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Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: OCSA Thrift for World Wildlife Fund is the greenwashing of colonial violence

The Orange County School of the Arts held OCSA Thrift, an event where students thrifted clothes on campus, the proceeds of which were donated to the World Wildlife Fund Australia on March 6.

Students believed that participating in this event would kill two birds with one stone — fight the ills of fast fashion sustainably by thrifting and donate to a “reputable” organization that would help the koalas, kangaroos and other animals that have become the widely publicized face of the recent bushfires in Australia.

However, this viewpoint not only exposes the widely held prejudices of students in seeing this tragedy with no concern around the displacement and death of people (especially indigenous peoples) in Australia, but also the posturing involved in picking the World Wildlife Fund as the benefactor of the proceeds collected.

The WWF, with its funding of death squads, its corporate partnerships and land theft from indigenous peoples, is complicit, and to some extent wholly responsible for enormous amounts of colonial violence leveraged against indigenous peoples around the world in the name of “conservation.”

Its success in cultivating an image of environmental conscience (despite all of its crimes) has allowed it to earn millions in revenue — some of which undoubtedly will come from the students of the Orange County School of the Arts.

The German newspaper Der Spiegel conducted an investigation into the WWF in 2012. According to the WWF, 14 million people have been displaced in Africa alone as “conservation refugees” due to the forced relocation of indigenous Africans outside of park zones created by organizations including the WWF.

While American and European trophy hunters are allowed to hunt in WWF lands to “aid conservation efforts,” the WWF often hires death squads to summarily execute suspected African poachers, according to Der Siegel in the WWF.

According to Der Siegel, companies pay seven-figure fees for the privilege of using the WWF logo.

Buzzfeed News published an investigation last year which found that the WWF aids groups that have allegedly tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered indigenous peoples in a “war against poaching” in Asia and Africa.

The report found that the WWF provides paramilitary forces with salaries, training and supplies (including weapons), with the ultimate goal of raiding villages to dispossess indigenous peoples of their land.

Furthermore, Survival International, a human rights organization concerning indigenous rights has raised alarm around the abuse of the hunter-gatherer Baka people of Cameroon, who under the authority of “eco-guards” supported by the WWF have seen their camps destroyed and threats of violence employed against them.

With its headquarters in Switzerland and its top donors being of the global elite (the organization itself was founded by Prince Philip), these actions reveal that the WWF is an organization that is advancing a new form of colonialism against the Global South. One that is greenwashed, that is, it appropriates the virtue of being “environmental” to legitimize whatever actions it takes.

It is clear that the WWF’s goal is to continue the legacies of white supremacy and imperial domination over indigenous lands through a discrete, new pathway, although it continues, like past agents of colonialism, to use violence to achieve its goals.

Will the money donated to the WWF’s chapter in Australia be used to finance the death squads mentioned above? Probably not. But is the decision to give money to an organization so adamant about the removal of indigenous peoples from their land going to help the situation in Australia?

In the promotional video for the WWF’s “Australia Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund,” the plight of Aboriginals/Torres Strait Islanders isn’t mentioned even once. The video itself seethes with colonial imagery — not a single nonwhite person is pictured, with one scene picturing a white woman surveying vast swathes of land à la Manifest Destiny.

The website mentions “indigenous fire management” once, but the goal of the fund is clear — to help “restore the homes” of wildlife, not people.

What the WWF Australia neglects to include is that these wildlife habitats are also the homes of not only countless indigenous cultural sites, but thousands of indigenous peoples as well who are just as necessary to the ecosystem as wildlife. 

Fundraisers for indigenous peoples affected by the fires have gained significant traction, but none have collected the amount that the WWF Australia fund has.

Corporate partnerships with the WWF include Coca-Cola, which according to the Colombian labor union Sinaltrainal had hired right-wing terrorists to kill striking Coca-Cola workers and, according to the Break Free From Plastic movement, is the world’s largest plastic polluter.

Another corporate partnership with the WWF is the Royal Caribbean cruise company, which according to Friends of the Earth earned an “F” in air pollution reduction. These are the corporate partnerships that, according to the WWF, “have the greatest potential to reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on Earth,” — a claim that is contradictory given the environmental violations of these corporations.

According to the WWF, their net assets increased to around 375 million dollars after the fiscal year of 2018 — an exorbitant amount that reflects the organization’s nature as not one that seeks true environmental justice, but as a convenient way for corporations to claim “environmental good” without facing the consequences of their own actions.

In the same way, donating individually to the World Wildlife Fund is, to some extent, an act of posturing rather than of a true commitment to environmental justice because in the end its not going to challenge the existing capitalist hegemonies that dictate our daily lives or allow the liberation of indigenous peoples around the world — two things that would truly benefit the environment rather than pretend to do so under the guise of “woke” language.

So what does this mean in the context of OCSA Thrift, and other events where students have the potential to support a certain organization?

It means that students should be wary of organizations that their schools, other institutions and the media pose to them as being beneficial to a cause, as usually these organizations are entrenched in the systems of oppression that they are meant to fight.

It is up to students to ignore the catered palatability of these organizations and find grassroots groups/movements that truly represent and fight for the causes that they feel invested in.

This means that instead of constantly cycling through the nonprofit-industrial complex, injecting money into one NGO after the other, students should try to directly impact the struggles that they want to be a part of — whether it be through direct action or giving financial support directly to indigenous/grassroots environmental organizations.

Only this way can students truly support environmental causes without being implicated in greenwashing and corporate deception. Only this way can students fight for a better world.