Global Stakes, Local Fights: A Funder Takes on Climate Change In Its Home Region

Philanthropic work on climate change is playing out across many fronts, and it can be hard to keep track of everything that's going on. We often segment these efforts by issuelooking at the funders backing the war on coal or those trying to save the rain forests or those zeroing in on energy efficiency.

But another way to divide up this work is by its geographic focus. While some of the biggest climate funders operate globally and nationally, lots of interesting work is also going on at the regional, state, and city levels. For example, we wrote recently about the Barr Foundation's climate funding, which is largely focused on Boston and is nicely aligned with its strengths as a local funder, as well as its level of resources. 

Related: Barr and Climate Change: Think Globally, Partner Nationally, Act Locally

Meanwhile, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is an interesting example of a foundation that has an eye on both the global climate fight and moving the needle on this issue in Michigan and its home region. Mott, as we reported recently, is backing the Sierra Club's push to get the World Bank to stop providing loans and other finanical support to the fossil fuel industry. But it's also backing work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a state that's the center of the auto industry and has a conservative Republican governor. 

First, some background. The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that after years of decline, emissions increased in the U.S. by 2 percent from 2012 to 2013. While the Obama Administration seeks to limit the single biggest source of carbon pollution in the U.S. through tighter EPA regulations of coal-fired power plants, it’s facing pushback on numerous fronts, including in many states. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has even called on states to simply defy the EPA, and a number of state attorneys general are going to court to block the new rules. 

Related - As Obama's EPA Fights to Regulate Coal Plants, It has Some Deep-Pocketed Friends

On the upside, though, some states have taken ambitious steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And so, overall, with Congress unlikely to address the climate issue anytime soon, the states are where the action is.

All of which brings us to the Mott Foundation, which, among other things, is supporting climate work by the Michigan Environmental Council, a coalition of more than 70 organizations. More specifically, Mott is backing the council's work to bolster the RE-AMP Network, an association of 165 nonprofits and foundations in eight Midwestern states working to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsl.

RE-AMP began in 2003, when the Garfield Foundation asked 13 nongovernmental organizations and seven foundations dealing with energy issues in the Midwest to confront the need for clean energy generation and how best to move the system to accomplish positive change. Important factors that were considered included the benefits of retiring inefficient existing coal generating plants, the demand for clean energy, and where energy efficiency could be achieved. RE-AMP has a keen interest in galvanizing action at the local and metro level, and that's the piece that the Michigan Environmental Council is working on, with Mott support. 

Efforts like RE-AMP don't get a lot of attention, compared to high-profile initiatives, such as the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. But it's worth swinging the spotlight more often to work like this. In the absence of a national political consensus on climate change, the states will continue to be the most promising venues for progress on this issue—which, by the way, is a familiar pattern of American history. Also, as I said, the success of the federal actions that have been taken by the Obama administration hinge of state cooperation. 

The smart philanthropic money has a keen eye on local and regional climate solutions. In turn, we'll keep an eye on where that money is going.