Founded as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in 1967 and claiming a membership today of 750,000 people, this organization shortened its name to Environmental Defense (ED) in the year 2000, “because ‘Fund’ was a source of confusion and ‘EDF’ led some to mistake us for a government agency.” ED describes itself as an advocacy organization “dedicated to protecting the environmental rights of all people, including future generations.” It identifies these rights as clean air, clean water, healthy food and flourishing ecosystems. ED states that the strategies it advocates for achieving these objectives are guided entirely by “scientific evaluation of environmental problems,” and not at all by political or ideological motives.
ED describes its founders as a group of scientists who were eager to go “to court on behalf of the environment.” Those founders were responsible for the organization’s first and most renowned victory, when they successfully litigated against the use of DDT, a pesticide they claimed was harming the world’s wildlife. In 1970, ED participated in a campaign to bring all hunted whales onto the U.S. endangered species list; in 1977 it launched a campaign to stop the use of the hazardous flame retardant TRIS in children’s sleepwear; in 1985 it helped convince federal regulators to phase lead out of gasoline; in 1990 the Clean Air Act incorporated ED’s suggestions for cutting air pollution and thereby reducing the alleged crisis of acid rain; in 1996 the organization worked to ban logging from 1.2 million acres of Amazonian rainforest; and in 2003 it lobbied legislators to pass the Climate Stewardship Act to reduce the alleged crisis of global warming.
As a general policy, ED seeks to place severe restrictions on how public land may be used, demanding bans on logging, ranching, mining, oil and gas exploration, and the use of recreational motorized vehicles on such land. Viewing the United States as a nation rife with racism and discrimination, ED claims that “low-income communities and communities of color have been disproportionately exposed to many environmental threats.”
ED’s current environmental campaigns and programs include the following:
Fight Global Warming: Founded on the premise is that global warming is caused by human industrial activity, this campaign consists of a series of television and radio public service announcements urging Americans “to fight global warming in their everyday lives.” “The Earth is heating up,” says ED. “By burning fossil fuels and clear-cutting forests, humans are adding carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere at a perilous rate. The consequences of global warming are potentially catastrophic.”
Oceans Alive: This campaign’s current focus is on marine ecosystems and fisheries in the North and South Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Caribbean.
Clean Air for Life: This campaign rates the presence of smog and soot in the air of major U.S. cities.
Back from the Brink: “The goal of our Back from the Brink campaign is to restore habitat for 15 endangered species and put them on the clear path toward recovery.”
Environmental Health: This program “strives to protect human health by minimizing exposure to toxic chemicals and unsafe genetically engineered foodstuffs, and by curtailing overuse of antibiotics, particularly in animal agriculture, to combat the growing health threat of antibiotic resistance.”
International: Aimed chiefly at Africa, Asia, and Latin America, this program seeks to limit construction and industry in “developing countries, where the world’s most extreme environmental and social problems are often found.”
To publicize its findings and programs, ED produces print and email newsletters, as well as “fact sheets and educational materials on “‘green’ behavior and business practices that can help sustain and improve our environment.”
Environmental Defense recently endorsed a document called the Earth Charter, which blames capitalism for many of the world’s environmental, social, and economic problems. The Charter maintains that “the dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening.”
ED receives financial support from the Bauman Family Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Blue Moon Fund, the Bullitt Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Energy Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Heinz Family Foundation, the Howard Heinz Endowment, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Scherman Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the Vira I. Heinz Endowment, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
Taxpayer-financed sources of revenue for ED include the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, which give enormous sums of money to the organization. As of 2004, ED’s total net assets were $54.2 million.