Can Philanthropy Save the Planet?


Fall is settling in for many of us, including here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For much of the summer, I had dutifully kept my hummingbird feeders full, as well as other feeders with various seed, to accommodate and support the many feathered visitors that call our mountain community home. I learned from an early age to appreciate birds. My father, who just turned 93 and lives with me, has been an avid bird watcher his entire life. Nearly every day, he still grabs his binoculars and heads out to the back patio, watching, investigating, and, yes, frequently chirping or squawking, too. In early October, the non-governmental organization, National Audubon Society, released a new report, “Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink,” that finds that two-thirds of the birds in North America are at risk of extinction due to the rising temperatures of climate change. It is almost as if the globe itself is the proverbial coal mine, but it’s not just the canary that is signaling danger, but nearly 400 different species. The threat of the loss of species is but one signal of a changing climate. Many others hit our headlines daily. And while some may continue to debate the cause of climate change, it is happening all the same – and billions of dollars are being invested annually to mitigate the impacts. Philanthropy has been at the forefront of this wave of investment. It led to me ask: Can philanthropy save the planet? Many philanthropists are certainly trying to answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!”

Take Michael Bloomberg, whose estimated worth was calculated at nearly $51 billion in 2019, making him the 17th richest person in the world. In June of this year and through his philanthropic organization Bloomberg Philanthropies, he launched Beyond Carbon. Billed as the largest-ever coordinated campaign against climate change in the United States, the initial investment of $500 million is geared toward getting the United States on a path to a 100 percent clean energy economy. Its initial focus will support state and local efforts in the areas of policies, targets and programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, Bloomberg is part of a group of 29 different philanthropists who, in September of 2018, pledged $4 billion in funding focused on climate change mitigation. Described as the largest commitment ever to address environmental issues, the group includes other luminaries in philanthropy like the Kresge Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Another American philanthropist and candidate for the office of the United States presidency, Tom Steyer, founded the environmental advocacy non-

profit and political action committee NextGen Climate (now NextGen America) in 2013. Steyer made billions as a hedge fund manager and has most notably been a dogged critic of the Trump Administration. NextGen America was initially designed to build an unprecedented political movement around addressing the impacts of climate change. The organization has since evolved to address other issues but remains true to developing a multi-sectoral political movement by registering voters and by backing climate-friendly legislation and candidates in the U.S. Corporate philanthropy has also been active in trying to save the planet. Companies large and small are engaged. From big dollars to environmental causes to replacing plastic straws with paper or bamboo ones, making a statement in environmental philanthropy is core to many companies. Take, for example, leading outdoor gear provider Patagonia. Patagonia describes itself as an activist company, and its Web site proclaims that the

“Protection and preservation of the environment isn’t what we do after hours. It’s the reason we’re in business and every day’s work.” Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard rewrote the company’s mission statement earlier this year and put it succinctly: “Patagonia is in business to save our home plant.” To that end, Patagonia has granted millions of dollars to environmental organizations – one percent of all company’s profits go to philanthropy through their One Percent for the Planet pledge. Since 2002, that has added up to big money—a total of $225 million. The company’s current CEO, Rose Marcario, also made headlines in late 2018 when she shifted an additional $10

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