The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an environmentalist non-profit staffed by activists and lawyers and headquartered in New York. Humbly referring to themselves as “The earth’s best defense,” the NRDC perpetuates unsubstantiated fears about BPA, biotechnology, pesticides and a variety of other scientific topics. They complain often about corporations corrupting science, though they happily accept millions in corporate donations every year.
NRDC Picks Politics Over Science
Like all fairweather fans of science, the NRDC eagerly embraces scientific consensus when it aligns with their political agenda. Though the environmentalist group is less enthusiastic about expert consensus when it contradicts their worldview.
Parroting the arguments of other radical environmentalist groups, The NRDC supports initiatives to label transgenic food, because “GMO use in the United States has mostly contributed to chemical-dependent monocultures, resulting in skyrocketing herbicide use…” This myth of runaway herbicide use was popularized by oblivious food writers and disingenuous reporters who can’t do math, and it has been thoroughly repudiated by scientists many times in the last 10 years.
The NRDC’s unoriginal complaints about herbicide use are based on the conspiracy theory that “chemical companies and food manufacturers have a stranglehold on the system of government oversight that is supposed to ensure the safety of our food supply.”
The environmentalist group, oddly enough, has yet to comment on the collusion between the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board and the multi-billion dollar organic food industry, which helped organic food manufacturers evade federal regulation for two decades. Similarly, the NRDC has yet to protest the use of toxic pesticides to treat organic produce, which is widespread despite organic industry marketing to the contrary.
NRDC also relies on activist writers like Paul Thacker when criticizing medical journals for their inconsistent disclosure policies. For the uninitiated, Thacker has made a career out of exposing industry corruption in science while hypocritically maintaining a cozy relationship with organic industry front groups.
NRDC Hypocrisy: Take Big Oil Money, Demonize Big Oil Money
The NRDC is one of wealthiest environmentalist groups in the world. With annual revenue exceeding $130 million, the group raises more money than all of the oil industry-funded think tanks it criticizes for taking corporate donations. Ironically, an impressive portion of NRDC’s revenue is generated through investments in oil companies.
The group profits from investments in mutual funds that include fossil fuel companies, the very institutions NRDC has railed against for polluting the environment and hastening climate change. When asked by the liberal magazine The Nation if they would divest from these mutual funds, NRDC’s accounting team dodged, saying “This is certainly one of many ideas that merit consideration as we develop the most effective strategies for NRDC’s fight against dirty energy.”
Progressive activist Naomi Klein pointed out in a related piece for The Nation that it makes no sense for “Big Green” groups “to raise money in the name of fighting climate change, only to invest that money in, say, ExxonMobil stocks.”
Billionaire Donors Finance NRDC’s Grassroots Activism
NRDC has ideologically faithful billionaire backers, as well. In the run up to the 2015 midterm election, the Democracy Alliance, a coalition of wealthy liberal donors, selected a handful of environmentalist groups it would pay to develop “…a broad coalition of people across the country to bring their voices and votes to these battles… to create a large network of organizers and activists who will fight for climate…” (p 25) Each member of the Alliance was required to donate at least $200,000 annually to these designated environmentalist groups, which included the NRDC, though many donors have given much more than the minimum required.
To eliminate any misconception that they are just an environmentalist group, the NRDC runs a political action committee called the NRDC Action Fund, which gives money to elected officials and political candidates who support the group’s unscientific agenda. The action fund was created to get more environmental money into politics. NRDC maintains that money in politics has led to massive corruption.
Defense of IARC in Congressional Hearing
In February 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing on the scientific integrity of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). IARC declared the popular herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) carcinogenic in March 2015, in opposition to every other respected scientific organization around the world. Recent evidence suggests that IARC ignored research that contradicted its evaluation of glyphosate, and several IARC scientists had conflicts of interest that biased their judgment.
The agency declined to defend itself in front of the Committee, but NRDC scientist Dr. Jennifer Sass stood in for IARC. During her testimony, Sass argued that the fierce attacks on IARC’s credibility “…are largely sponsored and coordinated by the agrochemical industry…” (p 3) She also tried to defend IARC’s methodology for classifying substances as carcinogens. “Because of its scientific excellence and its scientific and regulatory relevance,” Sass declared, “IARC enjoys overwhelming support from the global scientific and medical community.”
The facts tell a different story, however. IARC has been blasted by the scientific community for using an outdated approach known as a hazard assessment, which only tells us “…whether a substance could cause cancer, not whether it is likely to cause cancer under real world conditions,” as science writer Jon Entine has pointed out. Studies that evaluate glyphosate exposure under such conditions typically find that the herbicide is safe. More importantly, most scientists who study plant biotechnology and pesticides have no financial relationship with Monsanto or any other company, yet they still maintain that glyphosate isn’t carcinogenic to humans.
Most experts have no conflict of interest when it comes to glyphosate, but several of the scientists who produced IARC’s monograph do. Dr. Christopher Portier, for example, was paid $160,000 to consult with a team of trial lawyers who are currently suing Monsanto, and justifying their lawsuit with IARC’s evaluation of glyphosate. Despite her complaints about “the interference by economic interests in…public health institutions,” Sass apparently doesn’t mind lawyers paying off IARC experts, because she had nothing to say about it during her testimony.