Wednesday, June 30, 2010

National Public Radio Covers the Gulf Oil Spill

As we move into month three of the Gulf oil spill, the Foundation continues to watch the continuing and intensive coverage of this serious crisis. The Foundation has been particularly attuned to National Public Radio’s environmental coverage over the past few months.

NPR has been on the story 24/7, with two reporters and one producer in the Gulf at all times, and additional reporters, editors, producers and digital media staff rotating into the Gulf or working from other locations. Its coverage comes out of NPR’s National desk, as well as from its science, economics and investigative units, and it has reported well over 300 stories on social, economic, political and environmental issues related to the spill, most on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, with 13 and 12 million weekly listeners respectively. In sum, they are bringing the full force of NPR’s broadcast and digital power to bring the American public this story.

NPR’s science correspondent Richard Harris was the first to cast serious doubts on BP’s characterization of how bad the spill was. Harris not only broke the news that the oil is leaking at rates ten times greater than official estimates, but his story has also made a difference in the tone and substance of the federal response, and has contributed to the establishment a government-appointed task force of scientists whose job is to come up with a more definitive figure of the amount of oil that has spilled. Here is Richard Harris with a recent update on the rate of the spill.

Yuki Noguchi, one of NPR’s business correspondents, brought home the complexity of the situation with this moving piece about the owners of a franchise gas station, who are paying the price for BP affiliation. And here’s more of Noguchi’s coverage of small businesses with a link to her story this morning on Morning Edition how business is melting away for Gulf Coast ice houses.

You can also take a look at this story by NPR’s veteran science correspondent Elizabeth Shogren on how the spill is affecting sea turtles in the Gulf. Or this in-depth discussion on Talk of the Nation on how to put a price on BP’s responsibility for reparations. There is so much exceptional coverage, and it can all be accessed on

At NPR, they are reaching beyond its current dedicated resources to bring the public the depth and breadth of this story.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Climate Experts Talk Tipping Points

A recent survey published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal asked 14 of the world's top climate scientists what they think the next 200 years have in store for planet Earth. Complete agreement on future scenarios was neither reached nor expected, but the group agreed on one point: at current "business as usual" rates of greenhouse gas emissions, the globe will exceed the worst-case-scenario proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its last Assessment Report. Work is currently underway on the IPCC's fifth report, due out in the fall of 2014.

The PNAS survey measures the level of consensus within the climate science community, which has weathered a tough year. (Both Climategate and increasing numbers of skeptics have undermined public response to the threats of climate change.) Science, by nature, is never 100 percent certain about anything, but the survey shows a clear trend among the top researchers working on climate. All agreed the Earth is approaching a tipping point at which significant shifts in the way our climate system functions will be both inevitable and irreversible. Within the next 100 years, the scientists agreed, the globe's average temperature will reach levels we have not seen in the past 10,000 years, around the time human culture became agrarian.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere has now reached about 380 parts per million -- that's about 100 ppm higher than before the Industrial Revolution. According to Dr. Myles Allen, a climate researcher who participated in the survey, our current emissions trajectory will take us to an inevitable height of 1,000 ppm by 2200. Although sobering, there is at least some hope to be found in this dire prediction:

"The emissions that commit you to 1000 ppm in the year 2200 actually occur mostly over the next 50 years," Allen said. "The emissions decisions we make over the next 50 years commit us to the climate we're going to have to deal with (in) 150 years time -- that's the point."

Scientists agree that even if we stopped all global emissions today, the planet would still continue to warm since emissions and temperature, while linked, do not rise simultaneously. (One of the best analogies I've heard was in a lecture by James White, Director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and professor at the University of Colorado. White compared greenhouse gas emissions and temperature to two prisoners handcuffed together. Ghgs run forward, and yank lagging temperature ahead.)

The good news in Allen's statement is that it is not yet too late to make some positive change. While future warming is inevitable, a 1,000 ppm future is simply unacceptable. It can be prevented, but only if nations work together -- now -- to intelligently and deliberately craft climate policy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Environment Grants Awarded in June 2010

At its June 2010 Board Meeting last week, The Overbrook Foundation's Environment Program awarded $745,000 in grants to 15 organizations in the categories of Latin American Biodiversity Conservation, Sustainable Production and Consumption, and Public TV, Radio and Other Media. Eleven are either renewals or from organizations previously funded, and four are from organizations new to Overbrook. See Elizabeth's last post for a description of the Human Rights Program's grantmaking at the June meeting.

For its work supporting Latin American Biodiversity Conservation, the Foundation awarded $325,000 in grants. Organizations awarded were: Earthworks, for its campaign to clean up destructive mining practices; Ecosystem Sciences Foundation, for its Payment for Watershed Services program in Mexico, Environmental Investigation Agency for its continued work in forest governance; Fundacion Cordillera Tropical for its community conservation work in Ecuador; Pronatura Noroeste A.C. for its campaign to stop an environmentally destructive tourist development in Mexico; Rainforest Action Network for its continued work protecting tropical forests and acting as watchdog of large corporations.

For its Sustainable Production and Consumption work, the Foundation awarded $330,000. Organizations awarded were: Borealis Centre for Environment and Trade Research, for its work conducting research and providing strategy for environmental organizations waging corporate campaigns; Clean Production Action for its work providing safer options to the electronics industry; Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, for its work building a Zero-Waste city; Product Stewardhsip Institute, Inc., for its campaign to help consumers opt-out of phone book deliveries; Root Capital, for its work providing loans to small businesses promoting conservation in Ecuador and Mexico; the Tides Center for the Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption; Urban Green, the New York chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Environment Program also supported, frequently referenced in this blog for its wry and incisive reporting on environmental issues, and NPR for its environmental content, a joint grant with the Human Rights Program.

Of course all descriptions above are extremely brief and hardly do these great organizations and projects justice! Follow the links to learn more about them, or click here to be directed to The Overbrook Foundation web site.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Reactions to President Obama's Speech

Updates on Environment Program June 2010 grants are to come!

But for the day after President Obama's speech on the oil spill in the Gulf, I thought it best to post a short listing of reactions in the media. In the address, the President linked the spill to the two wars we are fighting overseas, referred to a nation-wide "addiction to fossil fuels," and called for more investment in renewable energy. Some critics thought he was too reserved, others felt he used the spill as an excuse to promote his new energy policy. The only consistency among the reactions was that no one seemed completely pleased.

David Roberts of Grist, an Overbrook grantee, agreed with many environmentalists that Obama was not specific enough in his plans for clean-up and future energy solutions. But one triumph that many overlooked, Roberts said, was Obama's omission of nuclear, domestic drilling and "clean" coal as part of the energy-mix coneversation. In past speeches, the President has included these as part of our energy future. This time, he emphasized renewables and energy efficiency, perhaps hinting toward a sharper shift in the way we define "clean" and "independent" energy. Read Roberts' post here, along with responses from Grist readers.

The Huffington Post was less positive. Look here for their take, along with links to other opinions, media outlets, and a full transcript and video of the speech.

Look here for an LA Times conglomeration of Senators' Twitter comments during the speech.

Click here to access the New Orleans Times-Picayune, with updates on the spill from their own backyards.

Human Rights Grants Awarded In June 2010

Last week on Wednesday, the Overbrook Foundation held its June 2010 Board Meeting and approved approximately $1.4 million in its Environment and Human Rights Program. I’m going to blog today about some of the organizations that the Foundation looks forwarded to partnering with in next year from its Human Rights Program.

In support of its Human Rights work, the Board approved 15 grants under the categories of domestic human rights, international human rights, reproductive rights, LGBT rights and movement building. Eleven of the proposals were for continued support of existing organizations or projects previously supported by the Foundation.

In its International Human Rights work, the Foundation awarded grants to four organizations: WITNESS for promoting video advocacy in the Americas, Human Rights Center for its International Human Rights Fellows Programs, Human Rights First for protecting human rights defenders in Latin America, and Conectas, for enhancing access to justice for vulnerable groups in Brazil. The total amount awarded was $175,000.

Under its Gender Rights Program, the Foundation also awarded a total of $165,000 in grants to International Planned Parenthood, Freedom to Marry, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and a first time grant to Search for Common Ground.

In the Domestic Human Rights category, the Board awarded a total of $240,000 in grants. Recipients include The Innocence Project, Breakthrough, a first time grant to the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and The Public Interest Projects for the US Human Rights Fund.

In its Movement Building category, Overbrook awarded three grants totaling $100,000; grants were awarded to the American Constitution for Law and Policy, a first time grant for the nonprofit news organization Mother Jones for reporting on domestic human rights and a renewal grant to The Women’s Media Center.

Lastly, there was also a shared grant between the Environment and Human Rights Program to National Public Radio for their continued coverage of environmental and human rights issues on NPR News.

In total, the Human Rights Program awarded $710,000 in grants in June. If you’re interested in seeing a complete list of grants awarded by the Foundation in 2010 (as well amount awarded), please click here, which will take you to our website.

In the next few days Samantha will blog about some of the grants awarded from the Foundation’s Environment program, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

WITNESS Video on Elder Abuse on Link TV - Tonight!

WITNESS’ recent video, “An Age of Justice: Confronting Elder Abuse in America” - supported in part by the Overbrook Foundation - will broadcast on Link TV starting tonight –Tuesday, June 15th, at 8:30pm EST.

The film is a joint effort of WITNESS and its partner the National Council on Aging (NCOA) to empower older Americans and others who care about them to speak out against elder abuse in the U.S. It also marks a significant advocacy success. The film's screenings on Capitol Hill played a role in our Federal government’s signing the Elder Justice Act (EJA) into law as part of the comprehensive health reform legislation in March!

It is estimated that as many as five million Americans aged 65 or older have suffered abuse of some sort, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. Elder abuse cuts across gender, social, racial, ethnic, economic and geographic lines but, unlike with child abuse and domestic violence, there has been no Federal legislation to protect our oldest citizens until passage of the EJA.

“An Age of Justice” features moving stories of elder abuse recorded by video advocates across the U.S. In addition to Link TV’s nationwide broadcast on television and on its website,, WITNESS and NCOA have launched an awareness-raising initiative, with community-based organizations and senior centers across the country hosting screenings. Visit for more information.

Make sure to watch (or set your DVR)!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making Philanthropy More Participatory

Note: This is a cross posting. The original post was written for the Communications Network and can be found here.

Last week I attended the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum. The event, which is held every year in New York City, is one of the leading conferences dedicated to exploring technology’s impact on politics, government, and society. Individual presentations, conversations, and panel discussions focus on different ways technology is (or should be) opening government, electoral politics -- and even the nonprofit world -- to provide more opportunities for citizen participation.

A Friday afternoon session, “Philanthropy 2.0: How Foundations are Opening Up and Innovating,” explored how some foundations, especially newer ones, are making efforts to engage more of the public, as well as their grantees, in their work. The panel featured Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, (full disclosure, she’s my mother) Kari Saratovsky, vice president of Social Innovation at The Case Foundation and Stacy Donohue, director of investments at Omidyar Network (ON). It was also moderated by Chris Gates, executive director of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement.

Because it's such a new term, Philanthropy 2.0 may not be that well understood (yet) by many in the philanthropic community, so this panel provided a great opportunity to begin introducing it to a wider audience. For those who haven’t heard of this before, I’ll run down some of the basics. In its simplest terms, Philanthropy 2.0 refers to the “democratization of philanthropy,” including providing opportunities for individuals to participate in decisions about how foundations allocate resources. The term also underscores a belief in and commitment to increased transparency and a desire for greater partnerships among foundations themselves and the organizations in which they invest.

Each of the presenters talked about some of the ways their organizations were implementing elements of Philanthropy 2.0. For example, Sunlight publishes all its grant awards and provides information about organizations it receives funding from on the foundation's website. The Case Foundation's Saratovsky discussed how foundations can democratize philanthropy through challenges, competitions, and what also might be called "crowd sourcing." ON's Donohue told the audience that Omidyar regards the organizations its supports more as “partners" than grantees. As a result, along with its grantmaking, the foundation focuses on the sustainability, value and scale of these partner organizations.

After the panel, it hit me: Philanthropy 2.0 is all about communication. Whether it's how foundations can be more open with the public, or with the organizations they support, communication is key to doing those things well. It also became obvious to me that you cannot have Philanthropy 2.0 unless your communications are clear, effective, and honest. Thus, as foundation communicators, we have a central role to play in ensuring the Philanthropy 2.0 becomes the norm in our organizations. We can also play an important role helping implement new communications technologies that make it easier for foundations to operate more openly and to invite more people to participate in their work. And while we might find it easy to use these tools, we have to be sensitive that some of our non-communications colleagues may need a little more time to get used to them and figure out how they can best apply them to their work.

None of this is will be accomplished fast or easily. As one audience member asked during the question and answer session: "How do established foundations see Philanthropy 2.0, and how likely are they to begin adopting this new way of thinking and acting?" The ultimate answer to that question depends to some degree on what we, as communicators, do to help keep the spotlight on the benefits of working in these new ways and encouraging more discussion about this topic within our organizations.

I'm ready for Philanthropy 2.0. How about you?

Monday, June 7, 2010

New York to Mandate E-Waste Recycling

Governor Paterson has signed legislation requiring producers of electronic waste to collect and recycle their products, making New York the 23rd state to pass an e-waste recycling law. The new law, effective April 1st 2011, will require manufacturers to recycle amounts proportional to what they produce, based on a three-year sales average. Producers will also be required to report on their progress annually to the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Although New York has been slow to adopt an e-waste law, the new legislation was built on successes of the 22 other states already on board. Kate Sindig of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a current Overbrook grantee the Environment Program has supported for work on e-waste legislation, called the new law "arguably the most progressive electronics recycling law in the country." Read Kate's post on the NRDC staff blog here.

Products covered under the law include TVs, computers, keyboards, cables, mice and printers. Taxpayers and municipalities will not only be relieved of the financial burden of collecting and recycling electronics, but amounts of toxic chemicals and metals that leach into waterways when electronics are trashed will also be reduced. Putting the end-of-life responsibility back on producers is also expected to clean up the materials they use to make the electronics in the first place. And starting January 1, 2015, it will be illegal for consumers in New York to throw electronics in landfills.

Many manufacturers would like to see a federal law as opposed to a patchwork of rules governing e-waste in different states. But as more states sign on, momentum will surely build toward more comprehensive legislation. With 23 states in, we're almost halfway there!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Culture or Science to Prevent Disaster?

As we enter the sixth week of oil gushing unfettered into the Gulf of Mexico, some scientists and sociologists are asking how we (BP executives and Minerals Management Services employees who ignored safety warnings and consumers of petroleum alike) allowed this disaster to happen in the first place. Surely all of us, some more explicitly than others, anticipated the dangers of drilling at such unprecedented depths. And because of our addiction to gas-powered vehicles and petroleum-based products, all of us have contributed in our own ways to the series of events leading to the now unstoppable plume of oil. If we have the technological capability to drill 32,000 feet into the ocean floor, why are we not directing that capability full force toward the development of cleaner, less risky energy sources?

Research out of the University of Alberta attempts to answer this question. In his "System Failure: Oil, Futurity and the Anticipation of Disaster," author Imre Szeman found that consumption behaviors and views toward oil exploration generally do not change, even when people are confronted with sound scientific evidence linking disastrous environmental affects to fossil fuels.

Szeman breaks this disconnect down to three common rationalizations: 1) the idea that oil exploration equals economic security, and therefore is worth the risk; 2) the "eco-apocalypse" idea that freezes people's actions with its enormity; and 3) the phenomenon of what Szeman calls "technical utopianism," a blind faith that no matter what happens, improved future technologies will sweep in to clean up any messes we make.

Szeman concludes that shifts in behaviors concerning the health of the planet must be addressed anew, and not by piling on more science. Environmental stewardship is now a cultural and sociological issue, Szeman believes, and will not be improved on a large scale until it is addressed as such.

An article in last Sunday's New York Times touches on the third point of Szeman's triangle of environmental disconnect: technical utopianism. Elisabeth Rosenthal's "Our Fix-It Faith and the Oil Spill" addresses this problem, and ends with a quote from the physicist/philosopher Richard Feynman: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."