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The Last, Last Chance

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

I have been blessed or maybe, cursed—with looking at life with a “seeing the end in the beginning” mentality. But it was that mentality I relied upon in my career. To see potential threats or emergencies before they happened and to have a strategy to respond.

It is how I look at the climate crisis now. We’re facing a slow possible mass extinction of species with our continued reliance upon fossil fuels. Our own species will certainly suffer greatly, yet our strategy, for governments to act and overt the worst is sorely lacking. Governments cannot supply the money at the level neede

d or the pace required. We have 10 years before certain natural forces are irreversibly changed. It’s scientific consensus!

But I’m not saying anything new here. We hear it everyday along with the stories of disasters as they mount. How many more Hurricane Ian’s? How many more Camp Fires? Where will the needed resources come from to stabilize and repair our earth?

Right now one of the largest climate funders is Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs. She has committed to giving away her $28 billion in assets during her life or shortly thereafter. But we cannot rely on a handful of billionaires. While more foundations are funding climate change initiatives, sadly, it’s not at a level that can stop the 10 year timetable to irreversible cataclysmic change.

Philanthropic foundations are divesting from fossil fuel investment more as they follow the science. It’s not enough. They need to declare a Climate Emergency! Moreover, they must consider giving away the majority of their assets to fund climate security within the next 10 years. Yes—the majority—in 10 years! That’s a total of over $1.5 trillion dollars according Harvard Kennedy School's Hauser Institute for Civil Society/ Global Philanthropy Report.

To not do so at this inflection point in our human history, would be immoral. How can they justify holding back when the very people for whom they exist to help will at worst perish, or at best, be imperiled without their action? How can they justify giving only legal minimums from such vast, growing endowments? Here is what declaring a Philanthropic Climate Emergency should look like according to Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, in “Regeneration Ending the Climate Crisis In One Generation”. Wallace Global was first to call for divesting from fossil fuels in 2011, prior to their 10 year slide in value:

“Make climate central to the mission.

Making climate a priority will inform how we define our missions, advance change, build our strategies and identify which grantees are most able to advance an urgent agenda

Spend more, spend quickly, spend it all

Governments are failing to meet the challenge. We need both more money and smart money to address climate at all levels and create the transformative systemic change that will save us.

Drive systemic change

Climate change is no accident— It is the result of economic practices and political choices that placed profit and power over the common good. We cannot replace one extractive economy with another; the obligations of corporations and financial systems must be tied to climate risk. We will need to build a government that works for the people instead of it’s biggest donors. Every section of the economy will need to change...[but therein lies] new opportunity.

Collaborate with movements

History has taught us real change has never happened without mass public mobilization. We need to work with these movements and bring the best of the non-profit world behind them to ensure their success instead of trivializing their power.

Deploy every bit of the endowment for good

Declaring a climate emergency means using all our tools. Getting the world to 100 percent renewable energy in time will require every institutional investor to put our assets into renewables, efficiency, clean tech, and energy access. Foundations must use our voices as shareholders to put pressure on every industry to curb carbon use. We are accountable to no one but our board, we have enormous privilege in the level of resources we expend and consume, and we have deep ties to the very system and economic players that produced this mess. We seldom challenge ourselves to the types of actions we demand of our grantees, governments and even business.”

This is our last, last chance!

Barry Rowell

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