David R. Brower
Chairman, Earth Island Institute
San Francisco, California
May 3, 2000
DRAFT, OPEN LETTER,
YOUR SUPPORT REQUESTED
The Honorable Charles
Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service
Dear Commissioner Rossotti:
Can the IRS help the environment as much as I
believe it has handicapped it, costing the Earth too much? This
conclusion is the result of my sixty years of fairly well publicized
international work in conservation, for which I have been nominated
three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and in particular my observing
the movement's having to seek what I have called cringe benefits
following the Supreme Court's action against lobbying in 1955
(U.S. vs Harris).
As background: When Sheldon
Cohen was IRS Commissioner he met with Member of Congress Mo
Udall, of Arizona, who persuaded the IRS to cloud the tax status
of the Sierra Club because of my legislative activity in behalf
of the Grand Canyon. I was executive director of the club at
the time, had initiated the formation of the Sierra Club Foundation
six years before the IRS action in anticipation of the clouding,
noted the adverse public reaction to it and the resulting rapid
increase in club membership, and was delighted by how the IRS
action unintentionally rallied support for the Grand Canyon.
Mo later told me in his House office that making that request
of the IRS was his greatest mistake. The Grand Canyon is still
dam-free. Moreover, the club has had no trouble increasing its
membership from sixty thousand to six hundred thousand as a result
of its be awarded 501-c-4 status and a few other achievements.
From this background, coupled
with Thomas Lovejoy's success with the idea of a debt-for-nature
swap and the work of the late Elvis Stahr of Audubon in developing
the Connable Option for 501-c-3 organizations, I am seeking your
help in developing regulations or drafting legislation that will
benefit the Earth's ecosystems at least as much as past provisions
of the Internal Revenue Code have hurt those systems.
For alarming evidence of the
rapid disintegration of ecosystems, the are several recent books
that cannot be ignored: the recent annual World Watch books The
State of the World (1984 to 2000), The Ecology of Commerce,
by Paul Hawken, Midcourse Correction, by Ran Anderson,
Nature's Services, Gretchen Daily, Ed.), Natural Capitalism,
by Paul Hawken, Amory and Hunter Lovins, and Saving Main
Street from Wall Street, by Jeff Gates (no relation),
Paradise for Sale: A Parable of Nature, by Carl McDaniel
and John Gowdy, Life Stories: World-Renowned Scientists Reflect
on Their Lives and the Future of the Earth, Heather Newbold,
I believe your agency is better
able to address this new opportunity than any other, and that
it will move this nation toward a Public Trust Doctrine that
believes that future citizens matter. Eighteen years ago, at
the first Fate of the Earth Conference held at the Cathedral
of Saint John the Divine in New York City, I proposed that we
consider global approval of Magna Carta Two. Magna Carta One,
in the year 1215, worked toward a Public Trust Doctrine, inspired
by early Roman law. The IRS could be enormously helpful in this
time of great need, with answers to these questions:
(1) What kind of growth must
we have and what can we no longer afford?
(2) The same question with respect to subsidies?
(3) The same again on the all-important question of how many
people must the Earth have and how many can it no longer afford?
(4) What can the IRS do about it if, say, a couple's first two
children warranted a deduction and each number beyond that would
lose a deduction?
(5) The more difficult question, how, in the interest of democracy,
can the IRS encourage rather than discourage legislative and
These are questions can be
incredibly difficult to accomplish but will move us closer to
democracy. I would probably never have been bold enough to ask
it had it not been for a meeting I long ago had with Secretary
of the Interior Fred Seaton who, when he heard that we needed
help in developing conservation legislation offered to help..
"We have people who can do this," he explained. "They
would even draft legislation to abolish the Department of the
Interior, but I doubt we would support it."
For several years we have
been trying to develop a Global CPR Service (Conserve, Preserve,
Restore). Could there be tax-writeoffs for this kind of work?
Or for attacks on the waste stream, mindful that nature wastes
nothing? Or for recovering the equity the world enjoyed before
five hundred billionaires' wealth matched that of the bottom
three billion people now on Earth? My audiences don't think the
ratio of 500 to 3,000,000,000 is equitable. Nor is this the kind
a equity The Natural Step advocates, with the support so far
of at least twenty other countries.
These are simple ideas, probably
difficult to do anything about, but maybe not. I'll pass this
letter around to some of the do-good organizations we work with.
But what we needed more than anything, as I look at young audiences
and wonder what the world will amount to when they reach my age
(87), is some good lawyers. Who better than yours? Good lawyers
tell you what you can do rather than why you can't.
Tom Hayden, now in the California
Senate, has told us all he has been able to do in his career
is slow the rate at which things get worse." The Sierra
Club, the other environmental organizations, and I have done
no better. Nor have the transnational corporations, their investors,
the academic and religious institutions, governments, and voters
who seem to wait eagerly for a global liquidation sale.
David R. Brower
P.S. Old habits die hard.
I am still trying to save the Grand Canyon, his time from what
Glen Canyon dam is doing to it, but can't beat the ad we came
up with for the Grand: "Should we also flood the Sistine
Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?" DRB