On a recent trip to Trinidad and Tobago to discuss sustainable tourism, I was appalled to learn that entire villages had disappeared due to the rising sea level. On another trip to Alaska, I could see the melting icebergs, which is one of the causes of the sea level rise in the Caribbean. As I witnessed, the effects of climate change are becoming alarmingly visible. According to the recent article Evidence of Rapid Climate Change, scientists from 48 countries have verified that the past decade has been the warmest on record. They also noted that Greenland is losing 200 billion tons of ice every year, and due to the rise of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, the oceans are becoming more acidic, leading many ecosystems into unknown territories. (Evidence of Rapid Climate Change, Every Thing Connects, 2014).
Although environmental protection is a highly controversial issue among politicians, the Obama administration unveiled the “Clean Power Plan”. Under the plan, the administration will require states to meet specific carbon emission reduction standards based on their individual energy consumption. According to the administration, “The plan also includes an incentive program for states to get a head start on meeting standards on early deployment of renewable energy and low-income energy efficiency.” Even before the program was officially announced, some states unveiled plans to fight it. On another front, a multi-million dollar campaign backed by the energy industry has sought to discredit the science behind climate change.
While political debates continue to stall, scientists and researchers are making strides to implement change. Scientific research is being funded by such federal agencies as the National Science Foundation on the domestic front, and the US Agency for International Development on the international level. Key examples of public and private funding for environmental progress are listed below.
The National Science Foundation (NSF)
The NSF has various initiatives that fund environmental research such as the Environmental Sustainability Program, intended to promote sustainable engineered systems that support human well-being. Research efforts supported by the program typically consider long term outlooks and may incorporate contributions from the social sciences and ethics. The program also focuses on balancing society’s need to provide ecological protection while maintaining stable economic conditions. The four programs funded are Industrial Ecology, Green Engineering, Ecological Engineering and Earth Systems Engineering.
Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Global stewardship is the emphasis of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Supported projects are ecologically based, economically sound, socially just, culturally appropriate, and consistent with intergenerational equity. The Fund encourages partnerships between the public and private sectors. Recognizing the global nature of many environmental problems, the Fund also promotes international cooperation in addressing environmental challenges.
The MacArthur Foundation
Recently the MacArthur Foundation announced 15 grants totaling more than $4.2 million in support of conservation and sustainable development in the southern Tropical Andes. Often referred to as the “global epicenter of biodiversity”, this region is also the primary source of fresh water in South America, holding 90 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers. As climate change and development present a growing threat to the region’s diverse ecosystems, new grants invest in research, policies, and practices that advance sustainable development and prudent stewardship of resources.
Charles Steward Mott Foundation
The Charles Steward Mott Foundation supports programs that improve the social and environmental accountability of those investing in large-scale infrastructure and energy projects in developing countries. This work includes a focus on the investment patterns of emerging economies, particularly of Brazil and China, whose financial institutions are becoming major lenders for emerging economies.
The Kresge Foundation focuses its program funding on climate change that impacts communities. They invest in three primary areas:
- Regions that have strong potential to serve as models for climate resilience in coastal cities and low-income communities.
- Sustainable water resources and urban energy resilience programs are also their focus of support.
- Activities that develop and disseminate promising climate-resilience approaches.
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
The cornerstone of Hewlett Foundation grants is to protect the environment. This commitment is achieved by efforts to engage in complex environmental problems at home and abroad, from creating new Bay Area parks to shifting to clean energy in the United States, Europe, China, and India. Through its Environment Program funding, the Foundation pursues goals that are designed to guard the environment for future generations, improve ecological integrity, understand the effects of global climate change, develop clean energy, and reduce environmental problems.
While unveiling the Clean Power Plan, Obama said: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” How we move forward and how we succeed in creating the needed paradigm shifts will depend on many complex factors. Obama has taken a bold step toward making an impact. Funding agencies, whether federal or private, are increasingly stepping up to the plate. Nevertheless, as the funding agencies listed above have acknowledged, much more still needs to be done.
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