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The World Health Organization estimates that climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 from various illnesses, while the direct damage costs to health will total between $2 billion to $4 billion by 2030. And recently, fatal heat waves across the U.S. and Europe and catastrophic flooding in Libya have served as reminders that extreme weather events are a result of a rapidly changing climate.
With growing urgency to address climate change, where does philanthropy play a role in funding and advocating for innovative solutions?
At a recent gathering hosted by The Philanthropy Workshop, funders and individual donors discussed the strategic intersection of democracy, climate action, and racial justice. The event offered donors an opportunity to explore ways to effectively support change through government -- whether through oversight, elections, grassroots organizing, direct advocacy, or thought leadership.
Panelist Jason K. Burnett, chair of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, spoke with Giving Compass about the climate change movement and how donors can get involved in funding solutions. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Q. The Packard Foundation is committed to funding bold climate solutions. Can you share more about the foundation’s work?
A big area that we are focusing on is the intersection between people and climate, especially ending and reversing tropical deforestation. If tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank as the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after China and the U.S. But we can’t end deforestation alone. This is why we’re part of a global collaborative called Forests, People, Climate, which supports work across three key tropical forest regions that hold more carbon and are under more deforestation pressure than anywhere else in the world – Indonesia, the Amazon Basin, and the Congo Basin.
The foundation is initiating programs to empower local communities to decide the best way to manage their forests. Empirical evidence suggests that when local communities make decisions, they are more likely to preserve forests. We are working hard to provide grants to local groups in the Global South.
Q. What are some of the challenges the climate movement is facing?
Misinformation and disinformation, particularly in the climate space, is a significant challenge resulting in delayed climate action. We continue to see a lot of money being put into promoting disinformation and climate denier work.
Q. What are the areas of optimism in climate change work?
We have seen amazing reductions in the cost curve of a variety of technologies that are going to be key, whether that's the cost of solar, the cost of wind, the cost of batteries, or the cost of electric vehicles (EVs).
Q. How does the Foundation think about long-term climate solutions?
As climate change impacts become more pronounced, there's an increasing need to invest in rebuilding in a resilient manner. My fear is that society will put more and more of its scarce resources into just putting Band-Aids on the problem.
Q. What advice would you give individual donors?
First, misinformation and disinformation campaigns funded by external actors are significant challenges. All of us can report misinformation on social media and support media watchdog groups that are holding traditional and social media accountable.
Second, keep a watch on congressional actions on the issue and be involved in advocacy.
Third, provide support for smaller nonprofits. While they may not be as recognized as larger entities, their work at the grassroots level is impactful.
I would just encourage donors to go where they have both a passion and they see the need.