Friends of the Earth (FOE) was founded in 1969 in San Francisco by David Brower, the former Sierra Club Executive Director (from 1952-1969). The organization currently has branches in more than 70 countries. Friends of the Earth International maintains its secretariat in the Netherlands. The current President of the U.S. division is Brent Blackwalder, and the U.S. operation is run from Washington, D.C.
Friends of the Earth has opposed, for ecological reasons, a variety of projects that would have benefited the economic and social development of Third World countries. For example, FOE blocked the construction of the Arun Dam in Nepal, a poor nation whose inhabitants still live without electricity. FOE blocked Shell's efforts to build gas and pipeline facilities in Nigeria, where increasing poverty has encouraged the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. And FOE has opposed the distribution of genetically modified foods that could, because of their higher yield, alleviate the dangers of famine in Third World countries.
FOE activism has also helped render millions of U.S. land acres off-limits to energy exploration, from initiatives to keep American industries from accessing the oil available in northern Alaska, to the banning of gas and coal exploration in a 1.7 million-acre tract in Utah. Another of FOE’s self-described success stories was the 1982 ban on whaling in the waters around Iceland, Japan, and Scandinavia – a ban that resulted in a sudden rise in the population of minke and other whales, coupled with a decline in salmon and cod harvests.
FOE has opposed the policies of virtually every Republican administration since its inception. It has consistently attempted to thwart the Bush administration's efforts to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil; strongly opposed President Bush's choice for Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton; and accused Deputy Secretary of the Interior Steven Griles of ethics violations.
The organization sued the Small Business Administration (SBA) for “fueling urban sprawl." The SBA had provided some $45 billion for construction and the expansion of businesses, but FOE contended that such developments would lead to air and water pollution, loss of forest cover, and traffic congestion. It won a judgement against the SBA.
In 2003 Friends of the Earth ran a series of full-page ads in USA Today and The New York Timescharging the Bush administration with laying waste to the natural environment. In addition, FOE distributed more than 1.3 million copies of a brochure titled The Bush Administration: A Chronology of Environmental Destruction. That same year, FOE filed a second major lawsuit to force the Environmental Protection Agency to further "regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as air pollutants and contributors to global warming." FOE President Brent Blackwelder has called President Bush the worst environmental President of the past century, and endorsed John Kerry for U.S. President in 2004.
FOE was a signatory to an April 2001 petition, presented to the Chairman of the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development, opposing further development of nuclear technologies. In addition, the International chapter of FOE signed a petition of so-called "civil society" organizations that opposed globalization and "any effort to expand the powers of the World Trade Organization (WTO) through a new comprehensive round of trade liberalization." FOE also endorsed a 2003 "Our World is Not for Sale" campaign similarly condemning the WTO.