Originally named the Iri-Hiti Foundation, the Foundation for Deep Ecology (FDE) was established in 1989 by Douglas Tompkins, who had been active in the anti-war and civil-rights movements of the 1960s. Tompkins had also started the North Face clothing company in 1966, sold it two years later, and subsequently created the well-known Esprit clothing brand in 1979. But by the late 1980s, he had grown increasingly troubled by his conviction that as a businessman, he was participating in a consumer culture that was—because of its ties to the industrial growth economy—toxic to the natural environment. Thus Tompkins decided to sell his stake in Esprit, and to use his wealth to endow (with $15 million) an environmental foundation with an activist orientation. His partner in this venture was the writer and longtime activist Jerry Mander, former president of a San Francisco advertising agency that in the 1960s had mentored the editors of Ramparts, the largest radical magazine of its time. Hostile to the free market, Mander in 2012 authored the book The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System.
The term “deep ecology” was coined in 1973 by the late Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who rejected the idea that human beings were imbued with greater spiritual or metaphysical worth than any other species of plant or animal. He likewise rejected the notion that mankind had an inherent right to alter the environment in any way—whether by killing animals, cutting trees, constructing roads and bridges, or building dams. Abjuring what he viewed as Christanity’s traditional “arrogance of stewardship” and its belief that humans “exist to watch over nature like a highly respected middleman between the Creator and Creation,” Naess explained that the “deep ecology movement” was founded on an “ecocentric” mindset that involved “deep” questioning about the inherent value of all living things, man’s kinship with other species, and the highly destructive consequences of industrialism.
Warning that “life on Earth has entered its most precarious phase in history,” FDE believes that the long-term survival of human and nonhuman species alike is threatened by the environmental damage caused by mankind’s industrial and economic activity. “Stopping the global extinction crisis and achieving true ecological sustainability,” says the Foundation, “will require rethinking our values as a society”—particularly “present assumptions about economics, development, and the place of human beings in the natural order.” “Nature,” adds FDE, “can no longer be viewed merely as a commodity—a storehouse of ‘resources’ for human use and profit.”
Notwithstanding FDE’s passionately anti-corporate, anti-capitalist perspective, over the years the Foundation’s financial portfolio has contained stocks and bonds invested in a host of large corporations. These include Abbey Capital, Accredo Health, ACL, ACS FBO Medical Resources, Advance Neuromodulation Systems, Aetna Inc., AIG, Allaire Securities, Allstate, AOL Time Warner, Barney Gold, Boeing, Brandywine Global, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cable & Wireless PLC, Cedant Corporation, Check Point Software, Cisco, Citgo, Citicorp, Clearone, Computer Associates, CVS Corporation, D&K Healthcare, Dobson Communications, Dollar General Corp., Doubleline, Dynegy Inc., Edo Care, Elan Corp., Fannie Mae, First Energy Corp., Euro Account, First Energy Corp., Flextronics International Ltd., FRG Information System, Furman Selz, General Instrument Corp., Grupo Televisa, Honeywell, the Hospital Corporation of America, In Re Tut Systems, International Fund, Ironwood International, Iva Worldwide, Ivy Asset, JP Morgan, Laidlaw, Landry’s Seafood Restaurant Inc., Lason Inc., Lazard, Legacy Ventures, Legg Mason, Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Lucent Technologies, Madison Investment Advisors, Mattel, Maxim Integrated Products, Medical Resources Inc., Mesa Airlines, Metropolitan West, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Motorola, Nations Bank, NBTY, Nortel Networks, OM Group, Oppenheimer, Paulson Gold, P&G, Pimco, Pointer Offshore, Raytheon, Reed Connor Birdwell, SB Advisor Core, SCO, SCS, Select Medical Corp., Seneca Capital, Sensormatic Electronics, Silver Creek, SPDR Gold, Talix, TCI, Telefonos de Mexico, Templeton, THQ, Transamerica, Tycom, Unifx, Unify Corp., Vans, Vesta Insurance, Wal-Mart, Waste Management, WCM, and Worldcom.
A leading objective of FDE is to “rewild” large swaths of land across North America—a process that would entail the removal of all human presence from those regions, so as to permit their native animals to resettle and multiply therein. The chief organizational promoter of rewilding is the Wildlands Project (WP), established by Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman. The idea for the creation of WP originated at a 1991 FDE meeting.
FDE further seeks to thwart industrial activity by using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for purposes that the statute does not in fact authorize. The ESA, as written, prohibits landowners from killing, on their own property, any animal that the federal government has designated as “endangered.” But over the years, courts have interpreted the Act broadly as a prohibition against even the use of private property in any way that might harm or destroy the habitat of an endangered species. Exploiting this trend in litigation, FDE regularly gives money to groups that seek to halt economic development by filing lawsuits under the ESA.
To support “education and advocacy on behalf of wild Nature,” FDE directs a portion of its philanthropy to groups and projects that aim to build an intellectual infrastructure for the conservation movement. Toward this end, the Foundation has given financial backing to numerous journals (e.g., Wild Earth, Resurgence, Plain, and AdBusters), radio series, advertising campaigns, and conferences/symposia that focus on ways to effectively prevent logging, mining, and all manner of industrial activity. Since the early 1990s, FDE has also run an in-house publishing program that produces, promotes, and distributes books dealing with environmental issues, especially in the area of environmental ethics and philosophy. To view a list of FDE’s book titles, click here.
From 1990-2012, FDE awarded more than 1,500 grants (totaling over $52 million) to what it describes as “nonprofit organizations working to protect wilderness and wildlife, promote sustainable agriculture, and oppose pernicious forms of megatechnology.” The Foundation’s expendtures exceed $73 million if the costs related to its publishing program and related educational campaigns are taken into account as well.
In its early years, FDE issued grants under a fairly broad array of categories, but in the latter 1990s its funding program was streamlined into three main program areas: Biodiversity and Wildness, Ecological Agriculture, and Globalization and Megatechnology. Among the most noteworthy recipients of FDE grants are Adbusters, the Alliance for Global Justice, the Center for Media & Democracy, the David Suzuki Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, the Earth Island Institute, Ecotrust, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Institute for Policy Studies, Mothers and Others for a Livable Planet, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, the Rainforest Action Network, the Ruckus Society, the Sierra Club, and the Tides Center and Tides Foundation.
To view a list of additional FDE grantees, click here.
For a list of all FDE officers and staff, click here.
For additional information on FDE, click here.
 This is in contrast to what Naess called the “shallow ecology movement,” which focuses on promoting technological fixes (e.g. recycling, increased automotive efficiency) based on the consumption-oriented values and methods of the existing industrial economy.