Earth Island Institute (EII)

Earth Island Institute (EII)


* Environmental organization founded by David Brower as a radical alternative to the Sierra Club

Founded in 1982 by the late environmentalist David Brower, the nonprofit Earth Island Institute (EII), whose name derives from anthropologist Margaret Mead’s assertions about mankind’s obligation to respect “The Island Earth,” contends that “life on earth is imperiled by human degradation of the biosphere.”[1] To address this matter, the Institute aims to “develo[p] and suppor[t] projects that counteract threats to the biological and cultural diversity that sustain the environment” and “the ecosystems on which our civilization depends.”[2] And to help disseminate its message as broadly as possible, EII publishes the Earth Island Journal, a quarterly magazine that “balances investigative exposés with inspiring stories of change, giving people the information they need be effective environmental activists.”[3] This journal was once edited by Jason Mark,[4] who had previously spent several years writing and editing for Global Exchange.

Since its inception, EII has served as a fiscal sponsor for more than 200 start-up environmental projects worldwide, some of which have remained with the Institute for the entirety of their existence, while others have spun off and become independent nonprofit organizations. As of 2018, more than 75 projects were being actively sponsored by EII’s Project Support Program.[5]

Until 1986, EII had no paid staff and was run entirely by volunteers. Soon thereafter, it adopted the Rainforest Action Network as one of its projects. In the mid-1980s as well, EII similarly adopted Environmentalists For Nicaragua (EFN), which later changed its name to the Environmental Project On Central America (EPOCA), an organization that sought “to connect poverty, war, and the environment in a Sandinista-led Central American country.”[6]  EFN/EPCA praised and supported the Communist government of Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega for its “efforts … in appropriate technology, wildlife conservation, pest management, reforestation, and environmental education.”[7]

In the days following the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, EII attributed the recent atrocities chiefly to America’s dependency on foreign oil, its militarism, its unjust trading and economic practices, and its deeply flawed foreign policy. In a September 14 article, the Institute lamented that “our soldiers are stationed in foreign garrisons around the world”; “our soldiers and foreign policy support the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia”; “our country has placed [a deadly] embargo on Iraq” and “continues to drop bombs on Iraq”; and “our country supplies Israel with the trademark Blackhawk attack helicopters and ‘smart’ missiles that are used in ‘targeted assassinations’.” Asserting that 9/11 “was an act of anger, desperation, and indignation” targeting “the core structures of the U.S. military and the U.S.-dominated global financial structure,” Smith explained that “this was not the sort of flat-out terrorism that targets random innocents at a disco or a beach.” He also claimed that any U.S. military response to 9/11 would only demonstrate America’s “self-righteous arrogance,” and would undoubtedly “fomen[t] resentment, anger, and rebellion.”

Articulating EII’s negative view of industrialization and development, Gar Smith, the editor of EII’s website magazine The Edge, said in the early 2000s: “I don’t think a lot of electricity is a good thing.” “I have seen villages in Africa that had vibrant culture and great communities,” he elaborated, “that were disrupted and destroyed by the introduction of electricity,” to the point where African peasants “who used to spend their days and evenings in the streets playing music on their own instruments and sewing clothing for their neighbors,” were now idly watching television all day long.[8]

EII currently oversees dozens of projects focusing on a wide array of environment-related concerns, including rivers, oceans, the air, wilderness areas, animals, ecosystems, energy sources, “climate change,” food quality, public lands, the timber industry, tourism, and wetlands restoration.[9] A few examples of major EII projects over the years include the following:

  • EII’s Tuna Monitoring Program was established to help consumers ascertain which fishing companies catch tuna in ways that are “dolphin safe.” But as notes, “EII doesn’t actually have monitors in most of the world to determine which tuna is dolphin safe,” a claim confirmed by Sylvester Pokajam, managing director of the National Fisheries Authority. Moreover, the associate director of EII’s International Marine Mammal Project likewise admitted that the Institute simply lacks the resources to adequately monitor the tuna industry. EII’s professed concern for dolphins caused the Institute, in 2010, to strike an agreement with indigenous villagers in the Solomon Islands, whereby EII pledged to pay them up to $400,000 to abandon their traditional practice of dolphin hunting, an activity that was crucial to their economy. But when the Institute ultimately failed to make some two-thirds of the payments it had promised, the villagers had no choice but to resume their dolphin hunting.
  • EII’s Plastic Pollution Coalition aims to galvanize “a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policy-makers working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals and the environment.” “To scare the public about the ‘danger’ of plastic,” says, “the Coalition promotes dubious studies claiming that plastic is toxic. For instance, the Coalition calls on the Food and Drug Administration to ban bisphenol-A [BPA], a key component in plastics that has been widely studied and determined to be safe at normal exposure levels by a large body of research” – including studies by the FDA and the National Institutes of Health.
  • Despite the fact that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have all concluded that foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) pose no health concerns, EII maintains that they are harmful to people and the environment. Thus the Institute advocates for the labeling of foods containing GMOs, and it supports anti-GMO organizations.

A central component of EII’s worldview is its antipathy for free-market capitalism. In November 2012, the Earth Island Journal published an article by Occupy Wall Street activist Peter Rugh, who wrote that potentially catastrophic “climate change” is caused chiefly by “the global system under which the majority of the world’s population lives: capitalism.” Further, Rugh articulated his wish that a “radical” environmental movement might lead the way in bringing about “an end to capitalism.” In a 2012 Earth Island Journal interview with Foundation for Deep Ecology creator Doug Tompkins, Mr. Tompkins said: “There’s no doubt whatsoever that there’s no future in capitalism. It’s … demonstrating over and over again that it is destroying the world.” And an Earth Island Journal review of Ian Angus’ 2016 book, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System, notes that “the theme that capitalism creates and destroys simultaneously, a key insight of socialist philosopher Karl Marx, shapes Angus’ book.”

EII is heavily funded by many philanthropic organizations, including the Agape Foundation, the Arca Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Bullitt Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Foundation for Deep EcologyFunding Exchange, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Nathan E. Cummings Foundation, George Soros‘s Open Society Foundations, the Park Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Tides Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the Verizon Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Working Assets. The Heinz Family Foundation also indicates that it made a small grant of $1,000 to EII in the year 2000.

For additional information on EII, click here.


  1. Earth Island Institute
  2. Oceans: The Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide
  3. Earth Island – Who We Are
  4. Unite and Diversify
  5. Project Support Program
  6. A History of Earth Island Institute’s 25 Years
  7. Planners Network; “57 Varieties of Radical Causes,” Ben Johnson, January 1, 2004
  8. Mark Steyn, “Warm-mongers Prefer You in Poverty,” Jewish World Review, July 12, 2009
  9. Earth Island Projects

Additional Resources:

Further Reading: “Earth Island Institute” (; “About Earth Island” (; “U.S. Responds to Terrorist Attacks with Self-Righteous Arrogance” (by Earth Island Institute, 9-14-2011).

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