How Natural Disasters Will Impact Year-End Giving

Flooding in Houston. Wildfires in Montana. Life-threatening winds in Florida.

There have been an extraordinary number of natural disasters this summer that have hit our communities hard.

Houston – one of the United States’ biggest cities – is suffering economically as it begins to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, which could end up being the costliest storm in US history.

Fires tearing across Montana are so intense that the air is dangerous to breath.

We don’t know the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma yet, but the impact will be enormous.

It’s also happening around the globe. Hurricane Irma obliterated one half of the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Monsoon rains in Southeast Asia have affected 41 million people, many of whom were already impoverished before having their entire material lives destroyed.

These events are inescapable, featured on the front page of all news websites and broadcasted to TV sets around the country by all the major networks.

Keep this in mind as your nonprofit gears up for year-end giving.

Each year, nonprofits compete for the nation’s generosity, participating in Giving Tuesday and rolling out carefully crafted campaigns to ensure that they have the resources they need to pursue their mission.

This year has already seen a surge in philanthropic giving resulting from the heated political environment, with legal and political groups benefiting the most. How this tends will affect the all-important year-end giving season is unclear. Have donors already maxed out their wallets?

The recent natural disasters will also inform how donors give. Humanitarian and basic needs organizations will be fundraising to help people reeling from these cataclysmic events, and the giving public – with horrific images and footage of the disasters in the forefront of their minds – could very well prioritize these organizations over other charities not directly involved in recovery efforts.

This could be among the most competitive year-end giving seasons in recent memory. The time to start cultivating messaging and strategy is now.

Paris Agreement Likely to Take Force This Year

(World leaders gather during COP21 talks last year)

Finally, some great news for the environment.

Dozens of nations have signed on to the Paris Agreement, bringing international action on climate change closer than ever to reality. The new signees come just after the United States and China – the world’s two largest carbon emitters – announced their intention to sign the agreement earlier this month.

The news came during this week’s UN gathering in New York City, where 31 countries formerly pledged to join the Paris Agreement. Also known as COP 21, the agreement was negotiated merely a year ago. Compare this lightening fast turn-around to the hurdles faced by the Kyoto Protocols – which took seven years to initiate – and the speed with which governments are moving to find common ground on climate change is, indeed, encouraging.

Among the nations that signed on this week, many rank high on the list of top polluters, including Brazil (5th largest polluter) and Mexico (13th largest polluter). Other states signing on this week include Albania, Honduras, Mongolia, The United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Morocco.

The fact that a total of 60 countries accounting for a full 48 percent of the entire world’s carbon emissions are now on board is a massive step for the international community in facing this existential threat. Now, all that remains is for additional signees accounting for a further 7 percent of the world’s carbon emissions to join before the agreement’s stipulations commence.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke about the historical nature of initializing the agreement:

This momentum is remarkable. It can sometimes take years or even decades for a treaty to enter into force… This is testament to the urgency of the crisis we all face.

There are, of course, the typical gamut of climate-deniers who would love nothing more than to scuttle the agreement. Republican presidential candidate and serial conspiracy theorist Donald Trump has – in perhaps one of the most absurd instances of conservative intransigence on this issue – claimed that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese government to derail US business interests.

His campaign has announced its intent to cancel the agreement should Trump win the November election. This, thankfully, is much more difficult than it sounds. Upon signing the agreement, a nation agrees to stringent protocols in the event that it chooses to leave the agreement. The process is so laborious that it would likely require more time than the lifespan of a potential Trump administration in order to successfully accomplish.

Nonetheless, forces hostile to the social good will continue trying to obstruct meaningful action on this paramount threat. Socially invested entrepreneurs, activists, and conscientious politicians need to keep up pressure on the Donald Trumps of the world in order to ensure maximum impact of green initiatives, for sake of all nations and future generations.

Camp Century: Abandoned US Base in Greenland Poses Radioactive Threat

(The Greenland Ice Sheet, home to Camp Century, an abandoned US base that could leak radioactive waste)

While certain political parties and public figures (here’s looking at you, Donald Trump) may dismiss the reality of climate change as a politically expedient ploy, the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion not only confirms its existence but has also furnished a sobering look at its longterm effects. From decreased water reserves threatening vulnerable populations to rising sea levels putting coastal cities underwater, climate change poses a number of threats to the social good across the globe.

In addition to the aforementioned macro-level threats, there are also regional particularities that tie directly to climate change. Take, for example, an abandoned US military base in Greenland that has recently garnered headlines for the cataclysmic danger it may pose in the future.

The base, named Camp Century, was built into the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1959 and deserted in 1967. Ostensibly a research station, the camp was additionally used as a potential nuclear launch site, chosen for its striking distance to the Soviet Union.

Camp Century Greenland Climate Change Key Elements Group
(The entrance to Camp Century, US Military Archives)

When the camp was decommissioned, the 200 US military personnel stationed there up and left, with official opinion holding that the encroaching ice would effectively seal off residual pollutants. While this policy may have worked out until now, shrinking glaciers in Greenland may release a host of dangerous materials that could result in an environmental catastrophe.

In a statement, climate scientist William Colgan described the situation:

When we looked at the climate simulations, they suggested that rather than perpetual snowfall, it seems that as early as 2090, the site could transition from net snowfall to net melt. Once the site transitions from net snowfall to net melt, it’s only a matter of time before the wastes melt out; it becomes irreversible.

The secret nuclear program at Camp Century – called Project Iceworm – also featured a nuclear reactor that powered the base and that has most certainly resulted in radioactive waste. Other harmful materials – including biological and chemical waste – also factor into the pollutants that could escape through melting ice.

Camp Century Climate Change Greendland Key Elements Group
(Image of Camp Century, US Military Archives)

To further complicate the situation, the responsibility for cleaning up this gargantuan mess is up in the air. The base was created and funded by the United States, but was approved by Denmark, then the colonial power in possession of Greenland. Nowadays, Greenland is an autonomous country.

The case of Camp Century, while high-profile, may not be entirely unique, as Colgan explains: ”Two generations ago, people were interring waste in different areas of the world, and now climate change is modifying those sites.”

As climate change progresses without a meaningful, united response from governments, agencies, and institutions around the world, threats like the one posed by Camp Century will proliferate. And, regardless of how effectively the world turns the tide on climate change, we now live in a reality where Camp Century and other toxic relics will inevitably require herculean efforts to control.

It’s just a matter of time.

Berlin Joins Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement

(The Berlin skyline)

The city of Berlin is doing its part to combat climate change, voting last week to purge the German capital’s pension fund of its investments in fossil fuels. Berlin’s parliament passed the legislation as part of the city’s long-term goal to become “climate neutral” by 2050.

The new policy will rid the $852.8 million fund of investments in RWE and E.ON – two German companies – as well as the French company Total.

Berlin joins a group of other Western cities acting as examples for the divestment movement, which looks to eliminate investments in dirty energy in order to lessen the financial incentive of investing in fossil fuels.

Other cities that have taken a similiar stand against dirty energy include Stockholm, Paris, Copenhagen, Oslo, Seattle, Portland, and Melbourne.

According to the activist nonprofit We Are Power Shift, a group that promotes divestment as a strategy for fighting climate change, the divestment movement

…started on university campuses, but has spread to cities, faith-based institutions, foundations, pension funds, and more, all over the world. Our goal is to diminish the influence and power of the fossil fuel industry in the market, our political system, and in the social conscience overall.

Christoph Meyer – a leading campaigner with Fossil Free Berlin – remarked on the Berlin parliament’s decision:

Berlin’s decision to blacklist fossil fuel companies is the latest victory for the divestment movement, which serves to remove the social license from companies whose business model pushes us into climate catastrophe. We will keep a close eye on the administration to make sure it upholds today’s commitment and urge the city to now take quick steps to break its reliance on coal power.

While there is debate about the effectiveness of divestment, advocates see it as a strategy to speed up the process through which investments become “stranded.” As public attention grows and support for regulation intensifies, the idea is for investors writ large to grow weary of such ventures due to the prospect of further diminishing profits.

As more of the world’s biggest urban centers jump on board, it’s safe to say that this push is gaining more-and-more momentum.

Ferguson Fails in HUD Grant Bid

(Ferguson, Missouri)

Ferguson, Missouri was not selected as a recipient for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding. The town – which became a national symbol for racial and economic inequality in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown – factored in as one of the 40 finalists for the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC). The grants offered by the program are designed to fund initiatives to make communities more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Missouri officials sought $38.3 million to “improve the economic resilience of citizens in North St. Louis County, so they are able to build assets and withstand the shocks and stressors that will inevitably come.” The funding represented an opportunity to implement infrastructure improvements in the economically depressed area.

The 12 grant recipients include: the state of California ($70.4 million), the state of Connecticut ($54.3 million), New Orleans ($141.3 million), the state of Iowa ($96.9 million), Minot, North Dakota ($74.3 million), the state of Louisiana ($92.6 million), Shelby County, Tennessee ($60.4 million), the state of New Jersey ($15 million), Springfield, Massachusetts ($17.1 million), the state of New York ($35.8 million), the state of Tennessee ($44.5 million), and the state of Virginia ($120.6 million).

The cash-strapped city recently made news as the Department of Justice and the Ferguson Police Department reached a deal on a number of reforms aimed to bolster community trust in the police, improve accountability, and promote diversity in the department’s corps of officers. Up until now, the city had only a few African-American police officers on its more than 50-strong police force. Ferguson’s population is 70 percent black. The deal will require officers to don body cameras and microphones within 180 days, and will mandate that the police force focus on more accurately reflecting the town’s racial makeup in its ranks.

COP21: A Historic Deal With Imperfections

Following the conclusion of the Paris climate talks – also known as COP21 – one word in particular has been used to describe the final agreement: “historic.”

Delegates from 196 nations agreed upon a final draft this past Saturday, following marathon talks that lasted two weeks. The primary goal was to construct a united plan of action to prevent global temperatures from rising by 2° Celsius, and to lower the amount of greenhouse emissions to levels that the earth’s oceans and forests can absorb by 2050.

As part of the agreement, signatories must rollback fossil fuel emissions and promote clean energy. They must also report United Nations commission every 5 years regarding their progress. Ban Ki-moon – the secretary general for the United Nations – described the agreement as a “monumental success for the planet and its people.” 

A number of issues, however, remain.

In a concession that may hamper the plan’s long-term success – the actual reduction targets are voluntary, as the UN lacks the authority to guarantee compliance. In order to meet goals, nations will have to make scores of difficult choices. While many businesses have been enthusiastic about the deal and have expressed a desire to be a part of the solution, the fossil fuel industry will not disappear overnight. Indeed, the United States still offers generous tax subsidies for fossil fuels. At the end of the day, governments are going to have to step up redirect these resources for investment in renewable sources of energy. This will in part require the assistance and work of NGOs and other nonprofit institutions.

Bill Gates has proposed a public-private research and development program that would address this problem head-on, hastening the construction of new, efficient, and clean energy sources. By banding together global health organizations, NGOs, private businesses, and governments, such a program would pool together the activism, knowledge, and wherewithal necessary to accomplish this hefty task.

Another problem is the gulf between the capacities of rich nations and developing nations. For many countries in the West, fossil fuels were foundational for their current state of development. There is a distinct disadvantage for developing nations foregoing dirty energy sources. In a highly-touted victory for poorer nations, the climate deal in Paris included a $100 billion aid package from wealthier nations designed to boost developing nations’ ability to pursue reduction targets. The deal also included the promise of more funds in the future.

Despite this concession, the final deal was a disappointment to those baring the brunt of climate change’s immediate effects. According to Leisha Beardmore, the chief negotiator from Seychelles, the United States prevented representatives from vulnerable island nations from recognizing the irreparable damage already wrought by global warming. “The idea of even discussing loss and damage now or in the future was off limits. The Americans told us it would kill the COP,” Beardmore told The Guardian. This, in effect, sweeps the moral and financial responsibility for land degradation under the rug. The United States, coincidently, is one of the two top emitters of the green house gases that have imperiled these nations.

Evidently, there are loose-ends and imperfections. But for the first time, the world collectively acknowledged the threat of climate change, an immensely important step in the right direction. This will ultimately make it more difficult for critics outside of the mainstream who still decry global warming as a hoax. It also means that nonprofits, public health workers, and NGOs fighting for a more secure, greener future will have a lot more work on their hands.

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