Victories and Accomplishments: Does he get results?
By any standard, DJ White has been one of the most successful conservation strategists and campaigners.
Indeed, some maintain that Don's planned actions have directly saved more wild animal biomass than those of any other person or conservation organization, period. If you're curious as to why they say this, click here.
What follow are some representative samples of success in several fields of endeavor. Again, there is no way to list them all, so a few interesting ones have been selected for each catagory. Even so, there are a LOT of accomplishments listed below. Each is unique in some ways. This page has more information content than the others on this site, but you'll find it worth scrolling down.
Environment and Conservation
THE GLOBAL PELAGIC DRIFTNET MORATORIUM
This global ban resulted from a 10-year stepwise plan in which White was - at most crucial times - the main player, spanning two major organizations, dozens of expeditions, two video productions, numerous global tours, the definitive scientific research compilation, and the final push at the United Nations. The images, issue definition, and even phraseology of this global effort were White's. Between one and two thousand of the most destructive fishing vessels the world had ever known were permanently removed from the seas as a direct result. Possibly the highest-faunal-biomass conservation victory in history, now stably in place for a decade. White has also supervised post-resolution NGO policing of driftnet activity in the Pacific.
MAKING PIRATE WHALING IMPRACTICAL THROUGH NEW DNA PROTOCOLS
Since 1972 the fundamental failure of the IWC as a body to prevent whale species extinction was due to the ease with which protected or endangered whale species could be easily taken, and "passed off" in the markplace as "legal" meat. This allowed a huge bilateral criminal enterprise by Japan and the USSR to decimate nearly the entire global populations of fin, humpback, bryde's, blue and other whales while ostensibly operating under IWC guidelines, as well as encouraging the proliferation of "rogue" vessels funded by Japan and set up to wipe out remnant populations, shipping their meat to Japan via dummy corporations.
The IWC, and conservation groups, were powerless against this until 1993, when White and his wife Sue, working with MJ Research Labs, invented a new protocol for collection and "suitcase DNA analysis" of market samples. Recruiting professionally-trained field agents to make "buys" throughout Japan and asia, they then shipped leading molecular biologists into these nations to "clone" the DNA of the samples, thus allowing its legal export and analysis without being blocked by Japan's CITES office.
In the following years of this campaign, the reduction of contraband species in the marketplace was both tracked and documented by Earthtrust. This revolutionized the very nature of oversight at the IWC, caused the creation of national and international whaling gene databanks in Japan, Norway, and elsewhere, and spurred the creation of a new Harvard institute which is now funded by Pew Trust. All independent whaling-oversight labs in the world are now run by Earthtrust-recruited geneticists, including Dr. Scott Baker, Dr. Stephen Palumbi, and Dr. Frank Cipriano; whose publications in SCIENCE and NATURE regarding their work for Earthtrust continue to keep pirate whaling unfeasible.
This model has been adapted for oversight of other controlled species under CITES as well, where the Earthtrust Protocols are pushed as the "gold standard". This approach, blending technoligical innovation with cross-cultural "undercover research" savvy and a detailed knowledge of treaty workings, permanently changed the IWC and the nature of whaling. No one else could have done it: conservation groups considered it impossible, DNA researchers had no understanding of the realities of illicit trade, and technology firms had no grasp of treaty workings.
EXTINGUISHING THE KUWAIT OILWELL FIRES
In 1990, a retreating Saddam Hussein destroyed more than 700 Kuwaiti oilwells and set them afire, creating toxic pools of oil and clouds of choking smoke which threatened marine wildlife habitat and blotted the sun from the sky. The US Military and Kuwait enforced an embargo on environmental reporting from within Kuwait. All high Kuwaiti officials fled the nation to safety, leaving no infrastructure for an environmental response.
From half a world away, Earthtrust filled this gap, simply because it was the only group which could. Its operatives were working on site to salvage the situation before the Iraqi scud missiles had stopped falling. No other environmental organization was involved until much later, after the ET work was done. Earthtrust teams braved mine fields, deployed oil barriers to protect marine habitat, and escorted teams of international journalists past guards and into the burning fields, leading to some of the most dramatic news footage and coverage of the war, and letting the world bear witness to the environmental carnage. Earthtrust's own documentation - later made into the internationally-acclaimed "Hell on Earth" documentary, stands as some of the most dramatic footage ever taken.
This footage was screened by Earthtrust to representatives of the Kuwait royal family, immediately resulting in a change in policy: rather than limiting the oilwell fire containment to only US and Kuwaiti firms, as Kuwait had previously agreed with the US, it was opened to international efforts. Thus, within a few weeks there were innovations like a russian tank with a MIG jet fighter engine atop it, blowing out oilwell fires. The time of burning - originally estimated at years - was reduced to a few months, saving enormous amounts of environment and resources. The need for the deadlock to be broken led White to audaciously commit people and scarce funds in the face of war, mass death, official stonewalling, dishonest officials, martial law, and a seemingly impossible task. Again, the crisis was transformed through shrewd leverage of images and information.
ENDING TAIWAN'S DRIVE KILLS
For hundreds of years, Taiwan has driven dolphins ashore and killed them for sport, spectacle, and bait. In fact, this occurs at other places in the world as well as a tradition. The difference is that in Taiwan, since 1991, it has stopped. It's illegal by national law, and the local schoolchildren learn about dolphins through curricula written by Earthtrust Taiwan. This is the only place in the world such a transformation has taken place, and another situation previously considered "impossible" to change.
Again, it was accomplished by the shrewd use of images and information by a well-picked team which played off national and international dynamics to create a new stable state. (Have you noted yet that White's campaigns seem to always result in a new stable state, rather than a temporary victory? That is an important thing to realize.)
White had Earthtrust post local videographers with SVHS cameras around Taiwan (and other nations) in an initiative he called "EcoEye". An EcoEye team was directed to an annual drive kill at Peng Hu harbor. The team obtain utterly horrific images of dolphins and whales being tortured to death by laughing crowds.
Rather than release this to the media as Greenpeace would have done, Earthtrust worked smart. It did an immediate screening of the tape to key Taiwanese legislators, so quickly that they were able to actually halt the ongoing kill. The legislators were given a choice between an international scandal which would hurt tourism and national pride, versus the opportunity to reform the laws immediately and share a positive story with the world.
Thus, within two weeks, these legislators donned Earthtrust-labeled wet suits and untied the harbor nets in the first-ever dolphin-and-whale release ceremony in Taiwan's history. The practice of drive kills was outlawed, and Earthtrust offered public congratulations to Taiwan rather than censure. The horrific images were never shown to the world, demonstrating discipline rare in the conservation movement. (The images would have raised Earthtrust large amounts of money, but it wasn't the right way to solve the issue). White deployed a boat team to Peng Hu in the following year to make sure the law was upheld, while Earthtrust Taiwan directors Keith and Susie Highley did local outreach in the schools and Buddhist community. The drive kills have now ended.Business Negotiations
CONVINCING TED TURNER AND WTBS TO FUND AN INVASION OF THE SOVIET UNION
In 1983, nobody gave a damn about driftnets, least of all the news media. This was a problem, because White needed a documentary of driftnet operations in order to start a global campaign against them, and also needed $30,000 in diesel fuel to even get a Greenpeace boat into the Bering sea. Turner had just funded the Cousteau Amazon tour, and was the only media source which seemed sellable. However, Turner and Co were totally bored by the concept of driftnets. There was thus a deadlock.
What White did caused ripples within Greenpeace, within WTBS, and in the greater world. He sent Turner a telegram giving him 24 hours to say yes or no to having a crew along on a seaborne invasion of the Soviet mainland by crazy whale-huggers. Turner said yes, and White set up a meeting in Atlanta to negotate the terms. On his way, he simultaneously announced within all USA Greenpeace offices that the Rainbow Warrior was going to invade Siberia to protest illegal whaling there during the upcoming meeting of the IWC. This started a mad dash as the senior Greenpeace office workers applied for the crew to make their names in the movement, and by the time White got to Atlanta a week later the US organization was committed to invading the USSR to save the whales, much to the consternation of the somewhat communist-leaning Greenpeace International.
White negotiated a tight contract in two days of meetings with WTBS VP Robert Wussler. Per this contract, WTBS would fuel the Rainbow Warrior to reach the Bering Sea and film White's driftnet fleet confrontation, and agree to produce and internationally air a documentary on it, in exchange for Turner's crew being aboard the ship when it invaded the Fur farms at Lorino in Siberia. The value of this deal was over $200,000, and it is what started the ban-driftnets movement. Ironically, Turner didn't read the contract Wussler signed, and pulled his crew off the boat immediately before it invaded the USSR over an argument with its fine points. The invasion itself followed almost exactly the scenario White predicted, doubled the US membership of Greenpeace, and made names for some previously-obscure office workers. White also initiated a series of specials with CNN, but this contract negotiation was taken over by a horrified Greenpeace International as it hastily relieved White of his campaign authority. It all worked out exactly as White had projected, forcing both Greenpeace and Turner into an important issue neither gave a damn about, and changing the world.
BINDING THE WORLD'S LARGEST TUNA FIRM TO AN INDEPENDENT TRADEMARKED PRODUCT STANDARD
It was considered flatly impossible. White proposed to have the world's largest tuna firm sign a binding contract with Earthtrust, whereby it would be held to a higher dolphin safety standard than was defined under US law. This standard would be binding on all of its international affiliates and subsidiaries, AND Starkist would have to commit to heavily funding independent monitoring of its activities, making all its internal documents available to Earthtrust. This plan, initially rejected by Heinz CEO Tony O'Reilly, was negotiated by White at multiple levels of congress, the fishing industry and the environmental movement. it was considered so unbelievable that a represesentative of Threshold Foundation called White a liar and canceled an unrelated grant to Earthtrust's driftnet campaign in 1990 because her sources in Washington said that what Don reported to her was impossible exaggeration.
Only weeks later, White signed this historic contract and it became marketing history. It is an achievement which arguably has never been duplicated. It was accomplished by White on a shoestring budget, using only the "art of the deal" and a rare negotiating ability. The audacity of this maneuvering is partially apparent in the fact that independent labels, such as Earthtrust's, were illegal under the wording of federal law when White sat down to negotiate the final terms. He convinced StarKist that he would "fix" the wording of the DPCIA before it was reported out of committee, even though the congressional committee had already passed it! Starkist executives agreed on this basis, somewhat incredulously. White then managed to alter the wording of the congressional Act to include independent labels by arguing to its drafters that the committee-approved wording would screw up the StarKist contract. The law was reworded between the time it left committee and when it showed up as a law. (When next the DPCIA was reworded again in 1997, White again conducted a solo lobbying campaign which kept private consumer labels legal.)
ACQUIRING GLOBAL RIGHTS TO THE 'FLIPPER' MARK FROM UNIVERSAL STUDIOS - AT NO COST
"Flipper" is a property worth many millions of dollars. White felt it would be a useful mark for accreditation of dolphin-friendly seafood, and set out to acquire it.
He acquired a limited license from Animation Filmakers, Inc, the animation company which produced "Clutch Cargo" and other classics, who owned the cartoon rights. White aided AFI by using their mark in commerce and merchandising, thereby keeping AFI from having its rights lapse through lack of use. Subsequently, Universal Studios, another part-owner of the property, got involved with a lawsuit with the many other parties who owned spinoffs of the original "Flipper" franchise. White kept Earthtrust out of this suit. When it ended, Universal was sole representative of Flipper and the copyright owner, but Earthtrust owned the independent rights it had earned.
Universal produced a Flipper movie, sponsored by a major tuna firm. However, neither Universal nor its partners had ever established the use of the Flipper property for merchandising or other marketing, while Earthtrust had done so under White's direction. White challenged Universal's right to grant the Flipper name to a tuna firm for use in promotions unless the firm met Earthtrust's no-dolphin-kill standards. Amazingly, the tuna firm sponsoring the "Flipper" movie would not agree to not kill dolphins! White, forced into hardball negotiations - again with no budget - made Universal to sever connections with the film's lead sponsor for this hypocrisy.
Moreover, in order to secure the unchallenged right to merchandise around the film, Universal had to sign a contract negotiated by White granting Earthtrust greatly-expanded ownership of the Flipper property in perpetuity. Such a successful negotiation - semi-adversarial, under a time crunch, against one of the world's richest and most agressive media firms, is relatively unheard-of.
Success in the Nonprofit world THE CREATION OF GREENPEACE
White was instrumental in creating what is perhaps the world's most well-known environmental organization at the corporate, national, international, and program levels. Prior to 1976, Greenpeace was a single Canadian organization operating out of Vancouver. In '76, White met with representatives of that organization. White had already announced to the press that his organization (Earthtrust) had selected a vessel to be the first fully-owned environmental campaign ship in the world, and had planned a fundraising event to purchase it for a 1977 expedition against the Soviet whaling fleet. The Vancouver organization had pioneered this sort of expedition using chartered ships, but was virtually bankrupt after the charter of the ship James Bay in the summer of '76.
White agreed that a Greenpeace corporation could be formed in the USA to help take credit for Earthtrust's campaign, principally to convince the whalers that the movement had momentum. This took place, and Earthtrust's 1977 anti-whaling mission by the ship White had chosen and bought - the 'Ohana Kai' - went into the history books and global media as a joint Greenpeace-Earthtrust campaign. The campaign was a success. However, the Hawaii Greenpeace corporation was left with a huge campaign debt of nearly $300,000 in in 1976 dollars.
Greenpeace Vancouver - and several other newly-formed "greenpeace" groups in the USA - argued that the in-debt corporation should be scuttled. Instead, White took on the thankless job of taking over the reins to repay the numerous creditors left in the state of Hawaii by the Vancouver check-writing spree prior to the ship's leaving.
As President of Greenpeace Foundation, he was a key figure in the development of Greenpeace as a national and international organization. He acted to intercede in 1979 to end a lawsuit between the San Francisco and Vancouver corporations of Greenpeace, and to set up an administrative organization, Greenpeace USA, in 1980 on which Greenpeace Foundation would have representation. He participated in the forming of Greenpeace International later in 1980, and by 1982 was the international director of Dolphin campaigns, senior board member of GPUSA, and still president of Greenpeace Foundation. His campaigns and strategy helped define the young movement and grow its membership in the years prior to 1985.
CREATION OF A NEW KIND OF NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION
The U.S. government allows only certain limited kinds of nonprofit entity under law. White has not been limited by that. In 1995 he desired to create the Flipper Foundation, a new class of entity he had envisioned whose entire job would be to accept accreditation and licensing revenues from the fishing industry, and efficiently distribute these funds to create an adaptive system for monitoring and oversight.
The problem was that in order for fishing firms to commit their strategy to the program, the board of directors would have to include a heavy representation by fishery executives. How, then, to guarantee that such a board could not dilute the conservation purpose of the "foundation" or improperly redirect fisheries monitoring funds? White did this by petitioning the IRS to allow a new class of 509 (a) 3 organization. 509 (a) 3's are "supporting organizations" tied by charter to a primary organization such as a 501 (c) 3. Under the Flipper Foundation proposal, the latitude of a 509 (a) 3 would be broadened to include a whole CLASS of supported organizations, defined by conservation criteria as opposed to name.
The IRS approved this new entity, which still stands as the only example. In this way, stability and a fisheries-friendly board could coexist with an unthwartable conservation mandate.
OPERATING A MAJOR GRANTING ORGANIZATION
W hite has directed Earthtrust since its inception. During that time, the scope of its activities has from time to time placed it among the larger and more complex nonprofit entities in the movement. Earthtrust has supported dozens of other organizations fully or partially through granting programs managed by White, and grants to hundreds of individuals.
Earthtrust itself has had as many as 6 international centers of activity at one time under White's control and authority. For instance, it had offices simultaneously in New York, Geneva, Honolulu, San Francisco, Taipei, and Auckland, with action teams in countless other nations. The number of direct employees of Earthtrust at that time (including the highly-staffed New Zealand corporation) was nearly 200. A truly international organization. As the CEO, White was the lead strategist, manager, and decision-maker, and dealt on a daily basis with the complex web of legal and logistical necessities of an organization that size. Few executives in the conservation movement have ever had such a broad range and heavy load of responsibilities. Moreover, White was able to resize the organization without disrupting programs even when grant foundations would abruptly alter the cashflow. White does not seek to be known as a manager, but he has been one of the movement's best.Cross-disciplinary Innovation
CONTRACT LAW AS A TREATY- PROOF FRAMEWORK FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS
During the '70's, '80's, and 90's the primary nation-level response of the environmental/conservation movement has been lobbying for legislation, and litigating based on such legislation. Internationally, the push has been to adapt older treaty organizations and rely on legislated unilateral sanctions by one or two nations to enforce compliance.
Although he has been one of the most effective at employing these strategies when necessary, White has always believed that better mechanisms were needed to achieve stable environmental gains. Now, as national laws and treaties are increasingly trumped by "free trade" agreements, is is clear that he has been right. White has developed methods to leverage international trademark and contract law into a stable framework to replace the failing laws and treaties. He has referred to it as "programming in the language of global commerce".
The meaning is that when drafted using contact law as a framework, those protections cannot be abolished without abolishing the international business community itself. These concepts have not yet been adopted by the mainstream of conservation organizations, but White is working to train them in the tools they will need to be relevant in the new century.
DOLPHINS, SUPERCOMPUTERS, AND HUMBLE FISHERMEN: CHANGING THE CULTURE IN JAPAN
Japan has often been the lynchpin of many marine conservation crises. It has also often been the symbol of an intractable situation: Japanese culture celebrates consensus, abhors dissention, and doesn't accept protest or litigation. There is also a fierce nationalistic resentment of outside intrusion. Thus, the intervention of Western conservation entities in Japan has generally ranged from problematic to disastrous.
In stark contrast, White's campaigns have been extremely successful at actually changing the way Japan acts, many times and on many scales. The demise of Japan's pelagic driftnet fleet and the end of a large larcenous trade in endangered whalemeat are just the most obvious examples of what is often a highly-finessed approach.
In 1985, the IWC had passed a ban on Sperm whaling to take effect in 1985 and a ban on all pelagic whaling to take effect in 1986. Spouting nationalistic anger, Japan defied the Sperm whaling ban and continued whaling, and declared it would continue all other whaling as well, despite high-level diplomatic pressure from the USA and other western nations. It was a matter of the government "saving face" and not being seen to cave in to outside pressure. A bridge event was needed.
Seizing on the small story of a Japanese fisherman raising money to release a captured Risso's dolphin, White assembled and sent to Japan a team to present these fishermen an international award. In the small town of Odowara, humble fisherman Akira Takase and his partners were presented with a trophy and a proclamation of thanks from dozens of western conservaiton organizations. This event was covered for three days in the national Japanese media as a "meeting of minds", and on CNN internationally. Immediately afterward, Japan announced that it had decided to abide by the IWC whaling bans.
By enabling a polite and symbolic "trade of gifts" Earthtrust afforded Japan's government the latitude to make a prudent decision without seeming to back down. Similarly, White's invention of an interface to link dolphins to supercomputers at his lab in Hawaii has been the basis for dozens of Japanese documentaries and news stories, as these images have played a large role in transforming the view of small cetaceans in Japan over the last 10 years. Without confrontation or controversy, these images of dolphins as self-aware tech-savvy beings have challenged traditional views, and "pro dolphin" is now an accepted viewpoint in Japan.
FULL-FIELD TOUCHDOWN: THE ART OF TAKING AN ISSUE FROM OBSCURITY TO SOLUTION
Any serious student of conservation progress is sooner or later struck by the fact that while some of the best players show real expertise, there is rarely enough breadth in an individual or an organization to take an issue from one stage to another. Rather, one entity will expose an issue, another will popularize it, several others may come up with different or conflicting strategies to try to effect it, and a conventional wisdom will develop around it as it remains unsolved.
This may be an organic process, but it is highly inefficient. In reading the rest of this site, you re invited to reflect on how many times White has discovered and defined an issue, conceived a complete stepwise campaign to entirely transform it, secured the financial, institutional, political, and legal means to do this, and proceeded to leave the issue entirely solved in a relatively short time. As an exercise for the reader, try to name three other conservationists who have done this once, let alone repeatedly. The clarity of vision and intellect, and resolute will needed to do this are nearly unique.
SIMULTANEOUS CROSS-DISCIPLINE CREDIBILITY
There is a reason the queen is the most valuable chesspiece. The ability to move in different dimensions multiplies the available moves. After wearing his conservation ethic on his sleeve as a Greenpeace leader until 1985, White took pains to develop professional credibility in a number of simultaneous fields.
This has paid off many times in "impossible" situations. White is simultaneously the head of dolphin cognitive research lab, president of a fisheries accreditation organization, an award-winning documentary producer, a legendary figure in the conservation movement, a mover in the UN, CITES, and IWC, the director of undercover international surveillance teams, an inventor, a geologist/physicist, an expert in nonprofit law and history, and the co-inventor of a revolutionary DNA field protocol.
What this means is that White has not been limited by the usual choices or polarizations when he has planned or negotiated an issue. He is not easily characterized or pigeonholed, with the result that he can walk into nearly any door with an interesting new "take" on a situation. This has contributed to his success as a negotiator of "impossible" deals. White believes that the effective conservationist of the future must strive to be a sophisticated generalist, grounded in at least three very different primary disciplines and trained to know what is generally possible in at least three more.Fundamental research and science
WHALE AND DOLPHIN DNA PROTOCOL - Co-inventor, with Sue White, of the entire new field of market analysis and DNA cloning of whale and dolphin tissue for treaty enforcement. Numerous technical papers submitted by his lab techs to SCIENCE, NATURE, New Scientist, and many others.
SCIENTIFIC DEMONSTRATION OF SELF-AWARENESS IN THE BOTTLENOSED DOLPHIN - White was lab founder and is principle investigator for this project in what has been perhaps its most profound finding.
DOLPHIN MANIPULATION OF AIR-CORE VORTEX RING SCULPTURE AS AND INDIVIDUAL AND CULTURAL DEMONSTRATION - White first drew research attention to this fascinating phenomenon. He co-authored an article on it in Scientific American and has written on it elsewhere as well. Not only are there individual dolphin "artisans", but it is a learned skill which is acquired by observing a "teacher".
INVENTION OF THE UNDERWATER COMPUTER TOUCH-SCREEN FOR DOLPHIN-CONMPUTER INTERACTION - after his initial adaptation of voice-recognition technology proved uninteresting to dolphins, he developed the theory for an underwater touch-screen using interrupted infra-red beams. This is the only such infinitely flexible interface between dolphins and computers, and it is employed in ET's cognition and communication research. Notably, rather than "train" the dolphins with fish reward to use the sonic interface, White re-invented the entire physical basis for interaction so the dolphins involved would want to participate "for the fun of it". This care for the dolphins' side of the experience is an integral part of White's ethic.
THE PARASITE HYPOTHESIS AS BASIS FOR THE TUNA/DOLPHIN BOND IN THE ETP YELLOWFIN TUNA FISHERY - White has published, with Dr. Ken Marten, his novel hypothesis based on tuna metabolism, thermodynamics, sonic scattering, shallow thermoclines and energy benefits to completely explain the puzzling tuna/dolphin affiliation which has been the basis for the Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishery, and to show how this fishery can be evolved to zero bycatch using a new class of boat and targeting a different market.