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Mark Dowie

Award-winning journalist Mark Dowie is the author of Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century, American Foundations: An Investigative History (both published by the MIT Press), and four other books.

Titles by This Author

The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples

Since 1900, more than 108,000 officially protected conservation areas have been established worldwide, largely at the urging of five international conservation organizations. About half of these areas were occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. Millions who had been living sustainably on their land for generations were displaced in the interests of conservation. In Conservation Refugees, Mark Dowie tells this story. This is a “good guy vs. good guy” story, Dowie writes; the indigenous peoples’ movement and conservation organizations have a vital common goal--to protect biological diversity--and could work effectively and powerfully together to protect the planet and preserve biological diversity. Yet for more than a hundred years, these two forces have been at odds. The result: thousands of unmanageable protected areas and native peoples reduced to poaching and trespassing on their ancestral lands or “assimilated” but permanently indentured on the lowest rungs of the money economy. Dowie begins with the story of Yosemite National Park, which by the turn of the twentieth century established a template for bitter encounters between native peoples and conservation. He then describes the experiences of other groups, ranging from the Ogiek and Maasai of eastern Africa and the Pygmies of Central Africa to the Karen of Thailand and the Adevasis of India. He also discusses such issues as differing definitions of “nature” and “wilderness,” the influence of the “BINGOs” (Big International NGOs, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy), the need for Western scientists to respect and honor traditional lifeways, and the need for native peoples to blend their traditional knowledge with the knowledge of modern ecology. When conservationists and native peoples acknowledge the interdependence of biodiversity conservation and cultural survival, Dowie writes, they can together create a new and much more effective paradigm for conservation.

An Investigative History

In American Foundations, Mark Dowie argues that organized philanthropy is on the verge of an evolutionary shift that will transform America's nearly 50,000 foundations from covert arbiters of knowledge and culture to overt mediators of public policy and aggressive creators of new orthodoxy. He questions the wisdom of placing so much power at the disposal of nondemocratic institutions.

As American wealth expands, old foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, Pew, and MacArthur have grown exponentially, while newer trusts such as Mott, Johnson, Packard, Kellogg, Hughes, Annenberg, Hewlett, Duke, and Gates have surpassed them. Foundation assets now total close to $400 billion. Though this is a tiny sum compared to corporate and government treasuries, and foundation grants still total less than 10 percent of contributions made by individuals, foundations have power and influence far beyond their wealth. Their influence derives from the conditional nature of their grant making, their power from its leverage.

Unlike previous historians of philanthropy who have focused primarily on the grant maker, Dowie examines foundations from the public's perspective. He focuses on eight key areas in which foundations operate: education, science, health, environment, food, energy, art, and human services. He also looks at their imagination, or lack thereof, and at the strained relationship between American foundations and American democracy.

Dowie believes that foundations deserve to exist and that they can assume an increasingly vital role in American society, but only if they transform themselves from private to essentially public institutions. The reforms he proposes to make foundations more responsive to pressing social problems and more accountable to the public will almost certainly start an important national debate.

American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century


A recent history replete with compromise and capitulation has pushed a once promising and effective political movement to the brink of irrelevance.

So states Mark Dowie in this provocative critique of the mainstream American environmental movement. Dowie, the prolific award-winning journalist who broke the stories on the Dalkon Shield and on the Ford Pinto, delivers an insightful, informative, and often damning account of the movement many historians and social commentators at one time expected to be this century's most significant. He unveils the inside stories behind American environmentalism's undeniable triumphs and its quite unnecessary failures.

Dowie weaves a spellbinding tale, from the movement's conservationist origins as a handful of rich white men's hunting and fishing clubs, through its evolution in the 1960s and 1970s into a powerful political force that forged landmark environmental legislation, enforced with aggressive litigation, to the strategy of "third wave" political accommodation during the Reagan and Bush years that led to the evisceration of many earlier triumphs, up to today, where the first stirrings of a rejuvenated, angry, multicultural, and decidedly impolite movement for environmental justice provides new hope for the future.

Dowie takes a fresh look at the formation of the American environmental imagination and examines its historical imperatives: the inspirations of Thoreau, the initiatives of John Muir and Bob Marshall, the enormous impact of Rachel Carson, the new ground broken by Earth Day in 1970, and the societal antagonists created in response that climaxed with the election of Ronald Reagan. He details the subsequent move toward polite, ineffectual activism by the mainstream environmental groups, characterized by successful fundraising efforts and wide public acceptance, and also by new alliances with corporate philanthropists and government bureaucrats, increased degradation of environmental quality, and alienation of grassroots support. Dowie concludes with an inspirational description of a noncompromising "fourth wave" of American environmentalism, which he predicts will crest early in the next century.