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America’s foundations have poured billions of dollars into the fight against climate change. What do they have to show for their money?
The Energy Foundation laid the groundwork for renewable-energy policies that 29 states have adopted. The ClimateWorks Foundation coordinated work to help developing countries replace polluting refrigerants with efficient, climate-friendly cooling. Bloomberg Philanthropies financed the Sierra Club’s campaign to shut down coal-fired power plants. Foundations have backed educational efforts, ranging from Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth to the Climate Central website, which helped persuade Americans that humans have contributed to climate change and that the government should do more to promote clean energy and take other steps to protect the planet.
But when it comes to U.S. climate policy, grant makers and the environmental nonprofits they support have been stymied. President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord. His EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is dismantling the agency’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. The Republicans who control Congress are hostile to climate action.
Globally, the picture is nearly as grim. In the past two decades, annual emissions of greenhouse gases have grown from the equivalent of 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year to nearly 50 billion, and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are rising relentlessly.
If philanthropy is to be judged by its outcomes — and how else should it be judged? — climate philanthropy has failed. The U.S. government is further from acting to curb climate change than it was a decade ago. Without action by the United States, which is an indispensable player on the global stage, it will be all but impossible for the planet to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Read more about the fate of climate philanthropy by Marc Gunther at Nonprofit Chronicles