[Foundation-l] Wikimedia and Environment

Robert Rohde rarohde at gmail.com
Mon Dec 14 14:58:51 UTC 2009

On Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 5:50 AM, Tim Starling <tstarling at wikimedia.org> wrote:
> Aryeh Gregor wrote:
>> On Mon, Dec 14, 2009 at 1:50 AM, Tim Starling <tstarling at wikimedia.org> wrote:
>>> I'm not appealing to the PR benefits here, or to the way this action
>>> would promote the climate change cause in general. I'm just saying
>>> that as an organisation composed of rational, moral people, Wikimedia
>>> has as much responsibility to act as does any other organisation or
>>> individual.
>> Even accepting the premise that subsidizing renewable energy is a
>> moral duty, that doesn't mean Wikimedia should fund it, any more than
>> it should be spending its budget on feeding starving children.
>> Wikimedia should not be spending any significant amount of donated
>> money on things that do not directly advance its mission, because
>> people donate to fund its mission, not unrelated causes (however
>> important).  It's very different from a private individual or company
>> in this respect -- Wikimedia has a duty to spend its money on the
>> things it's accepting donations for.
> While the major program spending that Wikimedia performs should be
> defined by its mission, I think small spending decisions, relating to
> day-to-day operations, can be made without recourse to our mission.
> For instance, the office staff should be able use recycled paper
> without there being a Board resolution to put it in the mission statement.
> In terms of the ethics, there's a big difference between inaction on
> an issue, say poverty in Africa, and taking direct action in order to
> make things worse. Wikimedia is not paying people to take food from
> children's mouths, but it is paying people to burn coal for
> electricity. I don't think we can claim to be mere bystanders.

I agree with both of you.  Funding renewables isn't really a small
thing, and so doesn't seem discretionary.  At the same time, Wikimedia
isn't a bystander, and it does contribute to the problem.

We are a charity distributing a free public good to the world.  I
don't think it is out of whack with that to want to also act as
responsible citizens.  So perhaps something like this actually should
be in the mission.  Would it be crazy to have a board resolution that
said, in essence, "Wikimedia should take reasonable and cost-effective
steps to reduce or offset its carbon footprint and other impacts on
the environment"?  Assuming the Board and the executive director can
share a similar idea of what is "reasonable" (a few percent of the
budget perhaps?), then taking a position like that actually feels like
a responsible thing for a thoughtful charity to do.

-Robert Rohde

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