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Ethical land mines – Environment at issue

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Some philanthropies, universities and nonprofits have cashed in on the hot real estate market with land deals that have generated environmental and ethical concerns, The New York Times reported Sept. 16.

Deals typically involved woodlands or undeveloped property that either were donated or part of a group’s original endowment, the Times said, with sellers ranging from big foundations to Boy Scout councils aiming to sell campgrounds for cash.

“Do you make a financial sacrifice for local environmental reasons and then make it less easy to make grants for worthy causes, including important environmental causes elsewhere?” Murray Gell-Mann, a physicist, Nobel Prize winner and board member at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, asked the Times. “It’s a very tricky question.”

The Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation, for example, last year sold 15,000 wooded acres in Florida — where it makes grants and supports “smart growth” — to a developer for $15,000.

Some ethicists say nonprofit groups that receive tax breaks should be held more accountable.

“People are not thinking in a wide enough context of values and responsibilities,” Strachan Donnelly, director or the human and nature program at The Hastings Center, an ethics research center in Garrison, N.Y., told the Times.

Woodward A. Wickham, a MacArthur vice president, told the Times that “supporting smart growth and spurring growth” could be seen as “ironic.”

But he insisted that the foundation had served the greater good.

For full story, go to The New York Times.

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