Imagine if the world as we knew it faced destruction, but nobody was paying much attention, not even the media. That'd be screwed up, right?
Well, this how a lot of climate advocates see the situation, and some environmental funders see more urgent media coverage of climate change as a key to breaking through the complacency. One of those funders is the Schmidt Family Foundation, helmed by Wendy Schmidt and her Google Executive Chairman husband, Eric.
The foundation has only been around since 2006, but the Schmidts quickly zeroed in on the environment as their top cause.
Wendy, in particular, guides this area in the couple's philanthropy, helping direct $17.5 million in grants in 2012 that went almost exclusively to the environment. A program called the 11th Hour project serves as the centerpiece of the foundation's environmental philanthropy.
Leveraging journalism and other forms of media to raise awareness about the environment is a key strategy of 11th Hour. And this, too, traces back to Wendy, who received a master's in journalism from UC Berkeley, where Eric also got degrees in computer science.
A tech geek and a media type: Now there's a good team for tackling climate change, a challenge that will only be surmounted through changes in technology and changes in attitude.
Speaking of UC Berkeley, the Schmidts recently put money behind their alma mater to help establish the 11th Hour Food & Farming Journalism Fellowship at the UC Berkley Graduate School of Journalism. The fellowship is a project of the Knight Center in Science and Environmental Journalism and environmentalist Michael Pollan, the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley.
In 2014, the fellowship awarded eight journalists $10,000 to travel and report on "agricultural and nutritional policy, climate change and technology and culture," among other issues. The fellowship is calling for 2015 applicants who can find more information about the fellowship here.
This grant also serves as a good example of 11th Hour's aim to connect "organizations with good information on how to develop a more responsible relationship with the world's water, energy, and food resources." If you're a journalism outfit writing about these issues, you're definitely operating in Schmidt's wheelhouse.
In recent years the Center of Investigative Reporting, Grist (where Wendy sits on the board), and Mother Jones have all received funding. Climate Central received $1.5 million in 2012. The Princeton-based outfit describes itself as "an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the American public."
The couple's interest expands beyond journalism, and covers a wide range of media. In 2011, the foundation gave $50,000 to Asia Society to support a climate change photography project that depicted melting ice caps. Video and film efforts such as the Story of Stuff Project have also been funded. The Schmidts have also backed strategic communications and policy research shops such as the Communities for a Better Environment and the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Assocation (SPUR). They've funded schools such as Yale, too.
The Schmidts clearly have their hands in a lot of different areas and the 11th Hour project has 12 listed staff on its website so this isn't just a family operation.
Eric Schmidt is worth $9.1 billion and the family foundation held more than $312 million in assets at the end of 2012. That's a lot of money, and the pile is probably even bigger now, with the majority of this seemingly destined for environmental philanthropy.
It's true that the foundation employs a lot of strategies to help the environment, but leveraging media is a key component here, and we don't see that a lot.