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Climate Solutions // I S S U E # 7 9 // P H I L A N T H R O P Y
Hothouse is original climate journalism with a way to act. As a climate solutions newsletter, we dig into the evidence, figure out what works, and deliver the news to your inbox. This issue touches on the climate philanthropy landscape. Subscribe here.
Adapting philanthropy to the Anthropocene
It’s a no-brainer that the more effective climate solutions we can develop and deploy, the better chances we have of mitigating the worst of the climate crisis. Commanding over $1.5 trillion in financial assets globally, the world’s 260,000-plus philanthropic foundations are well positioned to help support these climate solutions.
Yet there are numerous tensions at play when it comes to effectively leveraging philanthropic dollars to combat the climate crisis.
For one, foundations haven’t always been the most nimble of organizations. That’s a problem when even the slightest reduction in emissions we make now is magnitudes more valuable than deep cuts we might make to our global carbon budget down the line. AKA: Speed matters.
What’s more, foundations have only deployed a tiny fraction of philanthropic capital towards climate change mitigation to date. Annually, still less than 2 percent of total global charitable contributions go to help the climate.
But the tides might be finally starting to shift.
In a recent report, 60 percent of foundation and nonprofit leaders said they consider the climate crisis to be an extremely urgent problem. This suggests society’s traditional administrator of charitable dollars—foundations—have an appetite to do a lot more on climate.
While there is clear consensus on the need for philanthropic foundations to do more on climate, there’s not a clear consensus on how to go about it. Only 11 percent of philanthropic foundation leaders surveyed said they consider their foundation’s strategy for addressing climate change very effective. In response to the urgency of the climate crisis, some foundations are beginning to rethink the traditional philanthropy model altogether: Last November, the Canada-based Ivey Foundation pledged to give away its entire endowment—more than one $100 million dollars—to climate initiatives by 2027. Economist and climate strategist Daniel Stein says this idea is very attractive.
Typically, foundations exert effort every year to sustain or grow their philanthropic funding pie, skimming profits off the fund’s top to divert as grants to nonprofits organizations. But by spending down a fund entirely, Stein says foundations can save on the overhead and administrative costs it takes to keep the fund running, conserving precious resources while simultaneously diverting capital to the nonprofits and climate solutions that can make the most effective use of that cash now.
This all assumes, of course, that the funds go to nonprofits capable of effectively deploying that capital. But that part remains especially tricky.
An avalanche of new climate tech and nonprofit organizations have come online in recent years. The rapidly evolving landscape has led to a massive information gap between the organizations in need of resources and those with the power to deploy capital. And while the ecosystem’s information gap predates the Inflation Reduction Act—the largest climate bill in US history—the information gap will only widen as the legislation, and federal incentives, help more organizations spring into existence.
In response, some new organizations are popping up dedicated exclusively to making sense of the evolving ecosystem. Just yesterday, a new resource page came online to help climate tech founders navigate the new Wild West.
One organization under this sense-making umbrella is taking a hyper-focused approach, evaluating opportunities for greatest impact and directing resources across the ecosystem accordingly. The nonprofit Giving Green, led by economist Daniel Stein, produces an evidence-based philanthropic climate strategy guide.
Giving Green works by making sense of the rapidly changing ecosystem for others, sifting through ideas and initiatives to find those addressing the most sticky of climate challenges. Stein says this means identifying organizations working on solving the sources of carbon emissions for which solutions are still the most under-resourced, or are otherwise lacking in deep attention and engagement from policy makers.
This, Stein says, is precisely where resources will have the most leverage for making an impact.
It makes sense. Consider, for example, agriculture—one of Giving Green’s current top priorities for impact. For a long time, the agricultural industry has had powerful friends in high places, with lobbyists working to secure favorable—say, minimal—regulatory oversight. Meanwhile, agricultural emissions continue to contribute to nearly one fifth of global annual carbon emissions.
If we can direct resources to organizations brewing up innovative research and effective policy for curbing agricultural emissions, we have a shot at making a significant dent in our global carbon budget.
What’s more, the amount of capital that can be transformative for these newer nonprofits is a relatively small drop in the bucket to the budgets of the more established climate and environment nonprofits. Think the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeaces of the world.
That means the organizations that Giving Green selects must each pass a test: Could an additional $100,000 in funding be catalytic? In this way, Giving Green is able to direct resources to promising climate solutions that might otherwise not make it off the ground without that kind of capital infusion. “What makes our work exciting in terms of really making a difference,” Stein says, “is being part of a young organization’s journey to being at the point where they're sort of struggling, and they have a really great idea, but the future is a little murky, to them becoming a really legit org.”
At the end of each year, Giving Green takes its finding and puts out a list of the top nonprofits working on these under-resourced climate solutions, where Stein believes your contributions will do the most good. The approach is working. Giving Green’s 2021 recommendations directed $760,000 in donations to the nonprofit Carbon180, narrowing the organization's funding gap by a third.
So far this year, Giving Green’s recommendations in late 2022 have translated into over $250,000 of donations for Industrious Labs, towards a $1.2 million funding gap in their projected 2023 budget of $3 million.
As we head into 2023, below are Giving Green’s top five recommended organizations fighting climate change, nonprofits where your donations could make a material difference to their chances of success.
Alternatively, another strategy for your charitable dollars is to contribute to the work of organizations like Giving Green directly. Donations not only support Giving Green’s critical work keeping tabs on the constantly evolving landscape, but bolster’s Giving Green capacity to deploy capital to climate solutions when and where the capital will make the most impact.
Giving Green’s Recommendations
Clean Air Task Force
Since its founding in 1996, CATF has been sounding the alarm on methane. The incredibly potent GHG is now center stage. US president Joe Biden took up CATF’s Global Methane Pledge, signed by 105 countries at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.
This year, CATF will continue an aggressive campaign against methane, including its just launched $3 million Global Methane Hub to tackle waste sector methane emissions. The CATF will also continue expanding its Superhot Rock Project Map and guides to this “visionary geothermal technology” in the new year. Few, if anyone else, are tackling these.
“Clean Air Task Force focuses on policy to move the needle on neglected technologies that aren’t getting attention from government or industry,” says Stein. “They’ve got an exciting bunch of wins under their belt.
Stein also recommended Evergreen Collaborative this year. “Evergreen Collaborative took a major step up” compared to last year, Stein says. Beyond the charitable donations that came Evergreen’s way, Stein says their recommendation gave the organization “credence and bolstered their ability to attract staff.”
The Evergreen Collaborative formed when the team behind the unsuccessful campaign of then-presidential candidate Jay Inslee formed a new group. His climate team immediately dove into implementing the Washington state governor’s climate platform at the federal level.
Stein said all the Inslee campaign's climate approach thoughts around climate would go on to widely informed the federal climate policy to follow, from last year’s Build Back Better bill to this year’s Inflation Reduction Act. “A lot of the same guiding principles have really gone through all of those manifestations, which is basically like, do a bit of policy here and provide tax credit incentives for transformation in multiple parts of the economy, and not do a carbon tax,” Stein says. Evergreen seems “to punch above their weight…as one of the most effective insider policy organizations currently working to influence US federal policy.”
In 2023, Evergreen will take a brief respite from influencing policy to educate cities, states, and counties on how to access the benefits of their policy wins in the IRA. The climate provisions in the IRA, for instance, include over $1 billion in federal funds available to cities and states that update building energy codes.
Good Energy Collective
The Good Energy Collective works with communities and policy makers to build broad support for the deployment of “advanced” nuclear power. Compared to traditional nuclear power, Stein expects advanced nuclear reactors to be a safer, cheaper, and more scalable complement to the coming mass deployment of renewables.
That complements work by groups like Rewiring America, a prominent energy non-profit, encouraging wind and solar power plants, rooftop solar, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and batteries. Even with renewables the country will still need sources of always-on power, and nuclear remains a clear contender once we finally wean ourselves from fossil fuels.
Little philanthropic support has gone toward this energy source, because of the more contentious nature of nuclear power and public reservations.
In 2023, Good Energy Collective will work to realize one of its core pillars: bridging social science research and innovations in engineering to build a grassroots movement for advanced nuclear engineering.
Good Food Institute
The Good Food Institute engages in policy and research to develop and support alternative protein, betting that they can make alternative proteins competitive with conventional meat in terms of both price and taste.
Agriculture constitutes 10 percent of global emissions, with livestock making up the lion's share.
To date, these agricultural emissions remain relatively untouched by policy. What’s more, global meat production is projected to double by 2050, according to the United Nations.”
The Good Food Institute’s 2023 policy priorities include advocating for expanded federal research dollars to support alternative protein development, working with the regulators like the FDA to clear the pathway to market for meat cultivated from cells and determine how alternative proteins are labeled in your local grocery store aisle.
Industry is the toughest sector to decarbonize. And yet industrial emissions contribute 29.4 percent to annual global carbon emissions.
Most federal policies don’t address the four largest sources of industrial emissions: steel, concrete, aluminum, and fertilizer. And, to date, few philanthropies have taken this up, either.
Industrious Labs combines high level policy, corporate campaigns, and grassroots activism to create a robust response to these stubborn industrial byproducts.
Over the next year, IL will continue building out a robust methodology and public dashboard monitoring and reporting the emissions of the thousands of unregulated industrial plants across the country, including CO2 emissions from burning wood in the paper industry to the release of nitrous acid at adipic acid facilities.” IL will be a watchdog, drawing the attention of regulators, of 30 other industries and their industrial plants and facilities across the country, from chemical manufacturers to waste facilities.