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102 posts categorized "Climate Change"

5 Questions for...Jessica Alexander, Author, 'Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid'

November 19, 2013

When Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the central Philippines on November 7, the storm's winds of 190 mph-plus unofficially made it the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall. The destruction that ensued was catastrophic: more than 3,900 people killed and tens of thousands missing, half a million homes destroyed, and millions of people displaced. As has been the case in many recent natural disasters, aid and humanitarian agencies responded quickly and with the best of intentions but were stymied by sub-standard and/or damaged infrastructure and logistical bottlenecks.

The ferocious intensity of Haiyan also led experts and officials in the Philippines and elsewhere to connect the storm to climate change -- a contention likely to be debated for years to come.

Over the weekend, PND asked Jessica Alexander, author of Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid, to rate emergency relief efforts in the Phillipines, what Americans can do to help, and whether she thinks climate change is contributing to the destructiveness of weather-related natural disasters. For more information about how you can contribute to relief and recovery efforts in the Philippines, click here, here, and here).

Headshot_jessica_alexanderPhilanthropy News Digest: What can Americans do to help the people of the Philippines? And what shouldn't they do?

Jessica Alexander: Americans should give money to a reputable humanitarian agency -- either local or international -- that is already on the ground there. It's sometimes difficult to know where to donate, but there are ways people can narrow their search. Donate to organizations that had a pre-typhoon presence in the Philippines, are transparent about how they are spending money, are clear about what the needs are right now and how their programs are responding to those needs, and are intentional about linking their efforts with local and government responses.

If people feel strongly about a certain issue, they can donate to an organization that focuses on that issue: there are agencies that work on issues related to children, others that work strictly on health issues or that specialize in water and sanitation, and so on.

Americans should not give "gifts in kind," nor should they hop on a plane with the thought of becoming a first-responder themselves. Emergencies caused by a natural disaster -- the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, for example, or the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 -- resulted in a lot of well-intentioned people sending inappropriate items to the affected country -- food items that fail to take into account the culinary and dietary preferences of the local people, used or unsuitable clothing that ends up clogging ports and littering roadsides, medicines with labels in English, leaving people in affected countries without a clue as to how to take or use them.

While well-intentioned people may think these are "donations," they come at a high cost to the agencies who must transport the items, sort them once they arrive at their destination, ensure that they are equitably distributed, and warehouse the surplus. First responders are having a hard enough time right now getting food, water, and shelter to people in affected regions of the Philippines, and more often than not donations in kind, however well intentioned, slow the whole operation down. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (November 16-17, 2013)

November 17, 2013

Headshot_JFK_portrait_looking_upWe're getting ready to launch a new PND site, so this week's roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the sector is a little shorter than usual....

Climate Change

What's the link between global warming and killer tropical storms like Typhoon Haiyan -- quite possibly the strongest storm ever recorded upon landfall? It's not clear, writes Bryan Walsh in TIME magazine, but we shouldn't discount the possibility that such a link exists -- or that stronger, if not necessarily more frequent, tropical cyclones will be a feature of the twenty-first century because of "the warming we've already baked into the system...."

Disaster Response

On the GiveWell blog, Holden Karnofsky shares GiveWell's advice vis-a-vis disaster relief giving:

  1. Give cash, not clothes (or other goods).
  2. Support an organization that will help or get out of the way.
  3. Give proactively, not reactively.
  4. Allow your funds to be used where most needed – even if that means they’re not used during this disaster.
  5. Give to organizations that are transparent and accountable.
  6. Think about less-publicized suffering.


Good post by Tom Kelly, vice president of knowledge, evaluation and learning at the Hawaii Community Foundation, about foundations moving "to embrace and promote 'learning' as an alternative to evaluation." The problem with that, writes Kelly, is that "evaluation must be about learning and accountability. We must be accountable not only to the results we intend and promise to communities but...also learn in an accountable way." 

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Weekend Link Roundup (September 28-29, 2013)

September 29, 2013

Ty-mattson-breaking-bad-02Our weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

How are market forces, public policies, and digital technologies changing nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and associational life at the heart of civil society? That's one of the questions the Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology at Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society set out to answer last year through a series of monthly charettes. Now, the fruits of those conversations (and a lot of good, hard thinking) have been captured in a series of reports issued by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS. Written by Lucy Bernholz, Chiara Cordelli, and Rob Reich, the reports -- The Emergence of Digital Civil Society (42 pgaes, PDF); Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013: Project on Philanthropy, Policy, and Technology (38 pages, PDF); Good Fences: The Importance of Institutional Boundaries in the New Social Economy (18 pages, PDF); and The Shifting Ground Beneath Us: Framing Nonprofit Policy for the Next Century (30 pages, PDF) -- are thought-provoking, deeply researched, and a pleasure to read. They're also available as free downloads from the Stanford PACS site.

Responding to Dan Pallotta's hugely popular TED Talk -- and echoing some of the conclusions arrived at by Bernholz, Reich, and Cordelli in their Recode Good work -- Ashoka's Valeria Budinich suggests that one of the most important points made by Pallotta in his talk (and first book) is a point everyone chooses to ignore: Philanthropy's moral foundations -- and the resulting legal and policy framework in which it operates -- have remained largely unchanged since the 1700s.

Climate Change

The most exhaustively researched climate report in history is out -- and, as environmental journalist Richard Schiffman explains in The Atlantic, its findings are grim.

For those as troubled by the findings of the report as Schiffman is, the UN Foundation's Kathy Calvin has some words of encouragement.

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[Infographic] How Climate Change Will Affect Your Health

August 31, 2013

Here's a startling factoid taken from this week's featured infographic: After the last Ice Age, it took 12,500 years for the average global surface temperature to rise by 13°C -- or 1°C every 951.5 years. That warming was critically important, of course, to the development of agriculture and, subsequently, the rise of civilization itself.

But the climate continues to warm, and most scientists are less than sanguine about the consequences of that warming. Indeed, even though the rate at which the climate is warming has slowed of late because of something called the Pacific decadal oscillation, climate change researchers are projecting a further increase in the average global temperature of as much as 6.4°C by 2100. An increase of that magnitude would be catastrophic for many forms of life on earth and more than likely would imperil civilization as we know it. But even a smaller increase in the global temperature over such a short period of time would have serious consequences, not least, as the infographic below illustrates, in the area of public health. 

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 3-4, 2013)

August 04, 2013

August_loungingOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Climate Change

According to a post by Rebecca J. Rosen in The Atlantic, a new paper in the journal Science finds that climate change is set "to occur at a pace 'orders of magnitude more rapid' than at any other time in the last 65 million years" -- and that is going to make it difficult, if not impossible, for many species to find appropriate habitats in time to avoid extinction.


Writing in Forbes, Harish Bhandari, director of digital engagement and innovation at the Robin Hood Foundation, argues that digital tools have changed the the way people think about charity and nonprofit work and that communicating with donors and advocates today is a 24/7 operation. With that in mind, Bhandari offers five tips designed to help your organization build greater digital engagement with and awareness of your cause.


On the Mission Investors Exchange blog, Peter Berliner, MIE's managing director, shares "a few (carefully chosen) words" about the terminology that has developed around investing for both social and financial returns. But no matter which term we use to describe such activity, writes Berliner,

we want to keep sight of the critical role that foundations play in the broader field of impact investing. Foundations have attributes that other investors do not. Many foundations are less constrained than other types of investors. They can be more flexible relative to risk and rates of return. They can be more patient. [And] because of their commitment to mission, they are better positioned to monitor and evaluate social returns, and hold investees accountable....

How does any social-purpose organization know whether it is having an impact? By analyzing and measuring outcomes, of course. But that's easier said than done. Or is it? In a two-part series on the magazine blog, Ruth Whateley, manager of the UK-based Social Impact Analysts Asssociation (SIAA), offers some real-life examples of organizations and individuals from across Europe engaging in social impact analysis and provides some practical advice with respect to educating and engaging with funders and government to ensure that the discussion around impact analysis is not a top-down conversation.

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More Disasters Mean Changes and Challenges for Foundations

June 26, 2013

(Robert G. Ottenhoff is president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which provides tools, expert analysis, and strategic guidance to maximize the impact of dollars given in support of disaster preparedness, relief, and recovery. Ottenhoff is the former president and CEO of GuideStar.)

Headshot_bob_ottenhoffThe year 2012 was a big year for weather and climate disaster events.

According to the National Climatic Data Center -- the nation's scorekeeper for natural disasters -- there were eleven weather and climate disaster events across the United States last year, each individual event resulting in excess of $1 billion in damage. These eleven disasters cumulatively caused more than $110 billion in damages and resulted in 377 deaths. That made 2012 the second costliest year on record, 2005 being the costliest since 1980, with $160 billion in damages due to four hurricanes that made landfall, including Katrina.

Some of these disasters affected millions of people and attracted major media attention. Superstorm Sandy -- the second biggest storm in American history -- caused more than $70 billion in damage as it raced up the East Coast. Large swaths of the New Jersey and New York coastline are only now being rebuilt. Earlier in the year, Hurricane Isaac followed a path eerily similar to the one Katrina took, creating much destruction in Mississippi and Louisiana. A mid-summer derecho roared through the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, felling thousands of trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power for days, including this writer. What about some of the other events? Unless you lived through them, it's unlikely you remember them, or are even aware they occurred. But they did, and each one caused more than a billion dollars in damage and resulted in the loss of lives.



What can we learn from the report? How can we learn from the devastation left in the wake of 2012 and become better prepared for the future?

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Foundations and Climate Change: 5 Questions for…Robert Searle, Partner, Bridgespan Group

June 13, 2013

Headshot_robt_searleIn recent years, the debate over climate change has centered on greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked by scientists to rising global temperatures. But after Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, underscoring the importance -- and vulnerability -- of critical infrastructure systems, many policy makers and environmentalists began to shift their attention to climate change adaptation strategies.

To help advance the debate, the Bridgespan Group has released a report, How Philanthropy Can Help Communities Advance Climate Change Adaptation (12 pages, PDF), that examines the funding environment for these strategies and offers a number of suggestions for foundations looking to support adaptation efforts in a post-Sandy context. Recently, PND spoke with Bob Searle, a partner in Bridgespan's Boston office and co-author of the report, about the impact of Sandy on the climate change debate, the tradeoffs between mitigation and adaptation, and some of the things foundations can do to advance the debate.

Philanthropy News Digest: The climate effects of a warming planet had been predicted long before An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006. Why has it taken so long for the discussion about climate change to get serious?

Robert Searle: I think there are two primary reasons, and they are interconnected. The first is that all science involves an element of uncertainty, and climate science is no exception. There are elements of the climate situation that are quite certain. For example, greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are increasing, and that increase has led to a general warming of the planet. There are other aspects that are less certain and open to interpretation and judgment; for example, whether human activity is the major cause of these changes, and what the environmental and social impact of climate change will be.

And this is where the second reason comes in: The biggest source of greenhouse gases is the burning of fossil fuel, and the global economy is based on fossil fuels. In other words, there are incredibly strong vested interests in not making the explicit connection between man-made greenhouse gases and the potentially devastating effects of climate change. Those vested interests will naturally seize on any element of uncertainty to argue against change that will threaten economic development, especially when the economy is already shaky.

One mistake that the environmental community has made is to allow itself to be painted as anti-people and anti-economic development on the climate issue. There was a great article in the Fall 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review titled "Climate Science as Culture War," by Andrew Hoffman, that speaks to some of these points.

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Rising Risk and Rising Tides: Can We Catch the Wave?

April 19, 2013

(Rachel Leon is executive director of the Environmental Grantmakers Association.)

Headshot_rachel_leonSince its creation in 1970, Earth Day has helped bridge the gap between people and the planet, connecting us to the ground we stand on. For Extreme Weather Earth Day 2013, it is vital we reaffirm that connection as we confront global challenges and increasingly common extreme weather events in our own backyards.

At a recent conference, Gina McCarthy, the Obama administration's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, articulated two priorities for us as a nation and community: finding solutions to problems of climate change, and getting kids outside. These macro and micro pieces fit together and can help show the way to a more sustainable future.

My mother likes to tell the story of my first speech, which I gave when I was three and which included a plea for more parks in our community. I grew up in Schenectady, New York, in an inner-city neighborhood; our playground was a vacant lot full of metal pipes and glass, and that speech was the beginning of my personal activism and connection to the outdoors.

Ultimately, the community, with a huge contribution from my mom, succeeded in getting a new park built. And, thanks in part to that experience, I was drawn to issues of poverty and inequality as I got older. I really didn't reconnect with environmental issues, however, until I found myself working at a statewide anti-hunger organization. Our agenda included getting food stamps accepted at farmers markets so as to encourage fresh food choices for all families, regardless of income. At the time, I didn't identify as an environmentalist, and yet my work was absolutely connected to the environment. That perception, that people working for a better planet are somehow different from those working to address poverty, inequality, or other social issues, is all too common -- and one we absolutely need to address if we hope to build an engaged community that spans all interests and sectors.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 8-9, 2012)

December 09, 2012

Imagine_strawberryOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts and Culture

On its Web site, the James Irvine Foundation unveils a snazzy new infographic format to share what it has learned about arts and arts organizations in California through the work of its Arts Innovation Fund.

Climate Change

In an impassioned post on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's Keeping A Close Eye blog, Lisa Ranghelli urges foundation leaders to get involved in the fight against a warming planet.


On his Future Fundraising Now blog, Jeff Brooks, author of the Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications, provides a timely reminder to fundraisers to "keep calm."


On the Philanthropy Potluck blog, Minnesota Council on Foundations research manager Anne Bauers shares findings from NTEN's The State of Nonprofit Data report, which found that a lack of expertise, issues of time and prioritization, and challenges with technology, among other things, are holding many organizations back from tracking and using data more effectively.

To help organizations looking to close their data skills gap, Beth Kanter, co-author (with KD Paine) of Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, shares some data visualization resources that she's come across recently.

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Off the Shelf: 'The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change'

November 30, 2012

(Emily Keller is an editorial associate in the Corporate Philanthropy department at the Foundation Center. In October, she reviewed Changing Business From the Inside Out: A Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations, by Timothy J. Mohin.)

Last_Hunger_coverLeonida Wanyama sat at her living room table in her mud-and-sticks house at the base of the Lugulu Hills in western Kenya contemplating her assets. Her fifteen-year-old son Gideon had been sent home from boarding school because she couldn't pay the latest tuition bill. Her four-year-old daughter Dorcas was begging for more food, even though the cupboard was bare. Her husband Peter, weak from malaria, a condition worsened by malnutrition, did what he could to feed his family, but the planting season was just beginning and the maize crop wouldn't be ready to harvest for months. Leonida decided to sell her last goat for a thousand shillings -- enough to convince Gideon's principal to take him back as she struggled to come up with the remaining tuition. Food would have to wait.

Welcome to the wanjala, the word for famine in Leonida's Lutacho Valley farming community and one of the most common surnames for boys in a culture where parents name their children for the season in which they were born. Girls who are born during the long months between the last of the prior harvest's food has been consumed and the new harvest is brought in are named Nanjala. Leonida's village is called Malaria; so is the stream that provides the family with water for drinking and washing -- and serves as a breeding ground for the mosquito-borne illness that always grows worse in the wafula, or rainy season.

As he makes clear in his new book, The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change, Roger Thurow believes the one to eight months each year that the people of western Kenya live with "chronic, gnawing emptiness in their bellies" is both morally unacceptable and avoidable. And to make the point, he focuses much of his book on the One Acre Fund, a young nongovernmental organization that works with smallholder farmers -- those with less than two acres of arable land -- in East Africa to double and triple their yields. For a forty-five hundred shilling credit (about $50) that is paid back over the course of the year, the organization, which operates out of Bungoma, a town in Kenya's Western Province, provides fertilizer, modern seeds, and weekly trainings to smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi.

The demand for One Acre's services is clearly evident in Thurow's narrative, which depicts the relentless cycle of relative feast and famine in the region and how it dramatically affects the quality of life for the smallholder farmers who comprise the bulk of the food-producing population in Kenya's agriculture-dependent economy. Indeed, the country's Public Health and Sanitation ministry reported that during the wanjala which is the subject of Thurow's book, malnutrition was the underlying cause of more than half the deaths of children under the age of five. In the community of Malaria, unconnected electrical wires hang from the church ceiling because the congregation cannot afford to pay for electricity. Children study at home by the light of kerosene lamps that emit noxious fumes and are a constant fire hazard, and the fee-based high school Gideon attends lacks basic chemistry supplies, audio-visual equipment, even blackboards. The local health practitioner, Janet, has no blood pressure gauge or microscope to help confirm her diagnoses. Villagers get around by foot and bicycle, and families often live for a decade or more in homes that were intended to be temporary structures.

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Nonprofits and Disaster Response: 5 Questions for Gary Bagley, Executive Director, New York Cares

November 26, 2012

(Laura Cronin is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Recently, she asked Gary Bagley, executive director of New York Cares, the city's largest volunteer organization, about the organization's work with local nonprofit partners in response to Superstorm Sandy.)

Gary_bagley-headshotLaura Cronin: City workers -- first responders, firefighters, transit workers, sanitation workers -- labored around the clock to restore critical systems in New York City that were overwhelmed by the storm surge created by Sandy. Alongside them were thousands of residents who provided volunteer support to victims of the storm and chipped in to clean up affected areas. Creative responses such as Occupy Sandy's  online registry and local groups like the Red Hook Initiative were part of a rapid, largely decentralized nonprofit response to the storm. Your organization has a long history of rallying volunteers and partnering with the leading nonprofits in the city, in ordinary times as well as in times of crisis. What did your Sandy response look like?

Gary Bagley: New York Cares has a Memorandum of Understanding with the New York City Office of Emergency Management through which we are responsible for mobilizing volunteers in response to disasters. So beyond the eight thousand volunteers who signed up to help, we had three full-time staff members stationed at the OEM as well as other staff fielding calls and e-mails from organizations and individuals that needed assistance. But because many nonprofits, schools, and faith-based organizations were as hard hit as residents of low-lying areas, we had to go beyond our traditional collaborative program delivery model. In the hardest-hit locations in Staten Island and Queens, we had teams of New York Cares staffers assessing -- on foot and by car -- local needs. At the same time, our volunteers canvassed neighborhoods, distributed food, and started on the debris cleanup. Now, a few weeks into the recovery, we see that much of the work will be about providing social services, from reading programs at libraries to adult education programs, in the most heavily impacted areas. Helping neighborhoods thrive again will be about much more than cleanup efforts.

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Investing in the Environment: A PubHub Reading List

April 21, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she highlighted reports that address some of the issues and legal questions raised by the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.)

Earth-day2012Protecting the environment has long been a priority for many philanthropic organizations; the Goldman Environmental Prize, for example, is now in its twenty-third year. But what about public and private investments in the environment? With global climate change threatening to halt and even reverse the social and economic gains we've seen in the developing world since the fall of the Berlin Wall, one would think that policy makers, multilateral agencies, institutional investors, and private philanthropy would be eager to collaborate to help mitigate the worst of its effects. In honor of Earth Day, today we're highlighting two reports that look at aspects of the clean energy landscape.

According to Impact at Scale: Policy Innovation for Institutional Investment With Social and Environmental Benefit (64 pages, PDF), a report from InSight at Pacific Community Ventures and the Initiative for Responsible Investment at Harvard University, the emerging field of impact investing -- investing with the intention of generating measurable social or environmental benefit in addition to financial returns -- will only gain traction when it succeeds in attracting large institutional investors. Indeed, with total assets of more than $20 trillion worldwide, institutional investors (e.g., pension funds, insurance companies, and private endowments) are key players in global capital markets and could do much to legitimize impact investing as a viable alternative to more traditional investment approaches. To unlock the potential of the field, however, public policy must be adjusted to incentivize institutional impact investment by offering, among other things, co-investment opportunities, tax credits, and subsidies for industries and sectors that meet specific impact goals.

For example, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 created incentives for solar energy development that, according to the report's authors, helped boost U.S. solar manufacturing capacity:

The legislation created a federal investment tax credit (ITC) incentive for solar energy equal to 30% of expenditures on commercial and residential solar energy systems. Initially applicable for only two years, the tax credit was extended for an additional year with the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, and again for eight years in 2008 with the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. This last version also allowed utilities to qualify for the tax credit. Between the creation of the ITC in 2006 and year-end 2010, U.S. solar manufacturing capacity quadrupled, with the vast majority of growth in 2009 and 2010. While not solely responsible for the market expansion, the ITC was a substantive driver and policy certainty provided by the eight-year extension has helped to catalyze private investment in the field....

Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the report notes that institutional investors' fiduciary duty to fund beneficiaries can be a constraint:

Institutional asset owners have the potential, through their investments, for delivering social and environmental impacts at scale. But for public policy to help achieve this goal, it must take into account the nature of asset owners as investors and, in the near term, overcome perceptions of impact investing as a new, idiosyncratic, or niche market....

According to the report, targeted engagement of institutional asset owners should include: 1) an "enabling" strategy directed at investors to provide flexibility and "investability" in target markets; 2) an "integrative" strategy directed at intermediaries; and 3) a "developmental" infrastructure-building strategy to support nascent markets.

Where do we stand, then, in terms of investments in clean energy? Global investment in solar, wind, biofuels, and other renewable energy sources, as well as energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies, reached a record $263 billion in 2011, according to Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race? 2011 Edition (56 pages, PDF), a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Pew Environment Group, with the G-20 countries contributing 95 percent of the total and more than half of that, some $128 million, going into solar. The report also found that the U.S. reclaimed its global leadership position in 2011 -- after falling to second place in 2009 and third place in 2010 -- with $48.1 billion in clean energy investments, an increase of 42 percent, followed by China ($45.5 billion) and Germany ($30.6 billion). "At the end of 2011, more than 565 GW of clean energy generating capacity was in place globally, 50 percent more than installed nuclear generating capacity," the report notes.

And what role did public investment play in supporting the sector? "In response to the global economic crisis...,

government stimulus plans allocated more than $194 billion for clean energy efforts. By the end of 2011, almost three-fourths of those funds ($142 billion) had reached the sector. More than $46 billion in stimulus funding for clean energy was spent in 2011, more than half of that by the United States and China together. Of the $53 million that remains, 67 percent ($35.7 billion) is expected to be spent in 2012....

But even though the U.S. led in total clean energy investment, as well as investments in solar, energy efficiency technologies, and biofuels, its leadership "is likely to be short-lived"  because of policy uncertainty. Indeed, nothing "appears likely to stem the long-term shift in the clean energy sector's center of gravity as investment swings from the West (Europe and the United States) to the East (Asia) and from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern."

Both reports suggest there is an urgent need for long-term public policies which incentivize institutional and other private investment in businesses that deliver environmental and social benefit. Without a policy framework to guide those investments and a market infrastructure to support them, however, the U.S. could end up losing the clean energy race and suffer the environmental, social, and economic consequences.

Eager to learn more about investments in clean energy, clean energy technology, and the economic impact of global climate change? Check out these reports, all of which can be found in PubHub:

Have a report or comment you'd like to share? Use the comment section below...

-- Kyoko Uchida

This Week in PubHub: Environment: Water/Marine Resources

April 15, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she highlighted several reports that examine how women's roles, both inside and outside the family, are changing and shaping the definition of family itself.)

While discussions of water-related issues in the philanthropic sector tend to focus on the urgent need to improve access to clean water and mitigate the consequences of global climate change in the developing world, the management of water and marine resources in developed countries also has an impact on climate change effects, biodiversity, and the economic vitality of local communities. Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, for instance, has been forced to dump water contaminated with low-level radiation into the sea-- an emergency measure with potentially harmful long-term consequences. This week in PubHub, we look at reports that examine the need to protect and invest in the environmental, economic, and cultural benefits of the planet's vital water and marine resources.

Concern about damage to coral reefs is hardly new; indeed, the World Resources Institute has published a series of reports on reef degradation in the CaribbeanSoutheast Asia, and other regions. In its latest report, Reefs at Risk Revisited (130 pages, PDF), WRI uses updated data and satellite imagery to map and analyze threats to coral reefs from global climate change effects as well as human activities and notes that threat levels rose dramatically between 1997 and 2007. The damage from overfishing, coastal development, tourism, agricultural runoff, and shipping are compounded by rising ocean temperatures and acidification from carbon dioxide emissions, the report warns, resulting in reduced areas of living coral, increased algal cover, and lower species diversity and fish abundance. Funded by the Roy Disney Family Foundation, the report calls for more effective conservation efforts and steps to mitigate threats at the local, national, regional, and international levels.

The lakes, rivers, wetlands, and peatlands that comprise Canada's vast boreal forest not only help maintain global biodiversity and provide food and cultural benefits to indigenous rural communities in Canada, they also mitigate global climate change effects, a new report from the Pew Environment Group argues. A Forest of Blue -- Canada's Boreal Forest, the World's Waterkeeper (76 pages, PDF) explains how the expanse of forest and bodies of water produce a significant cooling effect while also increasing regional humidity and precipitation, which helps stabilize global temperatures. But Canada's boreal forests are also vulnerable to the effects of mining, oil and gas extraction, forestry, hydropower, and other industrial activities. Indeed, while 12 percent of the boreal forest in Canada is protected, the report recommends additional measures, including the conservation of the entire Mackenzie River watershed.

Valuing the Puget Sound Basin: Revealing Our Best Investments 2010 (102 pages, PDF), a report from Earth Economics, argues for shifting investments from activities that damage the Puget Sound ecosystem to activities that enhance and sustain that ecosystem, including such things as environmental restoration, stormwater retention, green building programs, and improved industrial processes. Funded by the Russell Family Foundation and Social Venture Kids, the report estimates the economic value of ecosystem goods and services provided by the Puget Sound Basin, including drinking water, abundant wildlife, climate regulation, flood protection, and recreation, and calls for further analysis and research to inform public and private investment in the region.

The Public Policy Institute of California report Managing California's Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation (503 pages, PDF) outlines the urgent need to reform the state's management policies with respect to fish and aquatic ecosystems, flood risk management, source quality protection, water supply management, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub of the state's water supply network. Inaction on any of these fronts, the report argues, could result in the disappearance of native species, an increased likelihood of catastrophic floods, water shortages and degraded water quality, and the decline of the Delta region as a productive ecosystem, with potentially severe economic losses. Funded by the David and Lucile Packard, Pisces, and S. D. Bechtel, Jr. foundations; the Resources Legacy Fund; and the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, the report calls for federal and state leadership in reconciling environmental and economic objectives, implementing new approaches to those objectives, and managing water as a public commodity.

What are your thoughts about protecting water and marine resources as a way to secure not only environmental sustainability but economic prosperity? Has your state or region developed creative or innovative approaches to the issue? And what are some of the obstacles preventing us from changing our relationship to these vital resources? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

And don't forget to visit PubHub, where you can browse nearly 350 reports related to the environment and environmental issues.

-- Kyoko Uchida

Year in Review: Gulf Coast Oil Spill Tops List of Environmental Concerns

December 29, 2010

Deepwater_pelican_profile Climate change, deforestation, species loss
-- all took a back seat, for a few months at least, to the biggest environmental story of the year, the disastrous explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20 and subsequent discharge of oil. Before it was capped in mid-July, the deep-sea gusher pumped more than two hundred million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico -- the worst oil spill in U.S. history -- wreaking havoc on the region's fishing and tourism industries and threatening long-term damage to the region's fragile ecosystems.

Not that the news on the environmental front was all that bright before the Deepwater blowout. In February, a report from the Pew Environment Group suggested that rapid melting of Arctic snow and sea ice could cost the world a minimum of $2.4 trillion by 2050. The urgency of the global warming problem was underscored later in the month when the Boston-based Barr Foundation, New England's largest private foundation, pledged $50 million over five years to help make the metro Boston region a national leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And in July, the New York City-based Ford Foundation made an even larger climate change commitment, pledging $85 million over five years to help rural and indigenous people play a more active role in the stewardship of the natural resources around them and ensure that future global climate change initiatives addressed their needs.

Still, the BP spill dominated headlines for the better part of the year -- which made the lackluster charitable response that followed in its aftermath all the more surprising. Community foundations in the region were among the first to respond, with the Greater New Orleans Foundation establishing a Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund in early May to support those in the fishing and tourism industries affected by the disaster, while the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice made an early grant to support a Florida marine laboratory monitoring the Gulf's marine life. But six weeks after the explosion, only $4 million had been donated to relief and recovery efforts (compared with the more than $580 million contributed within eight days of Hurricane Katrina's landfall).

A number of corporations eventually did step up with significant donations of cash and/or in-kind goods. They included Pepsi, which contributed $1.3 million through its Pepsi Refresh Project to nonprofits proving support and assistance to people in the Gulf Coast region; Chevron, which gave $750,000 to the National Audubon Society; and BP, which gave $25 million to three research institutions working in the Gulf. In addition, the nonprofit X Prize Foundation launched a $1.4 million competition, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge, to encourage the development of solutions to cleaning up oil spills.

If the BP spill overshadowed most other environmental efforts in 2010, it also served, as William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, said in June after his organization received a three-year grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as "a tragic reminder of why the transition to renewable energy is so essential."

Meadows was hardly alone in holding that view. In October, David and Patricia Atkinson pledged $80 million to Cornell University to endow the Center for a Sustainable Future they had created on campus in 2007. "The environment, energy, and economic development are heavily interrelated; problems of sustainability can only be addressed with a multidisciplinary approach," said Atkinson, a retired general partner of Philadelphia-based Miller, Anderson, & Sherrerd LLP. "As the pressures of rapid population growth take hold, to avoid a crisis it's important to address issues of sustainability preemptively."


A Conversation With Brett Jenks, President/CEO, Rare Conservation

October 04, 2010

Jenks_lg Our planet has become very crowded, very quickly. According to economist and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs, the world's population has grown by 4 billion, from 2.6 billion to 6.6 billion, in just sixty years. Over that same period, the population of sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 180 million to 820 million, while the population of Asia Minor has quadrupled, from 51 million to 220 million. Global economic activity has increased even faster, with gross world product having risen a staggering eight times since 1950 and a hundred times since the start of the industrial era.

All those people and all that economic activity have greatly stressed the planet's natural systems. In almost every region of the world, freshwater supplies, forests, arable land, and fish stocks are being depleted at an alarming rate. Deserts are expanding, endangered habitats are shrinking, and the oceans are becoming more acidic. And with world population predicted to hit 9.2 billion by 2050 — a nearly 40 percent increase — and world per capita income expected to rise 450 percent, the global competition for critical resources is predicted to have dire consequences. Unless, as Sachs writes in Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, we "break some bad and long-standing habits" and learn to manage our resources sustainably.

Recently, Philanthropy News Digest talked with Brett Jenks, president and CEO of Rare Conservation, a U.S.-based conservation group, about the organization's work, the dynamics of behavior change, and the significance of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

For the past decade, Jenks has overseen Rare's global effort to equip people in the world's most biodiverse areas with the tools and motivation they need to protect their natural resource base. Under his leadership, the organization has grown over 1,000 percent; expanded its work to five continents; formed worldwide partnerships with leading environmental NGOs; and received four straight Fast Company Social Capitalist Awards.

Philanthropy News Digest: I'd like to start by asking you about the situation in the Gulf of Mexico. After three months and the release of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf, BP was able to cap its damaged Macondo well in July and [last month] finally managed to plug the well for good. Beyond the economic toll on the residents of the Gulf region and the toll on turtles, sea mammals, sea birds, and other species, what concerns you most about what happened in the Gulf this summer?

Brett Jenks: It's clear to me the oil spill was a tragedy whose ultimate consequences we won't be able to assess for months, if not years, to come. But a spill like that, as devastating as it was, pales in comparison to the much less perceptible loss of habitat and species we are going to have to contend with once we realize what we've allowed to happen, in our lifetimes, to the planet's climate. For me, the oil spill is a symbol of our arrogance as a species, as well as the fact that we don't have a Plan B in the event something goes wrong when we drill that deep for oil. And my biggest concern is that people simply don't recognize or are unwilling to admit what is happening all over the world with respect to the loss of habitat, the loss of species, the loss of the natural resource base on which so many people's lives and the well-being of future generations depends. Sadly, I don't think we've learned very much from the spill, and I don't think it will lead to comprehensive climate legislation — or to a recognition of what's happening in terms of the global extinction crisis, the future scarcity of water, or climate change in general.

PND: Is Rare doing anything to address the after-effects of the spill

BJ: We aren't involved in any way with the spill. We're not a domestic conservation organization, we have no offshore drilling expertise, and we don't lobby. Instead, we spend every waking moment thinking about the small gains we can make with local communities in the world's richest habitats in the developing tropics. We work entirely abroad, in countries like China, Indonesia, Mexico, and Malaysia. Other groups are far better equipped to take on the government and the oil companies and industry lobbyists who spend all their time on the Hill. We want to work where we can make a difference, and that's what makes us an effective organization.

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