from being an engager to becoming a tool of industry, betraying your own stated cause.
I have been a field biologist for well over 35 years, and I have a good deal of experience in looking at natural and man-influenced environments. So I read Naomi Klein's indictment of several large environmental organizations with a good deal of interest.(See: http://www.salon.com/... and http://www.nytimes.com/....) I have worked with one of these organizations in the past. At the time that I worked with them as a participant on an expert panel, I thought them to be one facet of a multi-pronged effort to conserve our planet and develop a sustainable society. Times have changed, and I see their top-down management as detrimental to the environmental movement, in part because of their embrace of corporate culture and the idea that the invisible hand of the market, combined with technology, will fix everything to their satisfaction. Also because they openly now say that some organisms must be allowed to go extinct and that the idea that biodiversity drives ecosystems is old-fashioned. It is possible that they are right, but I don't want to get on that train yet. I don't see how you can save something by destroying it.
I have thought long and hard about this and my thinking was spurred on by a recent petition to remove David Koch from the board of directors of both the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution, because he does not believe in the science behind global climate change. He in fact funds "research" and public statements denying the change. I have dealt with both institutions involved at one time or another. Again a dilemma. Institutions like natural history museums and environmental organizations need money. Billionaires, like David Koch, or corporations like British Petroleum (yes, I know they changed their name - to BP TLC! They're still the company that helped put the Shah of Iran into power and that caused untold damage to the Gulf of Mexico. A rose by any other name ....) have that money. When I told one of these organizations that they should criticize BP (which had given them a lot of money and some land) I was told that they understood my difficulties - they had been starry-eyed environmentalists at one time as well, but they were now so much wiser. Beside we all use petroleum and would be hypocrites and if we do not acknowledge this and accept the coming world of a different Anthropocene biota, we are delusional. They tell us that they are on the forefront of an entirely new type of environmental movement - a movement based in realism and the recognition that humans will dominate nature over the entire planet, whether we starry-eyed tree-huggers want to believe it or not (for a protagonist's take on this see: http://www.nationalreview.com/....) The new world will keep nature in its place. Beside, they say, there is no pristine wilderness left, untouched by the hand of man. Maybe, but I don't want to live in the world they envision. It sounds more like hell than heaven to me. Fortunately I'm old enough that I may not be forced to, but my children and grandchild will.
But this is not just a preference based on a love for the wilderness. Unfortunately for us, the destruction of many species and the degradation of environments will have a negative effect on our teaming billions. When people in boardrooms imply that we will sail through these environmental crises, they are envisioning the kind of culture they live in, not the reality that most of the world's population faces. Environmental changes affect the poor more than the rich, at least initially. The acidification of the oceans in general (See: http://www.latimes.com/...) and the pollution of the Gulf of Mexico (as an example - there are unfortunately many) in particular, are very likely to cause serious damage to our civilization and if we keep making such messes as in the Gulf, they will coalesce into a polluted world that even great wealth will not remedy.
Another point that is often made is that we can put a value on ecosystem services and that this valuation will impress corporations. There is certainly some truth to this thread, enough to possibly hang oneself. As Ehrenfeld points out in his 1988 essay "Why put a value on biodiversity" (IN: E. O. Wilson, ed. "Biodiversity, National Academy Press, Washington, DC) economic studies show that it may actually be more advantageous in the short run to hunt whales to extinction and reinvest the profits, than to enjoy the rather nebulous long-term value of living whales in a marine ecosystem. The free market does not look very far ahead, nor does it value intangible benefits.
I am not naive. I know that you need money to run programs and buy lands, but I don't think that you should hire financial industry executives from Wall Street to run your organization or place the worst polluters on boards of directors. At that point I think such an organization has lost most of its credibility. This is a difficult balance, but it must be maintained. In essence, although some of the points made by these "realists" are cogent (I really don't think that the natural world is in danger of complete destruction, for example, nor do I think that humans can actually "save" nature, although we can perhaps save certain parts of it), I have a difficult time swallowing the argument when it is made by people who have much to gain from it. The world they envision has meant and will mean the destruction of a number of species and habitats. While nature may be able to recover from our destructive urges, the world will be a much different place, and probably it will go on without us. We are a species vulnerable to extinction too, and an exponential population rises in nature often precede a decline and even an extinction event.
What is the answer? I honestly don't know. It involves a very delicate balance that I'm not sure many humans are capable of keeping. But I am troubled by the concept of an environmental Anthropocene, dominated by human interests, and in which everything is valued in dollars, and this mud snail or that nearly extinct rhinoceros are let go because the bean counters can't find a value for them. That would result in a truly depauperate planet and perhaps to our eventual demise. Environmentalism is more than saving pretty scenery and charismatic animals; it is saving us. To me the so-called New Environmentalism is an arrogant man-centered philosophy, based on greed and a much more optimistic vision of the future than the scientific data would suggest, and that is very old-fashioned!