With climate chaos growing by the day, science and common sense dictate that the last thing our world can afford is more fossil fuel infrastructure. Yet U.S. oil and gas companies are still trying to launch new projects, whether they are pipelines or factories, often over objections from indigenous communities in the regions and other neighbors.
Opposition to such projects has long arisen outside formal organizations, often led by indigenous communities with limited support from external sources. But a slowly growing list of foundations is funding the groups and individuals who rally together to block these costly investments in the fossil fuel status quo.
Funders for these efforts include some of the largest philanthropic institutions, such as Bloomberg Philanthropies, with its support for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. Yet many much smaller foundations also play a key role, alongside individual donors. Their size allows them to be more flexible and responsive in funding rapidly evolving movements, typically with a focus on grassroots and Indigenous-led resistance. The network of groups funding efforts to oppose the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota is a case in point.
I spoke with leaders of the Swift, Panta Rhea and Kataly foundations to learn more about how they got started in this area of fundraising and the groups they support. With assets ranging from under $ 20 million to over $ 400 million, this trio of progressive philanthropists offers case studies of how these funders approach this area.
“There is something really valuable and unique about how small entities can actually move faster and do more creative things because the level of bureaucracy, hierarchy and backlog just for education, discussion and treatment can be a much simpler process, ”said Connie Malloy, CEO of the Panta Rhea Foundation.
It’s a decent-sized piece of climate philanthropy. The ClimateWorks Foundation estimates that foundations spent an average of $ 115 million per year between 2015 and 2020 to challenge the development of fossil fuels, from targeting pipelines to tackling coal-fired power plants, nearly half of that amount. being spent in the United States. This funding represented approximately 9% of total climate change mitigation philanthropy during this period.
This could be considered a relatively large share, with Bloomberg’s campaign likely making up a substantial portion of the total. By comparison, another vital sector, transportation, receives an average of just $ 50 million per year, according to ClimateWorks analysis. Yet, as oil companies and fossil fuel interests have blocked any meaningful climate action for decades, the urgency to end the use of oil and gas and the multiple approvals for continued extraction by an otherwise climate-friendly president, the directly opposing industry deserves as much attention as the development of alternatives.
Let’s take a closer look at these three.
Suzanne Benally spent a decade leading a nonprofit, Cultural Survival, but had never worked in philanthropy other than as a consultant before being hired as the executive director of that foundation. based in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2020.
“It is certainly, as an indigenous person, a very difficult position and world,” said Benally, who is Navajo and Santa Clara Tewa. “In many ways, this contradicts so many of your values and who you are. “
The arrival of Benally launched Swift into a year of redefinition. As the foundation’s learning continues, a priority that emerged was to ground itself in an Indigenous understanding of the world, guided by relationships with Indigenous leaders and communities. Opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure was a clear adjustment.
“Any kind of extractive industry is truly a violation of Mother Earth. And it’s also a violation of the indigenous peoples who live in this kind of deep relationship with Mother Earth, ”Benally told me.
Swift, which had an endowment of $ 65 million in 2020, awarded $ 4.5 million in grants that year, up from around $ 3 million in previous years. Recipients in this area include Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization led by renowned Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke, the Canada-based Indigenous Climate Action non-profit, and two key networks of environmental justice groups, Climate Justice Alliance and Indigenous Environmental Network.
Such funding is nothing new for the foundation. Benally said Swift has always taken a “holistic” view that sees the world as a series of concentric circles, with direct action being one of many approaches required. The foundation’s commitments are long-term. Each grantee can renew their grant through a process to reduce burdens on grantees.
Panta Rhéa Foundation
One of the first grants ever awarded by this La Jolla, Calif.-Based foundation was awarded to a campaign against the privatization of a community water source in the Mojave Desert. It gave the foundation’s founding board and donors a crucial and lasting lesson about the power of grassroots activism that ultimately shaped personal family giving, CEO Connie Malloy told me.
Today, Panta Rhea supports a wide range of opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure. He helped buy land to block construction projects. He funded opposition to bills that restrict activists. In 2017, he supported the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. He also plays the classic role of funder and organizer, supporting efforts to bring rights groups together.
But it doesn’t work on its own. The foundation’s work in this area is often done in partnership with other members of the Solidarity Network, a group of donors that has played a key role in organizing individual and institutional donors to fund opposition to fuel infrastructure. fossils. (The network’s executive director, Rajasvini Bhansali, also sits on the board of the Swift Foundation.) For Panta Rhea, whose team consists of four grant staff, the collaboration has been a key source of information. , resources and funding relationships, Malloy said.
Panta Rhea’s grant recipients in this space include two well-known climate justice intermediaries, the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund and The Solutions Project. Indigenous-led groups have been a primary focus of its funding, with support from the NDN Collective, an indigenous-led group whose work includes advocacy, impact investing, and community projects. ‘clean energy. The foundation also supported communication and organizational campaigns through the CLIMA Fund.
Panta Rhea’s grants reached $ 8 million in 2020, its highest level to date. The foundation has traditionally given 16% to 20% of its assets each year, but that doesn’t tell the full story of its work, as the staff also help with founders’ personal donations, according to Malloy.
His next frontier? Malloy would like to see more funders and donors – within the Panta Rhea network, Solidaire and beyond – leverage their relationships with decision makers, whether it’s picking up the phone or striking up a conversation the next time. social gathering. Put their power and privilege to work, in other words, and thus broaden the set of levers that philanthropy uses.
“Not all funders and donors are comfortable going in this direction, or embracing[e] but there are some interesting experiments going on, ”Malloy said. “My brief experience in this world is that giving charitable grants is very separate from these sets of relationships, and yet if we’re really going to come a long way at that level… I think we’re all ready to appeal to the huge range of political actors and the social capital that we have is really important.
This San Francisco-based foundation is both the newest and largest donor of the three featured here, with an endowment of $ 403 million. Backed by Regan Pritzker, an heir to the fortune of the Hyatt hotel chain, Kataly launched her Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective in its second year.
The arrival of COVID saw the new foundation roll out a list of one-time rapid response grants to environmental justice groups in 2020, but last year it finalized a list of 78 beneficiaries it intended to support long-term. Opposition to fossil fuel infrastructure is a cause, but not a single goal. Like Kataly’s larger work, the focus of the portfolio is intersectional and emphasizes funding local activists in frontline communities.
“The fight against fossil fuels is about both the direct fight against pollution and the development of pipelines, but also support for organizations that invest in the new type of infrastructure that is regenerative, sustainable, that supports life”, said Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of the foundation, who has been in the post for just over a year.
About six of Kataly’s grant recipients work directly on infrastructure opposed to fossil fuels, Agbo said. Like his peers, these include several Indigenous groups, including the Native Organizers Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and the Native Movement. Kataly has also funded groups working on fossil fuel and water issues beyond the continental United States, such as the Hawai’i Unity and Liberation Institute.
It also supports local groups, such as the Richmond Our Power Coalition, in its efforts to ensure that the Bay Area City’s Chevron Refinery is accountable to the community. State and national groups, including Communities for a Better Environment and Climate Justice Alliance, are also part of this work.
Perhaps more importantly, the Environmental Justice Resourcing Collective grants were not awarded by program officers or Kataly’s board of directors. Instead, the foundation recruited nine environmental justice leaders, all women of color, who chose the recipient organizations. Members include regrantor leaders like Gloria Walton of The Solutions Project and Vanessa Daniel of Groundswell Fund, and nonprofit leaders like Enei Begaye of Native Movement and Tania Rosario Mendez of Taller Salud.
Like Swift, the approach is also long term. Kataly, which has granted approximately $ 41 million in the past year, has pledged to invest nearly $ 6.4 million annually in this portfolio for the next five years.
“When we talk about what it takes to win, what does it take to make us dream big,” it is essential to “remove the issue of resources,” Agbo said. “What we do know is that in order to solve these big existential problems, we have to rejuvenate ourselves accordingly.”