Short-termism is endemic in government, industry and philanthropy. Politicians focus on the upcoming election. Corporations are judged by their quarterly results. With few exceptions, charitable giving seeks to address today’s problems.
Ben Delo, Britain’s youngest self-made billionaire, aims to change that, and not in a small way. Shaped by the principles of effective altruism (EA), Delo promises to donate the majority of his wealth to efforts to protect the long-term future of humanity.
“All lives are valuable,” he says, “including those of future generations.”
Delo, 35, who is the co-founder of a Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange called BitMEX, has just signed the Giving Pledge, the initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet for billionaire philanthropists. He is the first signatory to focus his pledge on making sure that human beings don’t destroy themselves; so, for example, he is supporting research designed to prevent a global pandemic and efforts to manage artificial intelligence. Global pandemics, runaway AI, nuclear war and climate change are among the existential threats to humanity that worry him, Delo says in his Giving Pledge letter.
In his pledge letter, Delo writes:
My ambition now is to do the most good possible with my wealth. To me, this means funding work to safeguard future generations and protect the long-term prospects of humanity. This includes mitigating risks that could spell the end of human endeavour or permanently curtail our potential.
He goes on to say:
While today may be the most prosperous period in our history, it may also be the most dangerous. Our distant ancestors did not possess technology that could cause human extinction. We do. Nuclear security cannot be taken for granted. The prospect of extreme climate change is real. Looking forward, advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology will pose new and complex challenges.
Put simply, we’ve never been in this position before: with the power to destroy the future, but not necessarily the wisdom to wield that power responsibly.
Delo has been inspired by Oxford philosopher William MacAskill, a founder and theorist of the effective altruism movement who he met through a childhood friend. MacAskill introduced him to Effective Giving, a nonprofit consultancy led by Natalie Cargill along with Liv Boeree, a world champion poker player and advocate for EA. Continue reading
Psychedelic drugs are having a moment in the sun. They have great potential, we’re learning, as a treatment for a variety of mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. They are also attracting interest as a gateway to meaningful experiences that, advocates say, should be available to all.
Philanthropists are taking note. More donors — though not nearly enough — are stepping up to support both research into the medical benefits of these days and advocacy on their behalf.
Here’s why psychedelics present an untapped opportunity for philanthropy. Continue reading
“Universities,” says Harvard, “have a special role andspecial responsibility to confront the global challenges of climate change and sustainability.”
Indeed they do. But by financing the exploration and production of fossil fuels, Harvard is failing to live up to that responsibility.
In an effort to hold the university accountable, a group of prominent alumni, led by former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth, will try to reinvigorate a campaign to persuade Harvard to divest its $40-billion endowment of fossil fuels.
Joining Wirth, a longtime climate activist, in the campaign are writer and activist Bill McKibben, former SEC commissioner Bevis Longstreth and Todd Gitlin, an author and scholar, all of them Harvard alums. Working with them are Gina McCarthy, the former EPA secretary, who now teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and Stephen Heintz, who as president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, led its successful effort to cleanse its endowment of fossil fuels. They’ll describe their plans on Earth Day [Monday, April 22] as part of Heat Week, a week of climate activism at Harvard.
In a January letter to Harvard’s president, Lawrence Bacow, Wirth and his allies wrote:
We believe that the University should immediately cease holdings in companies exploring for or developing further fossil fuel reserves. This can be a first step toward the long-term goal of fully decarbonizing the portfolio. We are well aware that this is a difficult challenge, but Harvard is capable of great challenges and rightly should be among the first to undertake the challenge of aligning its endowment with a bet on the future rather than the past. If Harvard can’t do it, who can?
They met soon after with Bacow and William Lee, a lawyer and fellow of the Harvard Corporation, and while the meeting was (of course!) cordial, Bacow signaled that he saw no need to revisit the divestment position laid out in 2013 by Drew Faust, his predecessor. “The endowment,” she wrote, “is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.”
Every now and then, though, Harvard has, in fact, used the endowment to drive change or reflect the university’s values. The Harvard Management Co., which invests the endowment, says in its sustainable investment policy that
very rare occasions may arise when companies’ activities are so deeply repugnant and ethically unjustifiable as to warrant the University’s institutional dissociation from those activities. In recent decades, such ethical considerations have led the Harvard Corporation to instruct HMC not to own shares in certain companies involved in the perpetuation of apartheid in South Africa, in the manufacture of tobacco products, and in enabling genocide in Darfur.
The question, then, is whether the fossil fuel industry’s actions have been repugnant and unethical. While there’s no doubt that coal, oil and gas have been engines of economic growth for centuries, the industry has recently gone to extraordinary lengths to oppose climate action, even as scientists agree that burning of fossil fuels at our current pace threatens human and planetary health.
Bacow says Harvard’s proper role is to work with the fossil fuel industry, which, as it happens, also works with Harvard. (BP, Shell and Chevron finance energy and environmental research at Harvard’s Belfer Center.) In a letter to Wirth and his colleagues, Bacow wrote:
We share the same basic goals in this area, but differ on tactics…My own view is that the university’s continued engagement with industry in this domain is more likely to achieve those goals than an approach that emphasizes stigmatization
This view is unsupported by history. Shareholder advocates focused on climate change have engaged with fossil fuel companies for nearly two decades, and they have almost nothing to show for it. ExxonMobil agreed to appoint a climate expert to its board, but the company remains almost entirely focused on producing oil and gas. No amount of engagement will magically transform fossil fuel companies into allies in the campaign to curb climate change.
Says McKibben: “Shareholder engagement with fossil fuel companies has proved its uselessness, yielding less than a molehill when we must climb a mountain.”
It’s about politics, not economics
Then again, divestment alone won’t transform the oil industry either. The economics are daunting: The Go Fossil Free campaign launched by McKibben, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club in 2012 has yet to persuade any of the US’s biggest universities or foundations to divest. (Rockefeller Brothers, the biggest foundation to do so, has about a $1.2 billion endowment.) What’s more, it’s hard to know whether university and foundation could, by themselves, drive down the share prices of the oil majors. (Interestingly, after Harvard and many other institutions divested tobacco stocks, shares of the cigarette companies wildly outperformed the broader market until just a few years ago.) Finally, giant oil companies owned by the governments of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Iran are unaffected by divestment campaigns because their shares aren’t traded on public markets.
But divestment can help change the politics of climate change. That, in fact, is the point — to demonize and weaken the fossil fuel industry. McKibben argues that divestment can “push the climate issue into the center of political debates, depriving the industry of some of the social license it needs to continue gaming the politics of the issue.” Or, as Stephen Heintz has said: “This is largely symbolic, but symbols have power. They motivate people. They inspire people. They can change behavior.”
That’s why this Harvard campaign is important. Harvard’s endowment is the biggest of any university, and its influence extends far beyond its investment portfolio. Harvard is, well, Harvard: It has educated eight US presidents, half the members of the Supreme Court, numerous CEO and world leaders, and so it has an unmatched ability to shape the values of future elites.
Wirth and his allies are argue that the university’s values should compel action.The oil companies, they say, have misled the public for decades about the threat of climate change, even when they knew better. They spent a fortune, McKibben says, building “an architecture of deceit, denial and disinformation.”
Gitlin told me: “Here’s Harvard — which is devoted to Veritas — and here are these companies that are devoted to the opposite of veritas. They’ve been lying machines.”
It’s a compelling argument. So, too, is the broader claim that the business-as-usual approach to endowment investing taken by Harvard is a wholly inadequate response to the climate crisis.
Wirth told me: “The traditional endowment investment policy simply is no longer credible — at Harvard or elsewhere. If we persist and focus, I believe we can have a real impact.” His group has raised foundation funds to enable the Better Future Project, a grass roots group based in Cambridge, to hire an organizer to support DivestHarvard.
Twenty-six-year-old Jacy Reese is — or perhaps was — a rising star of the animal rights movement. His book, The End of Animal Farming, was blurbed by Steven Pinker. He has delivered a TedX talk, written for Vox and The Guardian and spoken in more than 20 countries, according to his website. He is co-founder and research director of the Sentience Institute, a think tank that “dedicated to the expansion of humanity’s moral circle” and shaped by the principles of effective altruism.
Then this: An 812-word statement, under the headline “Apology,” posted a week or so ago by Reese on the forum of the Centre for Effective Altruism, the global hub of the effective altruism movement.
“It has recently been brought to my attention that I have made people uncomfortable through my verbal and written advances,” he wrote. “I’m deeply sorry to everyone I hurt or made uncomfortable.”
“I intend to step back from public life and the activism communities I’ve belonged to and reflect on my mistakes further,” he continued. He has committed “to not making advances on anyone employed in the animal advocacy movement. I wanted to err on the side of caution and avoid doing any further harm.”
His apology doesn’t get more specific, in part because the allegations against him were made anonymously and details have not been shared.
So what, exactly, did Jacy Reese do wrong? That, alas, is hard to know.
This is a problem not just for Reese, but for the #metoo movement, for effective altruism and for the farmed animal movement. Animal activism is just now emerging from an awful year, marked by revelations that several of its prominent leaders, notably Wayne Pacelle, the former president of the Humane Society of the US, had engaged in sexual harassment. Pacelle was credibly accused of verbally and physically hitting on women who worked for him, actions that cost him his job.
Here’s the problem, though: Without specifics, people are left to speculate about Jacy Reese. Sexual harassment has become an all-encompassing concept that can mean everything from grabbing a person’s body (although, really, that’s sexual assault) to making a comment about a co-worker’s looks (“love the way that dress looks on you”) to the display at work of “sexually suggestive objects, pictures or other materials” (like the 1967 movie poster for The Graduate?), to quote the anti-harassment policy of Mercy for Animals. These are, of course, very different things. Distinctions matter. As a group of French women, including Catherine Deneuve, wrote in a letter to Le Monde last year: “Rape is a crime. But insistent or clumsy flirting is not a crime.”
In the case of Jacy Reese, as best I can tell — which is not very well at all — he is being accused by a number of women of “insistent or clumsy flirting,” most of it online, via text or Facebook message. “My approach to expressing romantic or sexual interest has always been forward and direct,” he wrote in his apology. This behavior is often described as “unwanted sexual advances,” a phrase that puzzles me: How is anyone to know if an advance is unwanted, without making the advance?
This has been a challenge for Reese. “He’s a bit socially awkward and can’t read clues,” says a colleague in the animal-advocacy world, who has seen screen grabs of lewd text messages that he sent to women, even after they showed no interest. He has been warned by friends that his behavior was not only putting his reputation at risk, but that it could set back causes that he cares about. (He disputes this.) Some women have avoided EA and animal advocacy events when they knew he would be present.
Reese’s public apology was not exactly voluntary. It came only after the Centre for Effective Altruism approached him “after receiving reports from several parties about concerns over several time periods,” the organization says. The CEA described the reports as “credible and concerning.” It severed its ties with Reese — the centre had previously been a fiscal sponsor of the Sentience Institute — and told him he was no longer welcome at its events. That sounds serious.
And yet Reese and Kelly Witwicki, the co-founder of the Sentience Institute, want his apology to close the matter. In an email, Witwicki told me that when the allegations came to his attention, he promised not to come on to “anyone employed in the animal advocacy movement.” (A curious pledge — are volunteers fair game?) Here it must be noted that Reese and Witwicki are partners in life as well as advocacy — he proposed to her last year, in the most romantic fashion, by reading her a passage from his book while on a rowboat in Central Park. They are also polyamorous. The full texts of Witwicki’s emails to me are here.
There’s more to this story — quite a bit more — but before unraveling it, let’s recognize that what we have here is a clash of values that’s not easy to resolve. Seeking to create safer workplaces for women, the #metoo movement urges women to speak out about their concerns, anonymously if necessary; confidentiality is important because women should not be subject to retaliation if they have been harassed by powerful men. But, given the stakes, men deserve to know who is accusing them and, at minimum, what, exactly, they are said to have done. That isn’t a dodgy excuse for the patriarchy — it’s a matter of fairness. Then there’s the importance of transparency. Only with more clarity and openness can colleagues, allies and donors make informed judgments about who they want to work with or support. Without transparency, there’s no accountability. That’s why the conclusion of the sexual-harassment scandal at the Humane Society was so unsatisfying.
This is equally unsatisfying. Some people credit Reese for making a public apology, albeit under pressure. Julia Wise, a respected effective altruist and a community liaison at CEA, told me by email that reporting this story would be counterproductive: “I respect the decision (Jacy) has made to step back from EA generally. I think he responded appropriately, and I don’t want to dis-incentivize that.” Others, though, worry that Reese and Witwicki are now free to spin the story and minimize the wrongdoing.
Reese’s history further complicates matters. During his sophomore year at Brown, Reese, who then went by his full name (Reese is his middle name), was expelled from the university after being accused of sexual misconduct. The specifics, again, are unknown, but he denied wrongdoing, portraying himself as the victim of a witch hunt. In a letter to the Brown Daily Herald, Reese argued that students accused of harassment deserve more due process. “My career at Brown has been destroyed by these false accusations,” he wrote.
Witwicki, for her part, has been a forceful advocate for women. In a long and thoughtful 2017 post on the Effective Altruism Forum, headlined Why & How to Make Progress on Diversity and Inclusion in EA, she urged the CEA to “enforce a clear policy” for dealing with sexual harassment and discrimination. She wrote:
Commensurate consequences and reform procedures, escalating as necessary to expulsion, are critical.The perpetrator is not so much more important than the greater number of people they are driving away, [emphasis added] the risk of a lawsuit to the organization protecting them, or the risk they bring to the community’s reputation, that such actions should be protected.
Last November, on the the Sentience Institute website, Witwicki took a more forgiving stance, arguing that “restorative justice” and not “retributive justice” is what all of us want and deserve when we make mistakes. She wrote:
“No tolerance” is an important policy for preventing and responding to misconduct, in the sense that every issue will be addressed. But no tolerance doesn’t require a “heavy handed” approach — to the contrary, I think it’s critical for the heaviness of our responses to be commensurate with the severity of an action and to escalate progressively with failures to participate in restorative processes. Small transgressions, for instance, should be “called in” so the person who made the apparent mistake has the opportunity to defend themselves if necessary, or to rectify their mistake and improve. If someone has committed a transgression, we want them to seek understanding, and if they do come to understand, apologize, and demonstrate a credible intention to improve, they should be given the chance to carry forward as a better community member, if possible depending on the severity of their action.
We can speculate that she wrote this with her fiancee in mind, but it is nevertheless a point well taken. It would be a shame if these accusations do serious or long-term damage to Jacy Reese’s career, presuming that he has — finally — learned to treat women with respect. The Sentience Institute, which researches the best ways to effectively advocate for animals, is a promising newcomer to the animal advocacy movement; it’s deserving of support, with or without him.
But if Reese is to become the leader he so clearly wants to be, he has other things to learn, too. Humility, for one. On his website, he calls himself “a co-founder of the effective altruism movement.” Huh? He was in high school in 2009 when Will MacAskill and Toby Ord started Giving What We Can, the first effective-altruism organization, and he was a college sophomore when the term effective altruism was coined. When I asked him about this, Reese replied:
Regarding “cofounder,” there were many people involved in the beginnings of the effective altruism community, including people at Giving What We Can, GiveWell, and in online internet forums like LessWrong and Felicifia. I was involved in many early discussions and early strategizing for the community (before and after it settled on the name “effective altruism”). I volunteered with Giving What We Can and helped run the first effective altruism student network called THINK. However, my impression is that most of us, including me, have some discomfort with the term “cofounder,” given it’s a diffuse community rather than an organization or company.
Sorry. In no one’s mind but his own does that make Jacy Reese a co-founder of the effective altruism movement.
For more on his perspective, and Kelly Witwicki’s thoughts, please read her responses to my questions and to this story.
So much for Wayne Pacelle’s denials. Early in 2018, when women at the Humane Society of the U.S. alleged that Pacelle, the organization’s charismatic leader, had sexually harassed them, he maintained his innocence before resigning under pressure. “This is a coordinated attempt to attack me and the organization,” Pacelle said. “And I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward.”
Now we know that the complaints were valid. On March 12, the Humane Society concluded a “reconciliation process” that was designed to understand what went wrong and strengthen the organization for the future.
The key finding? Things were worse than previously disclosed.
In a press release addressed to staff and supporters, Susan Atherton and Tom Sabatino, the new co-chairs of the Humane Society board, wrote:
Our problems were far greater than what was publicly discussed in early 2018. There were more victims of abuse, harassment and other inappropriate workplace behavior than had previously been known, and there were more bad actors involved as well.
Atherton and Sabatino, who are new to the board, said the directors were, in part, to blame.
It is also clear that the Board struggled to find its way through the situation and in many ways came up short. We let the organization down and, more importantly, let down the women who were the targets of these inexcusable acts. We failed the organization. There is not one member of this Board who is not extraordinarily sorry for that.
This is unsatisfying. Saying that the board “struggled to find its way through the situation” is like saying that the Titanic struggled to find its way to port. Here’s what happened: The HSUS board abruptly terminated an outside investigation into Pacelle’s conduct when it became public. The board then stood by the CEO and dissed his accusers, until pressures from staff and donors forced him out. (See Times Up: Wayne Pacelle is out as CEO of the Humane Society.) What’s more, the board evidently either tolerated the workplace problems at HSUS for years, or was unaware of them.
Yet, as the reconciliation process concludes, no one on the board is being held accountable. The board chair, Eric “Rick” Bernthal, and two other members of the board executive committee who backed Pacelle, Chuck Laue and Jason Weiss, continue to serve.
One striking feature of the letter from the board chairs and a similar letter from Kitty Block, the Humane Society’s new CEO, is that they don’t mention any names — not Pacelle, not Bernthal, not any of the men who have been accused of wrongdoing in the press or on Facebook. The result is, there’s no more clarity today about who did what to whom than there was a year ago, although enough of Pacelle’s accusers have gone public — in the Washington Post, The New York Times and with me — so that it’s clear that he abused his power.
Board chairs Atherton and Sabatino said they will not share details of the findings because they want to “protect the confidentiality that was promised to all participants.” This is laudable, but surely there’s a way to say more while still guarding the privacy of those who preferred to remain unidentified.
In an open letter on her website, Kate Kimpel, a well-respected lawyer and feminist who led the reconciliation process, had this to say about the confidentiality issue:
Finding the right balance between transparency and confidentiality is difficult; while there is likely no balance that would satisfy all stakeholders, I am confident that the balance being set here is one motivated by a true desire to protect those brave individuals who participated in the process.
That carries some weight with me. We’ll see whether it satisfies donors who had hoped the findings would become public and that the old guard on the board would depart. Here are some other thoughts on the reconciliation findings:
The scope of the workplace problems: About 120 people came forward voluntarily to talk Kate Kimpel. That’s a lot of people! So many that Kimpel extended the deadline for completing her inquiry a couple of times. That tells me that the workplace problems at HSUS go well beyond a misstep or two by Pacelle.
Paul Shapiro’s conduct: An influential figure in the animal welfare movement, Shapiro left HSUS last year after writing a book about plant-based alternatives to meat. He’s now CEO and cofounder of The Better Meat Co. Some women are displeased because, they say, he’s never been held accountable for his behavior at HSUS. He apologized last year for what he called “sophomoric and unprofessional behavior” but it remains unclear what, if anything, he did wrong. Making some top-line findings of the investigation public might have allowed him to clear his name — or not.
Kitty Block’s role: A survivor of sexual harassment at HSUS in the 1990s, Block wrote that she had “learned over the past year” that “some of those we trusted and admired most betrayed us all.” She went on to say:
No person’s dignity, safety, or humanity should ever be compromised in the name of fighting for animals; to tolerate this degrades us all and compromises the moral force of our cause. I have been sickened to learn what so many went through, and I want to take this opportunity to personally apologize. I am so very sorry.
Strong words. But questions remain about what she knew, and when she knew it. Did she really first learn about the bad behavior only after it became public last year?
A former HSUS staff member wrote me:
It wasn’t hidden. The entire movement knew. Wayne and Paul (Shapiro) “dating” their female employees was a constant source of gossip, jokes and warnings. They would flirt with women and tell crude sex jokes in front of anyone. In work meetings, at events. Kitty held high positions at HSUS for many years. There is absolutely no way she didn’t know exactly what was going on.
Others are skeptical as well.
When I ran this by HSUS, spokeswoman Anna West sent me this reply from Kitty Block:
It is absolutely untrue that I knew all, most, or even much about what went on here and the ways in which people were being victimized. I have been horrified and heartbroken for much of this past year. And had I known, I can confidently say that I would not have stood idly by; my actions in 1995 [when she sued HSUS after being harassed] prove that.
The good news — and it’s no small matter — is that many people believe that a new era is underway at HSUS. Whatever Block’s past role, she’s now seen as an ally of women. In her letter, she said: “Let me state emphatically that moving forward the HSUS will hold those who harass or assault accountable.” The board has put in place what it calls “a clear, comprehensive, and transparent set of policies and protocols” to protect staff. The new rules, the board says, will enforce “accountability at all levels of the organization.”
Accountability. You hear that word a lot at HSUS. Last week, on her blog, Block promised that HSUS will hold food companies accountable for promises they’ve made to phase out cages for pigs and chickens. That’s good. Companies should be held accountable for their actions.
So, though, should nonprofits and their leaders. That’s why it’s disappointing that HSUS has so far failed to hold its board and staff members accountable for the damage they did to women — and to the animal-welfare movement.
For more than a year, the Humane Society of the United States, the US’s most powerful animal-welfare group, has been trying to recover from charges of sexual harassment levied against Wayne Pacelle, its former chief executive.
The Humane Society’s board has apologized to women who lodged complaints against Pacelle, adopted new policies and practices, brought on new members, commissioned a pay-equity study and — after women at HSUS hired a lawyer to represent their interests — launched what it calls a reconciliation process to try to understand what went wrong and how best to prevent future problems.
On January 25, HSUS’s board appointed Kitty Block, a lawyer who has devoted more than a quarter of a century to animal welfare — and who is herself a survivor of sexual harassment at HSUS — as its new president and CEO. It also selected two new directors, Susan Atherton and Tom Sabatino, to co-chair the board.
Mission accomplished? Not yet.
“I joke with staff that the best thing about 2019 is that it’s not 2018 anymore,” Block says. “It’s been a tough year for all of us.” She adds: “We’re stronger and better now.”
Maybe. But if HSUS wants to regain the support and trust of donors, staff and allies, its board of directors will have to deal with some unfinished business. First, the directors will need to make public, in some form, the findings of the reconciliation process, if only so that Pacelle and, perhaps, others who behaved badly are held accountable. Second, some donors are calling on HSUS to remove from the board those directors who supported Pacelle — and discounted the allegations against him — when news of the scandal broke.
The stakes are high, for those who care about animal suffering or about women in the farmed animal movement, where they make up about 70 percent of the staff, a recent survey found.
With assets of more than $300m and a revenues of $209m in 2017 — the last year for which information is available — HSUS has been a powerful advocate for animals, particularly for the nine billion farm animals raised for food each year in the US. It played a key role, for example, in persuading California voters last year to pass Proposition 12, a ballot measure banning the sale of meat and eggs from animals kept in tightly-restricted cages.
But HSUS has been wounded by the sexual-harassment scandal. Last year, HSUS’s revenues fell, as donations grew to other animal welfare groups. (Block wouldn’t say by how much.) HSUS has also spent a small fortune to clean up the messes created by the scandal — on an initial investigation by the Washington office of a corporate law firm, Morgan Lewis; on the ongoing reconciliation process, led by a feminist lawyer named Kate Kimpel; and on consultants to deal with issues of pay equity and workplace culture. (An HSUS spokesman declined to estimate the cost of lawyers and consultants.) Those fixes are vital, but they require HSUS to spend donor money that could otherwise have been put to work on behalf of animals.
Harder to calculate, but obviously important, are the human costs borne by women who worked at HSUS. Several who publicly accused Pacelle of harassment left the organization. Others who complained about his conduct were asked to leave and given settlements. In a Facebook post last year, Melinda Fox, a former HSUS staff member, said she had received more than 100 “messages from women at HSUS, formerly with HSUS, in other animal protection orgs, or working in other fields now because of how they were mistreated in animal protection work. They all shared messages of similar experiences in orgs/in the movement, or have witnessed women being negated, harassed, abused.” Today’s HSUS surely would be stronger had women been treated better.
Making matters worse at HSUS was the board’s response to the charges against Pacelle. The directors hired Grace Speights, a partner at Morgan Lewis, to investigate after getting a complaint; she interviewed more than 30 people, but when news of the investigation leaked, the board abruptly ended her work and voted to retain Pacelle. Eric “Rick” Bernthal, the board chair, said then: “We did not find that many of these allegations were supported by credible evidence,” a comment that angered women. Only after seven board members quit and donors and staff members rebelled did Pacelle resign. He has maintained his innocence, telling The Washington Post: “I absolutely deny any suggestion that I did anything untoward.”
Block, Atherton and Sabatino decline to delve into that history, although Block did say that the complaints against Pacelle came as a surprise to her. She has worked at HSUS since 1992, most recently as president of its international affiliate.
“I didn’t know about the investigation,” Block says. “That was kept confidential until it wasn’t.”
Part of the problem, she says, was that HSUS’s focus on the plight of animals led to neglect of issues of workplace culture. “We all work really hard and we are incredibly mission driven,” Block says. Across the nonprofit sector, she says, workplace and equity issues got insufficient attention. That’s being remedied now, she says.
Atherton, a philanthropist and former technology executive, said the appointments of Block and the new co-chairs had been welcomed, inside and outside HSUS. “The staff was really thrilled,” she says. “We’ve had a lot of people contact us, and say the organization is moving in a new direction.”
Sabatino, a longtime animal advocate and corporate lawyer, says building a stronger board is a priority. Gibson Dunn, a global law firm that worked pro bono for HSUS, recommended governance reforms that are being put into place. More than half of the current board members are either new to the board or voted not to retain Pacelle, Sabatino noted.
On other questions, the co-chairs were vague.
They say they want to build a culture of transparency, but would not promise to release findings from the reconciliation process, which is in its final stages. “We cannot get out ahead of the board… in terms of what we are going to say,” Sabatino says.
Kimpel, the lawyer leading the reconciliation process, who is respected for her work on behalf of women, has talked to more than 100 people about a wide range of issues, not limited to Pacelle’s conduct or to sexual harassment, insiders say. Several who spoke to her say they want the results out. “ I think it is crucial that the Board make the findings public in some way,” says Alison Schiebelhut, a former attorney at HSUS. She is one of four women, including the daughter of a donor, who have said publicly that Pacelle grabbed or kissed them or pressured them for sex; how many others had similar experiences is unknown, but the number is not zero.
Several donors say they won’t give to HSUS until the board is more forthcoming about what went wrong and directors are held accountable for their actions.
Jim Greenbaum, an animal advocate whose foundation gave $100,000 to HSUS in 2017, told me via email:
While I applaud the amazing work that HSUS is doing in some sectors, and have several close friends on staff, we have not resumed our financial support. Due to the HSUS Board’s lack of transparency and accountability, we don’t have confidence in the oversight of HSUS. Until the findings of the outside report on the Board’s handling of the Wayne Pacelle matter is made public and a possible house cleaning of those board members who may have grossly mismanaged the situation takes place, we will continue to withhold any financial support to HSUS.
Rachel Perman, director of charitable giving at plant-based food company Tofurky, said:
Tofurky has not resumed direct financial support of HSUS although we did donate Tofurky roasts to retired laboratory chimpanzees at an HSUS affiliate this past Thanksgiving.
There are still people on the HSUS board who supported Wayne Pacelle and voted to keep him after the multiple credible allegations of sexual harassment. How can we trust an organization whose stewards don’t have a problem with behavior that we consider unethical and unacceptable? There may also be Board members who are themselves in violation of Tofurky’s sexual harassment policy.
Until HSUS really listens to the victims of sexual harassment perpetrated by multiple former employees and works to redress those wrongs — including but not limited to publicly sharing the results of the most recent investigation into the harassment — Tofurky will be looking to support other groups doing similar work.
HSUS also needs to win back institutional donors, notably the Open Philanthropy Project, the US’s biggest funder of the farm animal-welfare movement. Open Philanthropy gave $1m to the Humane Society in 2016, and several donations to its international affiliate in 2017, but it has not donated since.
Recently, Amanda Hungerford of Open Phil, who formerly worked at HSUS, published a research note on Gender Equity in the Farm Animal Movement in which she described 2018 as a “brutal year” for the farmed animal movement. She cited bad behavior by men at Mercy for Animals and FARM (Farm Animal Welfare Movement), as well as at HSUS, and wrote:
When a small number of famous charismatic figures dominate movements, it can begin to seem that the rock stars are the movement, and that disciplining them for inappropriate conduct would mean harming the movement itself. That’s an incredibly dangerous posture for a movement to be in, and makes abuses of power all-but inevitable.
Animal Charity Evaluators, a small nonprofit that evaluates animal charities, had identified HSUS’s farmed animal protection campaign as a standout charity between 2014 and February 2018. It rescinded the recommendation a year ago, as Alison Smith, its former director of research, explained at some length this post.
Pacelle, for his part, has returned to the animal welfare movement, as a volunteer for a political action committee called Animal Wellness Action. It’s unclear whether HSUS’s board compensated him on the way out. “Was Wayne given a severance package? The answer is no,” Sabatino told me. But Pacelle, who led HSUS through a period of dramatic growth, may have been rewarded in other ways. An HSUS spokesman said only: “Any payments to Mr. Pacelle will be disclosed in the organization’s next public tax filing.”
Pacelle is not the first HSUS executive to be accused of harassment. David Wills, who led animal-cruelty investigations at HSUS in the early 1990s, was sued sexual harassment by two women, including Block. It turned out that Wills had hidden a prior conviction for burglary on his resume, and he was then sued by HSUS for defrauding it of $93,000, according to a 1996 article in the Washington Post. More recently, Wills was indicted by a federal grand juryand charged with assaulting and sex-trafficking a nine-year-old girl.
One day after Block was named CEO of HSUS, a former HSUS executive named Scotlund Haisley was arrested by the Washington, DC, police department and charged with twice robbing a Subway fast food outlet in northwest Washington. Last fall, Haisley’s wife summoned police, telling them he had assaulted her; she subsequently obtained a protective order keeping him away from her and their children, according to Animals 24/7.
Whether any of this history is relevant to HSUS today is hard to know.
Says Kitty Block: “There are bad actors in every sector. My goal is to make sure that a bad actor is called out a lot sooner.”
“Accountable is key,” she added. “It starts at the top.”
Climate change is “the slow-motion equivalent of a large asteroid heading to earth,” writes Joshua S. Goldstein, in a new book about climate solutions. It’s potentially catastrophic, and requires a political solution, he argues.
But Goldstein says that if he were put in charge of environmental grant-making at a big US foundation, he would not fund the grassroots groups that have done more than any other to build a climate movement — not the Sierra Club, not Greenpeace, not 350.org.
“There’s a lot of magical thinking going on,” Goldstein tells me, by phone. “Everybody loves renewables.”
Conversely, very few people love nuclear power. But Goldstein, a political scientist, and Qvist, an engineer, argue convincingly that the only way to rapidly decarbonize the world’s energy systems is with a rapid rollout of nuclear power and renewable energy.
“Up until now, only one carbon-free energy source has proven able to scale up very quickly and — in the right conditions — affordably. That source is nuclear power,” they write.
Meantime, they say, “100% renewables is a slogan that distracts us from the work at hand, which is the decarbonization of the world.”
Their arguments have big implications for foundations and nonprofits that are striving to curb climate change. If these NGOS are serious about reducing carbon emissions, they need, at the very least, to support existing low-carbon nuclear power plants. Ideally, they should push for many more plants.
A Bright Future begins by comparing Sweden, which embraced nuclear power as well as renewables, and Germany, which focused on renewables and is now phasing out its nuclear plants.
Sweden has thrived:
From 1970 to 1990, Sweden cut its total carbon emissions by half and its emissions per person by more than 60 percent. At the same time, Sweden’s economy expanded by 50 percent and its electricity generation more than doubled.
France also committed to nuclear. It has 70 percent lower carbon emission than the US and the cheapest electricity in Europe. The Canadian province of Ontario has flourished with a mix of nuclear energy and hydropower, reducing its CO2 emission by almost 90 percent. Those are all climate success stories.
Germany, by contrast, has pursued a much-touted green Energiewende (energy transition) that favors wind and solar. It doubled its production of renewable energy — an impressive feat. But the results have been anything but impressive, in part because wind and solar power are, by nature, unreliable.
Worse, Germany has also been shutting down nuclear plants. So it relies on coal for cheap, reliable, always-on electricity. It is failing to hit its climate goals and “continues to spew twice the CO2, relative to economic activity,” as Sweden does, write Goldstein and Qvist. Its electricity prices are among the highest in Europe.
That said, nuclear power has issues. The anti-nuclear arguments are by now familiar — that nuclear power is dangerous, that there’s no place to safely store waste, that the spread of nuclear plants could lead to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These arguments are rebutted, persuasively, by A Bright Future.
That brings us to the biggest obstacle to new nuclear plants: They are ruinously expensive. For years, the nuclear industry has had an awful time building plants in the US and in Europe; they take forever and run billions of dollars over budget. South Korea has built nuclear power plants at a lower cost, but its buildout has run into political opposition. In France and Sweden, too, surprisingly, green groups are arguing against nuclear.
The question is, can changes in the political and regulatory climate — along with research into simpler, safer next-generation nuclear power plants — bring down costs and lead to a resurgence of nuclear energy?
Goldstein is hopeful. Government support for nuclear research would help. So, of course, would a price on carbon. States that have passed renewable portfolio standards to require that solar and wind be a bigger part of their electricity mix could expand those to become low-carbon energy standards, which would include nuclear. And, if the world ever gets to the point where it is building lots of nuclear plants, economies of scale will surely reduce costs.
“Somebody’s got to innovate,” Goldstein says. “The goal is to make these less like building a complicated bridge and more like stamping Boeing jetliners as they come off an assembly line.”
All of that will require turning around the politics of nuclear, which brings us back to the question of climate philanthropy. Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the ClimateWorks, Grantham, Hewlett, Packard, MacArthur and Sea Change foundations all back the Sierra Club, which remains unequivocally opposed to nuclear power. Greenpeace says that nuclear energy has no place in a safe, clean, sustainable future; its foundation supporters have included Grantham, Hewlett, and Packard (although almost entirely for Greenpeace’s work on sustainable seafood and deforestation), as well as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Foundations supporting 350.org include ClimateWorks, the Grantham and Oak foundations, and the Kendeda Fund and Wallace Global Fund.
Climate funders face a dilemma. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and 350.org built today’s climate movement, such as it is, and for that they deserve great credit. Yet they stand in the way of the only proven climate solution.
“In a supreme irony,” Goldstein and Qvist write, “the very groups most actively opposing nuclear power are those most vocal about climate change.”
Happily, there’s a small but growing group of pro-nuclear environmentalists. Stewart Brand’s brilliant book, Whole Earth Discipline, is now nearly a decade old. Climate scientists James Hansen, Ken Caldeira and Kerry Emanuel have all called for a nuclear power comeback. Bill Gates has invested in next-gen nuclear. NGOs including the Clean Air Task Force and the Breakthrough Institute say nuclear energy will be needed to decarbonize the global economy, and the Union of Concerned Scientists recently argued for policies to prevent the shutdown of existing nuclear plants. This is real progress,
At the very least, philanthropists should provide more funding to the pro-nuclear green groups. The US badly needs a robust debate about nuclear energy and climate change.