Jan 8, 2015

This post is by Shorey Myers, Program Manager for the Jenifer Altman Foundation. This article first appeared on HEFN's Blog.

You may have heard post-election predictions that trade agreements are one of the only topics on which the President and the Republicans think they can find common ground. In fact, the proposed trade deals are about a lot more than “trade,” and they would be a disaster for public health and the environment.

A coalition of foundations are working with advocates monitoring this fast-moving train and defending the public interest from deals heading down the wrong track. We welcome other partners in learning & action! Our first of a series of informational calls for funders will take place January 21, 2015; contact me for more information.

Here’s a brief rundown of concerns about these trade deals – and what can be done.

  • No transparency or public accountability. Two trade deals are being negotiated in parallel with an unprecedented level of secrecy and no mechanism for public input. One is being negotiated between the US and the European Union (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a.k.a. TTIP or TAFTA) and the other between the US and Pacific Rim nations (Trans-Pacific Partnership, a.k.a TPP). Who has access to these negotiations? Only three negotiators per nation and over 600 corporate ‘trade advisors’. The only method by which the public and NGOs have been able to assess the potential damage of the trade deals have been through multiple leaks.
  • Corporate legal overreach. One provision of the proposed deals (Investor State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS) would expand the ability of multinational corporations to sue nations in private courts for claimed ‘loss of future profits’ due to regulatory action, including policies intended to protect the health, safety, environment, labor or democratic rights of the citizens. Nations – and taxpayers -- are frequently the losers in these costly court battles, even if the case is dismissed. Read real cases of corporations winning millions of dollars from nations for undermining investors’ “expected future profits.” Expanding ISDS would interfere with current environmental and health regulations and discourage new legislation.
  • Regulations “harmonized” downward or nullified. A “Regulatory Cooperation” chapter of the proposed trade deals seeks to set up an official body, comprised of regulators and advised by industry, which would ‘harmonize’ national regulations that differ in approach, likely to the lowest possible level. The harmonized policies approved by this official body could set a ceiling on the level of protection that is allowable in legislation and abrogate regulation, from the local to the federal level, that exceeds the harmonized standard. Chemical regulations, particularly the European Union (EU) REACH chemicals policies and progressive US State chemical regulations, are prime targets of this provision; chemical manufacturers are projected to be the second biggest financial beneficiaries of the lowered standards. Pilot projects addressing prioritization and classification of chemicals based on this chapter are already underway.
  • From “buy local” to “buy multinational.” A major EU objective is to force the US to open public procurement programs to transatlantic competitors. Public procurement programs allow criteria such as environmental sustainability or living wages to be included in broader economic programs. Currently, such programs support local farmers and locally sourced renewable energy, construction and supplies, benefiting local producers, businesses, workers and consumers, including school and hospital systems. Opening these contracts to multinational corporations could help drive local producers out of the market and inhibit the growth of small-scale sustainable food systems. In a 2014 EU-Canada trade deal the EU achieved ‘unconditional access’ to procurement contracts at all levels of Canadian government, a result the EU would like to replicate in the EU-US agreement.
  • More gas exports, less renewable energy. Renewable and clean energy policies are in danger of roll-back as a result of trade deal provisions. Measures intended to support energy efficiency, including labeling standards, fuel efficiency standards, and emission standards for cars, appliances and airlines, as well as tax credits for climate-friendly fuels may all be eliminated through the trade deals. Additionally, the US Department of Energy may lose the authority to determine whether natural gas exports to Europe are in the public interest. This could green-light a significant increase in drilling and open an LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) superhighway to the world’s largest importer of natural gas. The ISDS provision mentioned above is another avenue by which petrochemical corporations hope to force open the market.

Solution Strategy: Stop Fast Track. This threat to democracy and government in the public interest is made possible in the US by a procedure known as “Fast Track.” Fast Track is designed to allow the executive branch to accelerate trade agreements and insulate them from scrutiny, “fast tracking” them through Congress with severely limited debate, allowing no amendments and only a straight up or down vote.

While Congress has constitutional authority over international trade, Fast Track shifts that authority to the executive branch, virtually ensuing that the public and Congress will have no real voice in trade deals. The time has come to stop Fast Track, to bring some sunlight into an otherwise deeply opaque process, and returning basic democratic process to a critical area of public policy.

Shorey Myers is Program Manager for the Jenifer Altman Foundation. Shorey has been with the Foundation since 2010. Her work over the past decade includes a strong focus on global environmental health and justice issues, as well as philanthropic support of critical social services. Her email address is

Dec 16, 2014

By Joshua Cohen, Member Services Program Manager, EGA

In November, EGA continued its journey of meeting in places that matter by bringing funders to San Juan and Vieques as part of a co-hosted learning tour focused on equity and environmental sustainability in Puerto Rico. Collaborating with the Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), the trip highlighted community-based strategies for resilience focused on social, economic and environmental justice. Throughout the two day tour of the main island, we heard from activists and community members from three distinct areas, all spearheading innovative solutions to address local challenges. With a population of 3.6 million, inequity is a significant social issue in P.R.; the poverty rate is 45.4% (using the U.S. Federal definition) and the official unemployment rate is 13.5%. Despite these staggering numbers, P.R. is a gap area for funding due to its geographic and political status (territory vs. state); national funders tend to overlook them as non-U.S. whereas international funders consider them domestic. This status – as neither here nor there – has left them often ignored and without much philanthropic support. I found this small island to be ripe with opportunity. The Open Society Foundation has listed them as a priority place and on December 3rd the Rockefeller Foundation announced that San Juan was included in their next round of resilient cities.

Our learning tour represented diverse foundations (with roughly 40 funders who were split 50% local and 50% non-local, many from the New York area) focused on a variety of issue areas (e.g. equity, health, climate, etc.). A few funders remarked that they hadn’t met many of the attendees before, evidence that our collaboration with NFG could really lead to future cross-cutting funding strategies among often separate and distinct funding areas.

We began the tour in an art deco room in the historic Banco Popular building in Old San Juan overlooking the harbor, with a view of a vibrant port industry. This building, completed in 1939, was the first high rise in the region with an elevator. After an enlightening and sobering panel discussion on demographics, inequity and the changing economy of the island, we departed for nearby Caguas to visit the first public housing project on the island and hear from José Gautier Benítez and Las Gladiolas community members about battles over displacement and subsequent efforts around housing reform.

These efforts have led to successful outcomes that include a microbusiness incubator called EcoRecursos Comunitarios and a recycling business called EcoReciclaje, Inc., employing local residents. Other organizations we heard from included Las Gladiolas Vive and the Liga de Cooperativas de Puerto Rico. It was inspiring to witness the energy and dedication of many strong women community leaders along this tour, and to see such diverse funders – some focused on equity and civic participation, others on environmental justice – really engage with the content and local activists.

We then boarded the bus for Casa Pueblo in the central mountain village of Adjuntas. This family-run community center grew out of the local environmental movement in the 1960s in response to proposed copper mining. Today, Casa Pueblo continues to rail against local development around a gas pipeline that would have crossed the region, while offering several local programs. They help preserve nearby Bosque del Pueblo (People’s Forest), a model forest that is community-managed, while running education programs for local youth focused on music, arts, science and the environment. Shade-grown coffee is roasted on a recently-acquired roaster and a small shop sells the coffee, along with local goods and books on native flora and fauna and Puerto Rican cuisine, to support the center’s work. We were excited to discover that the founding director, Alexis Massol-Gonzalez, was a 2002 Goldman Prize recipient.

The next day the tour visited the Caño Martín Peña, a canal in the heart of San Juan surrounded by homes, many lacking basic sanitation infrastructure and subject to regular flooding, ill health (read this recent health impact study) and transportation challenges. The eight neighborhoods (known as the G-8) along this San Juan Bay Estuary system have rallied in recent years through the ENLACE Project to develop an innovative community land trust to address the lack of land titling through collective ownership. The U.S. EPA, Region 2, has been active in supporting these impressive efforts, along with a few philanthropic foundations who participated on this tour, though much is still needed to support these local initiatives.

I then headed to Vieques, an island-municipality about eight miles to the east of the P.R. mainland, to attend a Vieques Sustainability Task Force meeting. With a current population of around 14,000, it has a challenging past as a former U.S. Navy bombing and testing ground. When the Navy withdrew in 2003, much of the island was designated as a National Wildlife Refuge. From sea turtle nesting grounds (including Hawksbills, Leatherbacks, and Green Sea Turtles) to Puerto Mosquito, one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world (which recently experienced a blackout due to an usual dry period), to migratory birds, Vieques is critically important as a conservation frontier in the region.

At the task force meeting, community members came to express their concerns and participate in working groups focused on such areas as community-based development and natural resource management, public safety and health, private sector opportunities, Superfund clean-up efforts and sustainable infrastructure. I learned that in 2000, 72.2% of those on Vieques lived below the Federal Poverty Standards (much higher than the already high 45.4% for P.R. as a whole), and that the island has a higher cost of living than the mainland, as well as a greater dependency on welfare; improvement in these areas has been slower than many would like to see. There is currently no organized agriculture on Vieques and potable water comes via pipeline under the sea, making local residents heavily reliant on outside infrastructure and support. It was a heated conversation and was very emotional for many in the room.

Through community efforts, support from the U.S. EPA and from the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico (Stuart Delery, the recently appointed Department of Justice Co-Chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico was in attendance), island infrastructure challenges and local voices are being heard. At the meeting they announced funding for a solar hot water heater installation program for 100 homes on the island, coordinated by Energy Affairs in P.R. Clean up continues through the Superfund Program with unexploded munitions and contamination of part of the island. Tourism continues to be a significant revenue generator for the island, but problems with ferry service pose challenges to this each year; this same travel challenge prevents island residents from getting to affordable health care in Fajardo on the main land. Though the task force was focused initially on environmental outcomes (e.g. Navy clean-up), the community has expressed a clear need to address access to health (e.g. the island has high cancer rates). As the island is becoming a significant tourist destination (many celebrities own homes here), I found there to be a divide between local residents and visitors in access to basic services. There is a clear need for philanthropic support around environmental health programs.

To dive deeper on environmental issues, we organized an evening tour of the Puerto Mosquito bio-bay, followed by a day-long tour of Vieques. We began at the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust (VCHT), a local organization focused on preserving the local flora and fauna (they maintain a small aquarium and run the MANTA Youth Education Program) as well as cultural assets (they also host a mini-museum of historic artifacts). In addition to seeing the incredible natural beauty of the island’s mangrove lagoons and beaches, we visited the shell of an old school (acquired to develop into an environmental education center with boarding for visiting scientists), 62 million year old rocks (beside which the oldest human skeleton was found in the Caribbean) and a 300-400 year-old Ceiba tree.

Being somewhat familiar with P.R. through visiting friends who live in San Juan, my experience was mostly focused on the biodiversity and natural beauty of the region. On this tour, however, I was really able to witness on the ground activism in action and met many community leaders fighting for equity and community resilience on this enchanted island. I see great opportunity, and need, to support these considerable efforts in community resilience, civic participation and environmental justice and education. 

Aug 5, 2014

This article first appeared on The Chronicle of Philanthropy

By Diana Campoamor, President, Hispanics in Philanthropy

Young people often show up at the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles because they and their parents face horrific choices.

For instance, a 14-year-old client appeared after his father was murdered by gangs in Honduras. His mother was so traumatized from witnessing the murder that she is confined to a psychiatric hospital. Then the thugs tried to force the youngster to join their criminal enterprise and beat him up.

"It’s either stay and die, or risk and come," said Martha Arévalo, executive director of the center, which helped the young boy with legal services after he entered the U.S. without immigration documents.

At least 90,000 youngsters like that 14-year-old have arrived unaccompanied in the United States this year, part of a mounting crisis that has been building since 2008. As the situation becomes more dire, the need is growing for nonprofits and foundations to get involved in dealing with the crisis.

Already many charities and foundations have pressed for a humane response to the growing number of children caught on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border and sought increased funding for economic-development projects and efforts to help migrants and refugees who are part of the Latin American diaspora. Many are also seeking changes in the immigration laws that are at the heart of today’s problem.

But there is more that we can all do. Among the key steps nonprofits, grant makers, and others should consider:

Advocate for the humane treatment of refugees everywhere. While migrant children from Central America to the U.S. are now getting the spotlight, many parts of the world are dealing with people trying to cross borders, and the treatment of migrants often violates basic human-rights principles. The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol together formed the cornerstone of global human-rights policy, and most countries are party to them. They grant refugees protection against persecution, and nonprofits and donors can do much to speak out for better treatment of refugees.

Insist on fair treatment for every unaccompanied minor. Children involved in Arizona’s immigration-hearing process through a remote hookup, appearing before an immigration judge in Utah, or answering dozens of questions from a Border Patrol agent in San Diego should be guaranteed the benefit of paid legal counsel.

Urge the government to fix the immigration system. It must emphasize family reunification when it is safe to do so, institute fairness, and guarantee respect for human rights.

Fund services to support local nonprofits that provide legal and human services to unaccompanied minors. These groups find and vet sponsors for the children and provide the temporary housing, meals, and transportation that may not be covered by federal aid.

Invest in human capital. Programs to create jobs, help young people develop skills, and provide better education and vocational training must be expanded in Central America if we expect to develop communities and eradicate violence. Dedicating resources to building human capital in Central America and around the world is an essential investment in human rights.

Jul 1, 2014

This post first appeared on the "What is a Justice Funder?" blog of the Bay Area Justice Funders and is reprinted with permission.

For me, being a justice funder means that the money and other resources I help move into world supports long-term efforts, rooted in communities and lived experience, to transform economic, social and political systems so that they advance the right of all people to live healthy, happy, secure, dignified, respected lives. It means constantly asking: Who wins? Who loses? Who decides?

There’s also a personal element to this. Like everyone, my experience of reality is shaped by personal identity. My journey as a funder, an activist, and a human being is a struggle to understand how being a white-woman-baby boomer-middle class-heterosexual shapes how I am perceived and how I perceive. (There’s more to me than that, but those facts are especially important here.) That’s meant several decades of learning to question my every assumption about everything -- and being hit upside the head sometimes.

When I started my social justice career four decades ago, I thought change started with a few dedicated people working really hard to point out what’s wrong and to put forth solutions. I thought changed = federal legislation. That’s why when I graduated from UC Berkeley, I headed to DC to work for the US EPA as an intern. I ended up staying in DC for more than a decade, working in the burgeoning public interest nonprofit world there.

I got hit upside the head big time in the mid-1970s when I was working with the National Family Farm Coalition (a predecessor to, but not the same organization as, today’s NFFC). A bunch of DC- based activists, me included, had crafted a vast federal omnibus bill aimed at saving the family farm from both agribusiness and a USDA whose motto had become “get big or get out.” Our family farm bill addressed farm subsidies, credit, organic agriculture, land use and conservation, direct marketing, ad infinitum -- all aimed at keeping small family farmers on the land and encouraging new farmers.

Then I met Joe Brooks (yes, that Joe Brooks), at the time the executive director of the Emergency Land Fund in Atlanta GA. ELF fought to keep African American farmers on their farms. I learned that Black farmers were losing their farms at rates four to five greater than white farmers –and that African Americans made up only a tiny fraction of the farm population in the first place, far smaller than their numbers of the overall population and almost entirely in the South.

So if white farmers were getting a bad deal, Black farmers had always gotten a bad deal, which was getting worse. (It’s kind of like when civic participation funders talk about “restoring democracy,” and a colleague, usually someone of color, notes that the task is to actually create democracy for the first time. But I digress.) The bill we had created, sitting in our poorly funded DC organizations talking earnestly to one another, was aimed at fixing the system, but would never actually work because we didn’t really understand the system we sought to fix, in large degree because we had not acknowledged or understood the structural racism that created it. And we hadn’t talked to anyone but ourselves. 

There’s a lot more story here that I don’t have room for, so I’ll will cut to the chase: That experience taught me a lesson about assumptions and the need for me, as a white middle class social justice activist, to question ALL my perceptions of reality. To listen to people. To question underlying assumptions. To disaggregate data. To find out what data are missing. To find out who is at the table, and who is not. To not sit at tables that leave people out. I learned that “who decides” is the most important question of all.

I took these lessons with me into philanthropy, but to be honest, 25+ years ago, when I got my first job in this field, if asked what social justice philanthropy is, my answer might have been the same as it is today, but it would have been framed in terms of policy outcomes and agendas – policies and agendas created by the communities they were aimed at “helping,” but still agendas and policies. Like many funders, I was more concerned about smart solutions than transforming power relationships and supporting determinative political power building.

Over these two plus decades, thanks to some remarkable funder colleagues and activist/advocacy organization leaders, I’ve come to believe that how you get there is as important as where you get to. We can’t achieve a democratic, progressive, just, equitable, fair society with only some of us at the table because that’s not democratic, progressive, just, equitable or fair. And besides, we can’t know what the problems are, what the solutions are, or build the determinative power that makes transformation possible. I know from my own missteps and those of others that you can’t skip any steps or cut any corners.

While I hope I do a lot less corner cutting and flawed assuming than I used to, the world of philanthropy is still full of both. Too often, those flawed assumptions guide the distribution of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. I believe that the most important things I can do as a justice funder are to challenge assumptions, be open to information that blows assumptions away, and support colleagues in philanthropy and outside to do the same.

A real life example: just last week, at the See Forward Fund lunch, during a fantastic panel on power building in California put together by Ludovic Blain of the Progressive Era Project, Dr. Lisa Garcia Bedolla of UC Berkeley presented some mind-altering data about “the gender gap.” Nationally, 56 percent of women (who made up about 42 percent of the electorate) voted for President Obama in 2012 as compared to 45 percent of men. Big gender gap, right? But dig deeper: 40 percent of white women voted for President Obama as compared to 79 percent of women of color. Here in California, about 50 percent of white women voted for the President, but 95 percent of Black women, 76 percent of Latinas, and 72 percent of API and others voted for him. The gender gap suddenly becomes a race and gender gap. So why, if building long-term determinative political power is the goal, aren’t women of color the focus of most progressive integrated voter engagement (IVE) programs? Why do progressive funders continue to support IVE programs that make “women” the focus, and women of color an underfunded afterthought?

If I want to call myself a justice funder, it’s time for me to start posing those questions to funder colleagues and donor clients, and to leaders of organizations in the IVE field.

Catherine Lerza has spent more than four decades in the social change movement as a grantmaker, writer, advocate, and researcher, working with many progressive nonprofits and foundations on environmental justice, economic policy, civic engagement, food and agriculture, and women's rights and reproductive justice. She was the executive director of the Shalan Foundation and the Beldon Fund, and a senior philanthropic advisor at Tides. Since 2010, she's been a consultant; her clients include the Alki Fund, the California Wildlands Grassroots Fund, the Underdog Fund, and the Groundswell Fund.

Jun 3, 2014

By Adam Harms, Communications Coordinator, EGA

Funder gatherings are always opportunities to learn more about on-the-ground issues from key stakeholders, but at their best they also find ways to interweave grantmaking strategy and tactics. It was refreshing to see this so well addressed at this year’s Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network Conference, which was held in Calgary earlier this month. The conference’s three main stage plenaries framed environmental issues within the context of important and oft-underappreciated bolsters of grantmaking work: strategies for effective communications and policy influence.

Pat Letizia, Chair of CEGN, and Scott Vaughan, President of the International Institute for Sustainable Development

Brad Lavigne, Vice President at Hill + Knowlton Canada, helped set the tone for the conference with the takeaway that “the best defense is a good offense”. Brad’s presentation laid out the ways that funders, with any size budget, can begin to proactively approach communications in a prioritized (but holistic) way. Based on the evolving way the public interacts with the philanthropic world, Brad advocates a few elements for effective, modern communications as grantmakers:

  1. As consumption channels expand, and shared experience dwindles, we need to focus our messaging towards targeted audiences, and increase our spread across platforms
  2. Big data is crucial for effective messaging and targeting
  3. Stories should be layered, and champions must be engaged

While these were all salient and eye-opening points, the second was especially relevant, as it helped to hammer home the importance of data aggregation projects like EGA’s Tracking the Field Report and CEGN’s newly-released The Future of Freshwater Funding in Canada. Tools like these can be used to hone in on a specific metric and provide robust conclusions, which have countless applications on foundations’ communications fronts and beyond. (Check out the Tracking the Field report and the new interactive heatmap to make some data sets and conclusions of your own. You can also learn more about CEGN’s efforts via their webinar, taking place June 4th at 1:00 pm ET; RSVP to Pegi Dover.)







Other main stage sessions included Sarah Stachowiak’s engaging talk on approaches to policy change, and a panel discussion about how to proactively combat the pitfalls that often accompany foundation audits. These and other sessions related to the conference theme served as a primer for countless conversations and debates, and ultimately provided attendees with a more comprehensive understanding of the value of well-informed strategic approaches. We look forward to pulling in more of our members for a continuation of these conversations at our Annual Fall Retreat in September!

Apr 22, 2014

By Rachel Leon, Executive Director, EGA






This Earth Day, my dreams and visions are of China. One month ago today, EGA led an adventurous and globally diverse group of grantmakers on an unforgettable learning tour of China. And I can't stop thinking about and visualizing places, stories and people from that journey.

I'm still processing what we saw and experienced, but there is no doubt that I have a renewed approach towards our shared mission of helping to support a sustainable world.

While there were plenty of moments of clarity and pure joy, multiple experiences also proved confusing, contradictory and downright scary given the apparent scale and scope of challenges we face on a global level.

Through intimate glimpses into the environmental state of China, our adventure affirmed how clearly our future is tied to what happens 7,000 miles away, and how small the planet really is. From breaking bread with sustainable ag activists in February in Detroit to sharing dumplings in a space operated by Beijing County Fair local food organizers in China, the hope and fresh action underway in both these small spaces was palpable.






Shared experiences

The trip provided numerous wonderful up-close moments and opportunities to observe projects funded by numerous EGA members and new Chinese philanthropies. These experiences included everything from visiting pigs at bio mass pilots in rural eco-communities to witnessing thriving environmental education initiatives underway in Shanghai. We dug in deep on the big challenges ahead on air pollution, and discussed a transition to green energy whilst choking on the smog of Beijing.

In the last days of our trip, we visited the world’s largest port near Shangai. We were brought to a collective silence staring at the enormity of our appetite for ‘stuff’, and its ramifications for the planet.

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit with the SEE Entrepeneurs and the Vantone Foundation, who were involved with the delegation of Chinese philanthropists that joined EGA last Fall, with the support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. It was inspiring to know that in part, because of our shared learning, a Chinese EGA is being organized, and that many of the questions they are asking as they evolve are the same questions we grapple with two and a half decades later.






The importance of a global perspective

Having the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network and the UK Environmental Funders Network participate throughout the China Distance Learning Program deepened our discussion, and showed how global collaboration is both possible and already underway. The Distance Learning Program’s global diversity also helped to affirm EGA’s impact on a global scale - I don't think it's debatable anymore whether our work should include a significant global lens.

And I didn't come to EGA with that view. If anything, I was a local girl who liked keeping my feet on the ground and my action plans local and achievable. But the rapid globalization of our economies and social networks that have occurred in the five years I've had the privilege of serving this community has opened my eyes to the necessity of EGA working on a global level. This is a thread we will continue when we seek to explore the theme of “from pueblo to global” this Fall at our Retreat in New Mexico.

We didn’t find all of the answers in China - we actually left with more questions. But we left hungry for more interaction, more collaboration and more shared learning. That, I think, is my modest takeaway from this trip to share, on this day when we reflect and appreciate our shared planet. We shouldn’t pretend to have all the answers or the perfect strategies to easily fix what we’ve undone in our ecosystem, but we should have the passion and the connectivity to face what is next, together. For me, “together” now stretches from upstate NY to the corners of China.

Today, I share pictures from that journey with you all, hoping it whets your appetite to learn more about the trip and our organizational efforts to deepen EGA Global engagement when we all coalesce this Fall. Most of all, I express deep gratitude for all who shared meals with us, hosted us and organized this special journey, a 12-day trip that will live on through how we at EGA evolve to approach and implement our mission.

Mar 5, 2014

This blog post was originally featured on the Hewlett Foundation's Blog, "Work in Progress". This post was authored by Erin Rogers, Program Officer, Environment Program at the Hewlett Foundation.

Remember the scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and their friends were trapped in a trash compactor on the Death Star? Soon after falling into a watery container filled with space garbage and a really creepy snake, the walls around them started slowly closing in. They had a shrinking window of opportunity to find a way out. They scrambled higher atop mounds of trash, adapting to the situation as best they could and buying time. But the walls kept closing in. Finally, R2D2 was able to shut down power to the entire garbage system. Addressing the root of the problem saved their lives.

With apologies for the over-simplified and dated analogy, we are facing a similar shrinking window of opportunity to address the root cause of climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere through burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.

On January 17, the New York Times reported on a leaked draft of a forthcoming United Nations report that explains that although we are starting to see increases in renewable energy and more efficient use of energy, these hopeful improvements are dwarfed by the rapid increase in the burning of fossil fuels. In other words, we are making progress, but not far or fast enough to avoid widespread human suffering as well as major economic and ecological problems.

The Times article describes the UN report, which was produced by scientists around the word who work together as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as a warning that “another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies...If countries permit continued high emissions growth until 2030…the [atmospheric carbon] target will most likely be impossible to meet, at least without a hugely expensive crash program to rebuild the energy system, and even that might not work.”

Fifteen years. The Hewlett Foundation takes the urgency seriously. Our Environment Program has built its core funding strategies around this shrinking window of opportunity. We are keeping our eyes on the prize of reducing emissions from the world’s highest emitting countries and their highest-emitting sectors—electricity and transportation—as substantially and quickly as possible. This entails funding for work developing policy and technical solutions to reduce emissions, but also building the political and consumer will to adopt and deploy them.

CERES estimates that in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, current global investment in clean energy should double to $500 billion per year by 2020. For comparison--the cost to the US economy of just two storms--hurricanes Katrina and Sandy-- amounted to more than $175 billion. The costs of mitigation pale in comparison with the costs of global adaption. Investing in efforts that reduce emissions now is the most cost-effective way to address climate change and if we’re going to succeed, we’ll need vastly greater investment of these public, private, and philanthropic dollars.

Too many governments, companies, and foundations are spending too much on efforts to adapt to changes that are already occurring. Such changes, while undeniable, are minor compared to what will happen if we don’t reduce emissions quickly. The amount and expense of adapting to global warming later will be far higher—indeed, will dwarf what we are spending today—if we don't act to cut emissions within the short window of opportunity that remains.

This isn’t to say that any or all efforts to help communities adapt to what's happening now are a mistake. On the contrary, we should be seeking approaches that help us adapt to climate change that also serve to reduce emissions. But what matters most, what everyone needs to focus on now, is diminishing the amount of heat-trapping gases going into the atmosphere. Any other focus is just climbing up garbage piles while the walls continue closing in.

Like R2D2 and the trash compactor, more of us need to focus on addressing the root cause of the problem. Now, if only we had Yoda on staff…