In a scathing new report, Global Witness, the well-regarded nonprofit whose director, Charmian Gooch was the winner of this year’s $US1 million TED prize, is accusing Arnold Schwarzenegger — a noted environmentalist — of profiting from deforestation.
The report comes at an awkward time for the former “Governator,” just a few weeks before his latest project, a blockbuster series on climate change entitled “Years of Living Dangerously,” will premiere on Showtime.
Executive produced by James Cameron — who helped make Arnold a star when he cast him in 1984’s “The Terminator” — the new documentary series aims to bring the issue home for viewers with the urgency of an action movie, employing an often breathtaking visual style and a number of well-known celebrities, including Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba, Don Cheadle and Gov. Schwarzenegger, who travel to far-flung locations to learn about the science of global warming and view its effects first-hand.
Business Insider was given an advance look at the first two episodes, and they’re gripping. The show is an admirable and enlightening effort to raise awareness of a dire problem.
In one riveting segment, Harrison Ford travels to Indonesia, where deforestation on behalf of palm oil plantations (an ingredient in everything from ice cream to shampoo) is one of the largest contributors to climate change. The burning of these forests releases massive amounts of carbon from the underlying peat soil — accounting for some 4 per cent of emissions and putting Indonesia just behind the US, China and India as the world’s biggest contributors of greenhouse gasses.
In Episode 2, Ford confronts the Indonesian forestry minister in true “Give me back my family!” fury, demanding that he do more to protect the forests. Ironically, some of the same companies that are responsible for the worst abuses are among the holdings of Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), the $US338 billion fund of which Mr. Schwarzenegger is estimated to own some 5%.
Meanwhile, in Schwarzenegger’s “Years of Living Dangerously” segment, which addresses with the increase in forest fires in the Western U.S., the former governor builds a fireline with an elite team of “hotshots.” In light of the Global Witness report, footage of Schwarzenegger lighting brush on fire takes on an unintended irony.
Tom Picken, a policy advisor with Global Witness who worked on the new report, notes that data from the Global Forest Watch — backed by Google and the University of Maryland — found that forests are being destroyed at a rate of 50 football fields worth per minute. “Since the financial crash of 2008,” he adds, “we’ve seen significant increase in private investors putting their money into logging and paper & pulp operations.”
The report higlights DFA, Picken says, because, “They have shares in the most widely recognised notorious companies who are routinely implicated in unethcial, unsustainable and also illegal operations. Several of the very nasty logging companies that DFA invest in most others don’t touch.”
These include Barito Pacific, WTK Holdings and Ta Ann.
As for Arnold, Picken says, “It’s highly hypocritical for him to be publically advancing an environmental agenda while privately profiting from some of the worst logging companies in the world.”
He says Global Witness reached out to DFA and Schwarzenegger “about a month ago” and they refused to comment and have not responded.”
The group decided to go public with the findings now without being aware of the Showtime series, but the promotion of the show could make for an awkward action-hero showdown if Indiana Jones confronts the Terminator on profiting from some of the same operations that Ford traveled to Borneo to help stop.
A PR representative for Schwarzenegger referred us to DFA. The investment fund said in a statement: “As of December 31, 2013, Dimensional managed $US338 billion in assets across global equity and fixed income public markets — holding approximately 12,000 publicly listed stocks representing broad equity markets across many portfolios. Publicly traded companies are subject to full disclosure of their business activities which must meet established rules and regulations.”
Still, it would not be unexpected for an investor with Schwarzenegger’s dedication to the environment and political background to make every effort to ensure that his holdings were socially responsible.
Representatives for Showtime, James Cameron and Harrison Ford did not respond to requests for comment.
“Years of Living Dangerously” premieres April 13 on Showtime.