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Walton Family Foundation ‘buyosphere’ money subsidizes the silence of our coastal ecolambs.

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walmartby Len Bahr, Ph.D.

I read somewhere that Walmart is the largest employer in Louisiana. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that this behemoth corporation, the world’s largest retailer, was spawned in 1950 in our economically, intellectually, and politically impoverished sister state…Arkansas. Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

In 1950, Sam Walton purchased a store from Luther E. Harrison in Bentonville, Arkansas, and opened Walton’s 5 & 10. Thus, the Ozark Mountain town of 2,900 residents would become the headquarters for the world’s largest retailer.

One can only wonder how many once happily employed folks in mom and pop retail shops throughout the country and our state have been displaced over the ensuing 67 years by what has become a monster of merchandizing. The descendants of Sam Walton comprise the richest family in the U.S., wealthier even than the Koch family, as described in a Reuters article from 2016. Here’s a quote:

(Reuters) – The Walton family, which owns roughly a 50 percent stake in retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc , was named the richest family in the United States for a third consecutive year on Wednesday, according to Forbes.

Others featured on Forbes’ list include the Koch family, which owns the majority of conglomerate Koch Industries, the second largest private company in the United States. Their net worth was listed as $82 billion.

One would think that such economic prowess and prodigious profitability would have spawned serious philanthropic largesse on the part of Walmart, Inc. One would be wrong. Walmart corporate grants are approved by the philanthropic arm of the company, the Walton Family Foundation (WFF). This foundation oversees how much and for what purpose some charitable moolah is doled out in a grants program that’s relatively modest, given the spectacular scale of Walmart sales.

The WFF board of directors clearly doesn’t include the generous likes of a Bill or Melinda Gates or a Warren Buffet. Moreover, the WFF has earned a reputation for an aversion to political controversy, which limits the spectrum of environmental causes. Grants are awarded to cautious NGOs that don’t make waves or, for example, make a big deal about the looming scourge of global warming.

But setting that aside, what about Walmart’s environmental operating practices? A 2013 article by Kirsten Korosec in Environmental Leader includes the following quote:

Major supermarkets chains in the US including Walmart and Whole Foods continue to use hydrofluorocarbons, gaseous compounds used in refrigerants and a major source of greenhouse gas emissions more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to a survey by the Environmental Investigation Agency.

So what’s the relevance of Walmart, Inc. and the WFF to coastal Louisiana? I’m glad you asked.

On June 30 TheAdvocate.com published an article by Ted Griggs about a $15 million two year grant awarded to a group of five coastal-advocating NGOs sometimes known as the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, and sometimes simply as Restore the Mississippi Delta. This coalition is led by Steve Cochran a senior staffer of the formerly distinguished Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).* Grigg’s article provided the following self serving sample of the meticulously cautious Mr. Cochran’s platitude-prone remarks about the $15 million stipend, in which he described what is actually the renewal of an existing WFF grant:

Nonprofits can help educate the community** about what needs to be done and how, Cochran said. Support from groups like the Walton Family Foundation make it possible to fill the many roles needed to accomplish those tasks.

Based on the performance of the five NGO grantees during the past decade (which includes the environmentally and fiscally  disastrous Jindal years) educating the community is a euphemism for engaging in lots of rosy public relations rhetoric, virtually devoid of inconvenient truths about accelerating sea level rise and ocean acidification. Discussing the latter as an existential crisis would doubtless ruffle the feathers of Louisiana’s GOP climate change-denying officials, which in turn would jeopardize WFF support. Griggs’ article quotes Justin Kenney, a senior communications officer for the foundation, who said the specifics of the grants were not available right now. 

This piece, in the business section of the paper, lavished praise on both the grantor and its NGO grantees, touting the latter’s “tireless effort to promote coastal restoration.” It may be tireless but in terms of value added, not so much.

In a related note, on July 7 Salon.com carried a videotaped interview by Allie Joseph with author Paul Hawken on the science of climate change, in which Hawken accused the environmental NGO community of using the issue to raise money rather than to inform the public. Here’s a quote:

…the climate activists, NGOs, have often used fear as a basis to raise money. And I feel like fear is not a good way to act in the world — out of fear — and it always redounds against you and others.

In contrast, the environmental NGOs in S. Louisiana have raised money by supporting the generic concept of coastal protection and restoration, which is politically very popular, while dancing around the highly touchy subject of global warming,

The irony of the Walmart corporation, which has so altered the global buy-osphere giving money for Louisiana coastal restoration is hard to ignore but doubtless of great advertising value in terms of our state’s merchandize hungry public. This irony is heightened by the fact that the restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, a covey of cautious coastal do-gooders, has shown consistent and persistent reluctance to engage in controversial environmental issues, such as opposing the highly controversial $11 billion Morganza-to-the-Gulf project.

I have previously referred to this reluctance to engage our elected officials as the Silence of the Ecolambs. Following the BP blowout in 2010, the absence of NGO critics of Bobby Jindal and Garret Graves’ sand berm fantasy helped ensure the approval of that ridiculous project.

On July 15 TheAdvocate.com published an article by Steve Hardy showing an alarming projection of expanding national flood risk caused by climate change. The urgent tone of Hardy’s article may hopefully also signal a trend on the part of the local media to acknowledge the reality of this phenomenon, despite the intransigence of our officials. Until recently only Bob Marshal as a free agent and Mark Schleifstein with Nola.com | TheTimes-Picayune have been reporting that, with or without the recently approved coastal master plan, LA is in LaLa Land absent global reduction of greenhouse gases. I should also add the name of Keith Magill with the Houma Courier.

*Before EDF inexplicably contributed heavily in 2013 to the inaugural congressional campaign of now 2nd term, Trump-boosting Louisiana congressman Garret Graves (R-Baton Rouge).

**Meaning brainwash with glib and politically correct public relations bullshit.

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  1. Editor’s note: An astute reader sent this link to an article about how the Walton family spends its fortune: http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/companies/meet-the-waltons-how-americas-wealthiest-family-spends-its-fortune/ar-AAorPTQ?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=iehp

  2. riverrat says:

    The Walmart stores have a sustainability program which has been pretty good, includes carbon/greenhouse gas reduction targets, and one assumes is having an impact given the economies of scale involved in their operation. One of the most unfortunate things about the NGOs funded by the Walton Foundation is their willingness to act as enablers for a series of irresponsible politicians who played a leading role in derailing U.S. climate policy, all while demanding more federal dollars for La’s coast.

    A number of the smaller Louisiana NGOs without that conflict of interest confronted Governor Jindal in 2009-10 about his war with the Obama administration over the EPA Greenhouse Gas Endangerment decision, and made the point that Louisiana was sending a mixed message by ignoring the coast in its statements about EPA’s decision (while perpetrating apocalyptic claims of economic disaster from emission reductions – all of which turned out to be false.) https://leanweb.org/?s=letter+to+Governor+Jindal

    Around the same time, 32 coastal scientists also stepped up to confront Governor Jindal (more diplomatically) in a public letter
    (http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/01/gov_bobby_jindal_pressed_to_ta.html)

    The “eco-lambs” Len refers to were silent during the incident, despite the hit that Louisiana’s credibility took from the Governor’s actions (the sand berm fiasco was another hit, also met with silence from the same groups.)

    • Thanks for the additional info suggesting that Walmart does in fact have a corporate conscience and a record supporting greenhouse gas reductions, although I remain cynical about the scale.

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