David R. Brower
Chairman, Earth Island Institute
San Francisco, California

May 3, 2000


The Honorable Charles O. Rossotti
Commissioner, Internal Revenue Service
Washington, D.C.

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, Ed.

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 political activity?

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