Watercolor by Maisie Richards & Lokotah Sanborn, Creative Wildfire project.
Dear Climate Funders,
We are living through a time of immense and escalating challenges. We are in a decade of crisis, collapse, and transition that holds intertwined volatility, conflict, and unpredictability. Simultaneous to the cruel and unrelenting realities of climate, pandemic, politics, social unrest, and war, there are also beautiful possibilities fueled by radical imagination for a better world. This is our profound common experience.
As Co-Directors of Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), a US based, member-led organization of 82 urban and rural grassroots organizations and support networks in the climate justice movement, we draw inspiration from the words of acclaimed author Arundhati Roy — “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” We know this change to be true because we get to see it every day. Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis — those impacted first and worst by climate change, environmental racism, and other systemic injustices — are leading this transformation. Their visions for locally-based, globally-connected solutions to the climate crisis are moving us away from the dig, burn, dump economy and toward alternatives that cool the planet, such as community-controlled renewable energy and relocalized food systems. Steeped in decades-long legacies of fighting against the very industries that are driving climate change, they are fighting for future visions of healthy people, communities, and environments.
CJA members, allies, and their communities are leading Just Transition projects — scalable and replicable climate solutions that center equity and move us toward local living economies. These projects are grounded in science that directs us to keep fossil fuels in the ground and technologies that are proven to reduce emissions and/or draw down carbon — from Black women-led food sovereignty projects in the Mid-Atlantic and on the West Coast; to community-owned solar and offshore wind projects in the Northeast; to Latinx-led feminist economy projects in the Southwest; to emerging worker-owner cooperative models, like a Black-owned natural building company in the MidAtlantic and an Indigenous-owned cooperative farm in the Pacific Northwest; to BIPOC-led non-extractive finance models.
Frontline communities are also leading the fight for policies that protect public health and direct public resources to their communities for innovative climate solutions, such as the nation’s strongest environmental justice law passed in New Jersey in 2020, and a local law in Portland, Oregon, passed in 2018, which levies a surcharge on billion-dollar corporations to fund renewable energy programs. This is just a glimpse of powerful, effective, frontline-led solutions and policy wins that we’ve seen in the last few years alone.
And yet, while frontline groups are realizing this vision of a fairer, greener future, their organizations receive a stunningly small share of climate funding.
At the same time, and with increasing frequency, we hear movement language — “environmental justice,” “climate justice,” “just transition” — appropriated without proper context or true understanding in many spaces, from philanthropy and finance to media, academia, and government. These are more than words for frontline communities whose lived experience is the foundation of the frameworks and principles that back up these concepts. We know that the brilliance and wisdom of Indigenous, Black, Brown, and other frontline communities (which are predominantly communities of color) resonates on a large scale. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the signs are all around. But mimicry without recognition and resourcing of the originating visionaries’ solutions quickly becomes cooptation, which threatens to undermine frontline-led progress already challenged by a crushing lack of funding.
It is time to correct historically harmful relationships and power imbalances with each other and Mother Earth. In that spirit, we invite you to join us for a Climate Justice Crash Course for Funders — a journey centered on Climate Justice learning and action in 2022.
This invitation is designed to elevate and respond to the injustices of the past and present, and ground us in a visionary, regenerative, and just future. This crash course will support you on this path in the following ways:
- Understand your relationship to social movements: Movements are ecosystems of people, organizations, and formations. In the climate justice movement, we are committed to climate action grounded in justice — from frontline leaders blocking pipelines to worker-owned cooperatives developing new economic models to communities organizing to design and build regenerative economies that center equity and protect the environment. 2022 is the year to deepen your understanding of Environmental Justice, Climate Justice, and Just Transition, with frontline leaders as your guides.
- Move significant money and resources to grassroots organizations, at an accelerated rate: Grassroots organizations — those built of, by, for, and directly accountable to frontline communities — are chronically and severely underfunded. As more money moves toward climate action from new and seasoned foundations, corporations, individuals, and government, this giving must align with justice. At this point, we cannot rely on any climate approach that maintains the dig, burn, dump economy and that does not address the root causes of the climate crisis. Now is the time to invest in innovative, proven, grassroots-led climate solutions — both domestically and globally — at the scale needed to create transformative change. Grassroots-led climate solutions are replicable, scalable, in motion, and ready for investment.
- Align your commitment to equity and justice with your grantmaking and investment practices: We cannot solve the climate crisis with approaches that do not center equity, systemic change, and living within the boundaries of ecological limits. Science has shown us that we must keep fossil fuels in the ground; and we know that unproven geoengineering technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration, can be perilous. We invite you to engage with Climate Justice Alliance members and partners to learn about their opposition to false climate promises and their work to advance frontline-led climate solutions that deploy science and technology while centering equity and well-being. Learn from frontline leaders about the strength and interconnection between social movements in the U.S. and those in the Global South; and how very little of climate philanthropy is moved outside the U.S., further consolidating wealth and power.
- Rethink philanthropy’s relationship with frontline communities and grassroots organizations: There is no time like the present to reckon with the roots of philanthropy, the source and the impacts of the wealth held by individuals and foundations, and the investment strategies that generate profit to keep foundations going and growing. In most cases, wealth held by foundations today was extracted from frontline communities through exploited labor, devastation of ecological systems and community health, and manipulation of our democracy and laws. We encourage philanthropic institutions to embrace and reflect deeply on the complex dimensions and contradictions of philanthropy, from its intrinsic connection to the extractive economy to its reformist fixes that stymie transformation and contribute to inequality. Consider what real steps you can take toward sharing decision-making power to return capital to frontline communities through building trust, practicing humility and reciprocity, and leaning into inquiry and learning. Are your grantmaking and investment practices and your long-term plans for your endowment aligned with the compounding crises of our times? And, do they truly align with and put into action “love of humanity” — the root of the word “philanthropy”?
Remember: transition is inevitable, justice is not. Environment and climate funding practices that do not center frontline communities and grassroots organizations have not created the large-scale, systemic shifts we need to respond to the interlinked crises of our time. What actionable steps can you take to change that? We invite you to engage in dialogue with frontline leaders; learn from the distinct, embodied knowledge and expertise they bring; and follow their lead toward transformations that build new, equitable systems to combat climate change and build local, living, regenerative economies that benefit us all.
In gratitude and solidarity,
Ozawa Bineshi Albert, Monica Atkins, & Marion Gee
Co-Executive Directors of the Climate Justice Alliance