Don’t Let “Foundation Perpetuity" Stand in the Way of Planet Perpetuity (If It’s Not Already Too Late)

posted on: December 7, 2012

Humanity’s capacity to hold opposing thoughts or beliefs – to experience cognitive dissonance – and then to seek to resolve that dissonance by adjusting or downplaying dissonant ideas, may have allowed people to endure many terrible circumstances over the centuries, like famine and war. But this ability to resolve discordant views of reality may well lead us to our extinction.

Direct evidence as well as the predictions of climate scientists tell us that our planet may no longer be able to support life within the next fifty years. That’s right. My own child may not be given the chance to die of old age.

Yet, at the 18th U.N. climate change summit currently taking place in Doha, Qatar, there are no signs of a serious commitment to deal with this by our own government.

It may or may not be too late to undo the damage of rising temperatures. We are already experiencing worldwide droughts, which will result in acute food shortages. An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the U.S. completely dissolved this year. Methane levels are rising dramatically as permafrost melts, which will further accelerate the rise in temperature. Once oceans are six degrees warmer, all the phytoplankton living in them will die, and we will lose the source of 50 percent of the oxygen produced on Earth.

Even an avowed climate change skeptic who set up his own nonprofit to independently examine all the data (funded by Charles Koch, no less!) concluded that (a) the planet’s temperature has indeed risen; (b) human emission of greenhouse gases is the cause; and (c) temps will continue to rise steadily to dangerous levels in the next 20-50 years. (Perhaps his findings explain why Koch only funded Phase 1 but not Phase 2 of the organization’s work.) 

Yet, most Americans refuse to hear and see this evidence. It’s too inconceivable to even contemplate. So we rationalize in myriad ways. “We can technologically innovate our way out of these problems.” “I live in a first world country; it’s the third world that will be most affected by climate change.” “The data are just wrong.” “This issue won’t affect me or my children. Future generations will have to deal with it.”  “I can’t do anything anyway. It’s up to the politicians.” “There are more pressing issues right now, like poverty, discrimination, unemployment, AIDS, [insert your priority concern here].”

I am just as guilty as anyone of blinding myself to the likelihood of our collective demise. But I have to accept that I cannot recycle and Prius-drive my way out of this mess. 

It’s time to wake up to the painful reality. If we do not act NOW, we may not have the opportunity to act later. If you are a foundation trustee or CEO, here’s a question for you: What use is the concept of “foundation perpetuity” if there are no living creatures left on the planet to benefit from your money? You say you are saving your corpus for future generations. Ha. Those future generations need your resources now, and they need you to direct them toward the imperative of radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Otherwise those future generations will never be born.

Climate change trumps all other issues, and it will only exacerbate them. Homelessness. Hunger. Health Care. Education. Human Rights. Whatever issue, population or geographic area your foundation or organization cares about will (a) be worse off as global warming continues to wreak havoc; and (b) will become completely irrelevant once we are extinct.

What can you do?
1.    Read Bill McKibben’s stark July 2012 Rolling Stone article, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math. Share it with everyone you know.
2.    Call an emergency meeting of your board of directors and make a radical (but logical) decision: to redirect existing resources and/or direct new money from your corpus explicitly for the purpose of reducing carbon emissions. There is no silver bullet, but if we do not use all means at our disposal to quickly reduce greenhouse gases, say goodbye to life on earth.
3.    Tap into and support grassroots local, national and international movements (see Cultivating the Grassroots for some examples). There will be other important ways to spend your money, to help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change and help our economies and societies adapt to a new ecological world order, but first things first: emissions reduction.
4.    Divest from any financial holdings that include fossil fuel companies. (See Wednesday’s NY Times article about the burgeoning student movement to get universities to divest from fossil fuel companies, modeled on the successful 1980s movement that got colleges to divest from South Africa.)
5.    Use your bully pulpit to exhort your peers to take bold action also. We cannot sugar coat what lies ahead. To radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions will mean we all suffer in the shorter term (the poor and communities of color are already suffering more deeply the consequences of global warming), but it’s the only way humans and other species can hope to survive into the next century. If enough persuasive people step up and speak the truth, perhaps our political leaders will realize they need to speak the truth as well, and make tough, unpopular decisions.

Do you want to look back in just five or ten years and say “Wow, now it’s too late. Why didn’t we act when we had the chance?”

Lisa Ranghelli is the director of NCRP’s Grantmaking for Community Impact Project.