Notice anything unusual about this unassuming building entrance?
Note the large number of cycles parked outside and the group of casually-dressed people standing outside smoking. Nothing else like this in the street. Does this not seem a little odd for an office building, one in a business district? This is 26 Rue d’Edimbourg, not far from the European Parliament in Brussels. If you are curious about what goes on in this building, its presence on this list for 2012 might give you a clue.
It is occupied by environmental and activist groups. The developer, Ethical Properties, undertook “sustainable renovation” and now manages the building on behalf of NGOs:
The Hive Brussels has been set up … to support organisations who want to have a presence in Brussels on a temporary or regular basis. It offers small NGOs the chance to become a member … for an annual fee, giving access to all the communal facilities in the centre. A range of packages are available.
The Hive members benefit from a workstation in a shared office space that fosters interaction and networking.
Occupying groups share facilities and, no doubt, knowledge and experience of lobbying, and strategies for successful grant applications for EU funding. In fact ‘hive’ is a perfect description. A full list shows more than fifty groups.
While Friends of the Earth Europe is well known, and the name of CAN-EUROPE (Climate Action Network Europe) says it all, most of the organisations are unfamiliar. ECOS (European Environmental Citizens’ Organisation for Standardisation), for example, is an umbrella organisation for other environmental NGOs “created to enhance the voice of environmental protection in the definition of ecological standards and specifications for products and services”. According to its own literature –
ECOS aims at increasing the environmental performance of products, ensuring sound measurement methods for pollutants, greening management systems in businesses and improving consumer information towards sustainable consumption.
This ‘hive’ is another example of how the environmental movement has become super-organised. The Green 10 “A group of leading environmental NGOs active at EU level” boasts membership of more than 20 million people and uses this as a democratic mandate for its political lobbying. As MEP Dan Hannan reported on his telegraph blog in 2010:
Green pressure groups are becoming financially dependent on Brussels. Ten years ago, they received €2,337,924 from the European Commission; last year, it was €8,749,940.
A study by the International Policy Network reveals the extent to which Green lobbyists look to the EU for their income: Climate Action Network, Friends of the Earth, WWF, they’re all at it. Much of this money, the paper shows, is then recycled into lobbying the EU.
NGOs typically want to see tighter standards, increased bureaucracy, more tax and regulation and the creation of new laws with more bodies to oversee their enforcement. The EU, desperate for stakeholder feedback and validation of its policies and overall direction often in the face of apathetic citizens, looks to the NGOs, thus setting up a “lobbying loop”. We have this phenomenon in the UK too – government funding of “not-for-profit” organisations that then campaign for more government regulation.
The power of such organisations globally is now such that we ignore their growth and influence at our peril.
If like many environmental NGOs you believe that industry is evil and businessmen are only interested in lining their pockets, you might think they provide some balance against industrial lobbying, and perhaps they do, however in these harsh economic times, idealism and well-intentioned naivety needs to be tempered with financial reality.
Seas at Risk Federation, for example, is guided by the following lofty principles: sustainability, precautionary action, integration and democratisation.
To ensure that appropriate preventative measures are taken when there is reason to believe that substances or energy introduced into the marine environment, or activities taking place in the marine environment, are likely to cause harm even when there is no conclusive evidence to prove a causal relationship between inputs/activities and effects. This applies to the entire spectrum of environmental policy making and to all types of human impact on the environment. In the case of hazardous substances it requires an end to their discharge, emission and loss, with the target of concentrations in the environment near background values for naturally occurring substances and close to zero for man-made synthetic substances.
Groan. Idealism gone mad. And just how economically sustainable for the world will background concentrations and zero man-made discharges be? I wonder if activists only believe in democracy as long as you share their views? Given these values, are we surprised that NGOs are so vocal about climate change. CO2 is a threat that must be reduced even-if-we-can’t-prove-it. Remember folks, next time you want to make a donation because a furry animal looks cute, that pussycat organisation may well be a tiger in disguise. Activism is now a career option.
To conclude I’m going to repeat something I linked to a week or so – Nielsen-Gammon’s Paradox
Given that those most likely to speak out in public are either getting paid to do it or feel more extremely about the matter at hand than others, it follows that the people whose opinion you should trust the most are those whose opinion you never hear.
In this case most of us ‘not speaking up’ is the complete antithesis of The virtue of silence. Voices of reason need to be heard.