There’s a certain amount of comfort to be taken from living in an American city during the Trump era—that is, if you're not thrilled with where the nation at large has lately been headed. I suspect a lot of people were very encouraged when their cities refused to use local resources for ICE enforcement, or more than 300 mayors said they would remain committed to the Paris Agreement. Mike Bloomberg helped rally those mayors and others, and even agreed to pay $15 million toward UN operating costs when the U.S. withdrew. You sometimes get this sense that just maybe, with the help of some kindly billionaires, cities can rally together and take a crack at a more progressive America.Read More
Science & Environment
The response to Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris Agreement was swift and encouraging. Hundreds of mayors, at least 10 states, and scores of businesses and universities issued statements or signed pledges to continue progress on climate change, with or without the federal government.
On the philanthropic front, Mike Bloomberg (who also serves as U.N. special envoy for cities and climate change) took a lead role in committing many of these parties to maintaining U.S. climate leadership. Bloomberg Philanthropies also pledged up to $15 million to the U.N. body that oversees implementation of the agreement to cover a portion of the operations costs the U.S. would have paid. Foundations like MacArthur, Hewlett, Rockefeller, McKnight, and Goldman foundations all made statements with varying degrees of disappointment, regret and condemnation.
We should celebrate their actions and draw hope from the fact that so many are willing to defy such a reckless decision by the president and the GOP. But Trump’s decision, and the political landscape that allowed it, reveal a larger problem—the American public is just not all that concerned about climate change. For example, a recent Gallup poll on the "Most Important Problems" facing the country found that environmental issues ranked 15th among non-economic concerns. Other polling has found the same thing, even as Americans report supporting the Paris Agreement. If the mass public doesn't care urgently about climate change, why should we expect our political leaders to care?
Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.
Bring leading computer scientists together with leading astrophysicists, and exciting stuff happens—complex computer simulations of galaxy formation, algorithms churning through terabytes of data collected by telescope arrays. Same thing goes for biologists, as they work with programmers to bring order to the chaos of neurons firing by the millions.
But get everyone working together under the same roof with extensive time and funding, and unexpected work might take shape. New ideas could form as computer scientists and researchers from a variety of fields hold meetings, chat over lunch, or just run into each other in the hallways.
That’s the kind of research environment the Simons Foundation is trying to cultivate with its latest endeavor, and its most ambitious yet, the Flatiron Institute. What’s more, Jim and Marilyn Simons also decided they wanted that same roof to be their own. More specifically, the foundation made a significant expansion into the building right across the street from its Manhattan offices to accommodate a new research institute fully supported by the foundation.
Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.
To create a new institute focused on society’s pressing energy problems, Dartmouth has accepted $80 million from a powerful oil family surrounded by controversy. Such a gift seriously undermines the credibility of such an institute. When a really good school like Dartmouth College decides to take on the future of energy as a priority for its faculty and students, you would want it to be rigorous and independent—a beacon guiding the way as we grapple with climate change, sustainable development and environmental justice.
And you know what? Dartmouth’s new Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society may very well turn out to do some great work.
But that $80 million, half of the institute’s funding, comes from Irving Oil and the powerful family behind it, which is surrounded by controversies environmental and otherwise. This casts serious doubt over the initiative’s credibility before it has even started.
Read the full article at Inside Philanthropy.
Originally published in American Forests Magazine Winter/Spring 2016 issue.
Botanical gardens are building the first online catalog of every known plant species in the world. It could be a game-changing tool for conservation.
For more than 400 years, humans have been collecting bits of leaf and twig, pressing them flat and dry for safe-keeping and writing about them in journals and books, all to better understand the world’s plants and, more recently, to protect them.
Our knowledge has become exponentially more sophisticated over those years, but the information we’ve accumulated remains scattered all over the world and is often difficult to access. As biologists race to protect biodiversity, there’s an effort underway to change that, a global partnership to build World Flora Online — the first online catalog of the estimated 400,000 vascular plant species of the world.Read More
Originally published in Inside Philanthropy, December 4, 2015. Bill Gates has rounded up a squad of billionaires to save the day when it comes to climate change, using their investment wisdom and bank accounts to further energy tech. Too bad they aren’t putting their money where it would really help — advancing policy and grassroots efforts.
Not long ago, we issued a challenge to a set of mega-donors to pour billions of their collective wealth into the problem of climate change. Now, it seems that Bill Gates, one of our biggest targets, has rallied 28 investors behind a two-pronged plan to devote a pool of private funding to clean energy breakthroughs, and to convince governments to do the same.
I’m not quite self-aggrandizing enough to think Gates read our post and decided to start such a coalition, but this is great news, right?
Yes and no. While Gates deserves praise for moving money on the issue, banking on a tech breakthrough to save us is not where we really need the world’s billionaires to focus at this exact moment...
Originally published at Boston Magazine online, September 3, 2015. Rosie’s Place, the first women’s shelter in the United States, recently awarded Roslindale social worker Theresa Okokon the Kip Tiernan Social Justice Fellowship—a $40,000 grant. Through the grant, Okokon created LEGIT.yoga, a new program that will bring yoga classes to local shelters.
Legit will use a method called trauma-sensitive yoga, which uses the practice to help people deal with traumatic stress.Read More
Originally published in Inside Philanthropy on October 12, 2015. Billionaires, we’d like just a moment of your time.
No, not you David Koch or John Paulson, this probably isn’t your kind of thing. We’re talking to a specific set of business titans, here—you guys who have more than a billion in the bank, have pledged to give most of it away, and are deeply concerned about climate change.
Namely, we’re talking to Mike Bloomberg, Eric Schmidt, Tom Steyer, Jeff Skoll, and Paul Allen. Here’s our idea. Sorry, we don’t have a slide deck.
The Elevator Pitch
You five have made it clear that you know climate change is a serious and imminent threat. We’re at a pivotal moment for action and curbing the worst effects, but things aren’t happening fast enough. Collectively, you have unique access to many billions of dollars, plus you’ve publicly committed to giving most of it away before you die. Some of you are already funding climate change efforts in a big way. But you all need to go bigger. We want you to give at least 10 percent of your wealth to fight climate change in the next five years, start a historic movement, and help save the world.
We recognize that is a big ask. For Mike Bloomberg alone, that’s a $3.8 billion check. But this is a big problem, an existential threat the likes of which neither philanthropy nor industry have ever encountered before...
And the first post in this series on Climate Change and Philanthropy: Dear Climate Funders: The Clock is Ticking. Use Your Endowments
Originally published June 26, 2015 on Inside Philanthropy. Infrastructure. It's not exactly the first word that comes to mind when you think of environmental grantmaking. But as the Surdna Foundation sees it, future metropolitan infrastructure decisions go beyond which bridges and roads to fix; they determine how equitable and sustainable a city is for generations.
Surdna is a medium-sized, national foundation with assets of just over a billion and annual giving of $46 million in 2014, derived from the wealth of the Andrus family (Surdna, get it?).
Helen Chin, Surdna’s Sustainable Environments program director, recently shed some light on the foundation’s green giving in an interview with Inside Philanthropy, including the thinking behind this unique approach to sustainability.Read More
One rabble rouser has been trying to get the IRS to make individual nonprofit tax forms available in an electronic format anyone can easily search. What may seem to a casual observer like a minor battle would actually be revolutionary for the entire sector.
Quick disclosure: I hate 990s. Not the concept of them, of course, as they are the chief method of accountability that nonprofits entities must file annually in exchange for tax exemption. But I hate just about everything else about them.Read More