Grantee & Partner News

November 16, 2017

A 12-Year-Old Warrior for Justice

Grantee News From Antonia Juhasz / Society for Environmental Journalists:

Angelika Soriano suffered her first asthma attack in the fourth grade, though she didn’t realize what it was at the time. She was walking to school in her Fruitvale neighborhood of East Oakland, California when pain gripped her body. She began to wheeze and cough. Unable to get sufficient air into her lungs, she found herself weakening until she was too tired to continue forward.

As luck would have it, her sister, Angeline, just two years her senior, also suffers from the disease. After getting a ride home, Angelika’s diagnosis was easy to derive—as she quickly regained her breath using her sister’s inhaler.

The children of Filipino immigrants, Angelika and Angeline are not alone. In East Oakland, where 93 percent of residents are people of color, children are more than twice as likely to visit an emergency room or be hospitalized for asthma than those in the county of Alameda overall, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department. A leading culprit identified by the Department is the disproportionally high amount of outdoor air pollution where they live—among the highest pollution rates in the state—caused by an over-concentration of motor vehicles, refineries and power plants.

A little more than two and half years later, Angelika, now a remarkably mature and composed 12-year-old, organizes to protect not only the quality of the air she breaths, but on behalf of everyone’s environment and climate. I meet Angelika as she recounts some of this story to a group of about 100 fellow middle- and high-school students, predominately youth of color from low-income East and West Oakland. They are joined by teachers and parents, all gathered together on Halloween eve. Like Angelika, many are costumed in zombie face paint, having just finished marching through the affluent and exclusive Oakland Hills neighborhood.

They did not come to ask for candy. Rather they have led a “Zombie March on Coal” from a local park to the private home of local developer Phil Tagami. Carrying banners and signs reading, “Oakland vs. Coal” and “Stop the Tagami Coal-Pacolypse” they are here to protest Tagami’s plans to build a coal export terminal in West Oakland. If approved, it would be the largest such terminal on the West Coast, taking in train shipments of coal from Utah, with plans to potentially export millions of tons of coal annually. Tagami’s plan fits nicely with the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan and frequent pledges to increase U.S. coal production and “end the war on coal.”  More>

Leave a comment

October 14, 2017

Funds That Can Put Your Investments on a Low-Carbon Diet

Grantee News From As You Sow:

Andrew Behar, Chief Executive Officer of As You Sow

If you care about climate change, your money can help shrink your carbon footprint. You can buy appliances that are more energy efficient or a hybrid or electric car — or, better yet, a bike. You can install thicker insulation in your home or solar panels on your roof.
 
But investing in mutual and exchange-traded funds in ways that prioritize climate worries has been harder. Plenty of funds make environmental impact a factor in stock assessments, but few have proclaimed loudly that greenhouse gas emissions are a primary concern, and that has been a problem for investors committed to divesting from fossil fuels.
 
The smog has begun to clear. A spate of stock funds and E.T.F.s has appeared over the past several years that shun major fossil-fuel producers, like oil drillers and coal miners, or those with excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide, spewed out mainly by the burning of fossil fuel, accounts for most of such emissions, so these new offerings often call themselves “low carbon.”
 
Now there is a tool, the website Fossil Free Funds, that helps pinpoint funds and E.T.F.s focused on companies withsmaller carbon footprints. “There were 10 funds when we started that we identified as fossil-fuel free,” said Andrew S. Behar, chief executive officer of As You Sow, the Oakland, Calif., environmental group that created Fossil Free Funds. “Now it’s up to 31.”
 
Fossil Free Funds sprang from Mr. Behar’s effort to determine the carbon footprints of the funds in As You Sow’s own retirement plan. The exercise showed him how tough it was to piece together the needed information. So he and a colleague, Andrew Montes, created the website, which began in 2015.
 
The site combines Morningstar data on stock holdings with screens like the Carbon Underground 200, a global index of coal, natural gas and oil companies. If a user types, say, “Vanguard’s S.&P. 500 index fund” into the site’s search box, a report is generated. That report shows that 21 companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, and 4.28 percent of the fund’s total assets overlap with the Carbon Underground 200. That means, of $10,000 invested in the fund, $428 will end up in fossil-fuel stocks.
 
In contrast, the site’s report on the SPDR S.&P. 500 Fossil Fuel Reserves Free E.T.F. shows no overlap. As the E.T.F.’s name suggests, that lack of fossil fuel overlap is intentional.
“What this fund is doing is giving investors the S.&P. 500 minus companies that own reserves of crude oil, natural gas and thermal coal that are economically and technically recoverable,” said Christopher C. McKnett, who leads environmental, social and governance strategy for State Street Global Advisors, the E.T.F.’s sponsor. The fund does not exclude reserves of metallurgical coal, which is used in the making of steel, but it does exclude utilities if they own their own reserves, he said. State Street created the E.T.F. for investors committed to divesting from fossil-fuel stocks, Mr. McKnett said.
 
Another State Street offering, the SPDR MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target E.T.F., takes a different approach. Rather than barring companies, it favors energy and utility companies with smaller fossil-fuel reserves and lower carbon emissions. The fund is designed to replicate the world market as closely as possible — it invests globally, in developed and developing countries — while still being low carbon, Mr. McKnett said.
 
Blackrock’s iShares MSCI ACWI Low Carbon Target E.T.F. is constructed similarly. Sarah Lee Kjellberg, head of iShares Sustainable E.T.F.s, said Blackrock created the fund partly at the request of institutional investors and financial advisers seeking a low-carbon offering that could serve as someone’s core investment. “They’re telling us, ‘We’re trying to strike a balance between providing market exposure and addressing the risk of climate change in our portfolios,’” she said.

A newer low-carbon E.T.F., the Etho Climate Leadership E.T.F., ranks companies according to their carbon efficiency, based on emissions per dollar invested. “We start by analyzing 6,000 companies globally of all capitalization sizes and distill them down to leaders in each industry,” said Ian E. Monroe, president and chief sustainability officer of Etho Capital, the fund’s sponsor. Mr. Monroe said the goal was not just to ditch big carbon-belchers and fossil-fuel behemoths but also to identify better-run companies. The fund, which began in late 2015, beat the S.&P. 500 last year and so far has done so this year.
 
Several long-established sponsors of socially screened funds can also help put your portfolio on low-carb diet.
 
Dimensional Fund Advisors offers two funds that make emissions and fossil-fuel reserves central considerations: the US Sustainability Core 1 Portfolio and International Sustainability Core 1 Portfolio. “Sustainability means different things to different people,” said Joseph H. Chi, the company’s co-head of portfolio management. “But what we’ve found is a focus on carbon is one thing people agree on.”
 
When assembling the portfolios, Dimensional applies its usual financial metrics to companies, but it also assesses their emissions, Mr. Chi said. “Our approach is to rank companies both on an absolute basis and against their peers,” he said. The portfolio managers then eliminate the those with the worst emissions, de-emphasize the lesser performers and overweight the better ones. Dimensional’s one absolute climate-related exclusion is coal companies.
 
The list of climate sinners is longer at Parnassus Investments and Green Century Capital Management, two specialists in so-called socially responsible funds.
 
Both the Parnassus Fund and Parnassus Endeavor avoid companies involved in exploration, extraction, production, manufacturing or refining of fossil fuels. That effectively means the portfolio managers avoid the energy and utility sectors, said Ian E. Sexsmith, co-manager of the Parnassus Fund. They do this because some clients haveasked for fossil-free offerings and because of the managers’ skepticism about the longer-term prospects of these industries, Mr. Sexsmith said. “As our world becomes more energy efficient and we get better at using alternatives,” he said, “we think the energy sector is going to underperform.”
 
Green Century likewise tries to eliminate fossil-fuel companies from its Green Century Equity Fund and Green Century International Index Fund, said Leslie Samuelrich, Green Century’s president. The funds, passively managed indexed offerings, impose hard exclusions on coal, gas and oil, companies and on any utility that burns coal.
 
A group of environmental nonprofits started Green Century in 1991 and it has long avoided the fossil-fuel industry, but its marketing did not highlight that until recently.
 
“We didn’t use the words ‘fossil fuel free’ till five years ago,” Ms. Samuelrich said. “But the demand started to pick up, and we realized we should tell people. So we started promoting that, and since then, our assets have more than doubled,” lately reaching $491 million for the company’s three funds. Green Century also has a balanced fund that contains bonds as well as stocks.
 
The variety of low-carbon stock funds makes it easier for people to invest this way. Whether they should invest this way, from a financial standpoint, remains a subject of debate. Investment orthodoxy says that limiting your pool of investments stunts your potential return.
 
Jon F. Hale, director of sustainability research at Morningstar, said he doubted that people with well-diversified portfolios would see much of an impact on performance if they replaced, say, a conventional domestic, large-capitalization fund with a low-carbon one. A diverse portfolio, he said, would include funds spanning domestic and international markets, large- and small-capitalization stocks and developed and developing countries.
 
Mr. Hale said the returns of the low-carbon fund would not track the broader market: If the energy sector were to surge, the fund would probably underperform. But, he added, “There’s a possibility of a positive return, too.” That could happen if the world’s economy continues to move toward greater energy efficiency and a greater reliance on renewable sources like wind and solar power.
 
Personal values have a place in investment decisions, Mr. Hale said, adding that some people viewed divestment from coal, gas and oil as a matter of morals, not money.
“I may be fine with the possibility of my portfolio performing a little less without fossil fuels because I want to add my voice to this movement or feel good about myself,” he said. “I may be willing trade off some of the other investment benefits for that.”
 
By TIM GRAY OCT. 13, 2017
Leave a comment

October 12, 2017

As the Threat of Nuclear War Grows, ‘the bomb’ Breaks the Silence

Grantee News From the bomb / Women Make Movies:

Like the Nobel Peace Prize–winning group ICAN, Eric Schlosser’s multimedia creation raises awareness about a looming catastrophe.

Are you under 35? If so, you’re the target audience of author and filmmaker Eric Schlosser and the team behind the bomb. Combine a Hollywood documentary, a live rock show, and a political demonstration against nuclear weapons, and you get the bomb, an invigorating multimedia spectacular that has played festivals in New York, Berlin and Glastonbury and may come soon to a venue near you.

“People under 35 have no direct knowledge of living with this existential threat, but they’re starting to think about it now with North Korea and Iran,” said Schlosser, whose 2013 book Command and Control gave rise to the bomb and whose 2001 mega-best seller Fast Food Nation spurred the organic-food movement. “We hope to help start a conversation that puts nuclear weapons back in the public mind and on the public agenda.”

That aim is apparently shared by the Norwegian Nobel committee, which on Friday named the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) the winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize. ICAN, which claims participation from 468 NGOs in 101 countries, has been working since its founding in 2007 to promote not merely the reduction but the abolition of nuclear weapons. “We can’t threaten to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians in the name of security,” Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of ICAN, said upon receiving news of the Nobel prize. ICAN helped secure adoption in July of a United Nations nuclear weapons ban treaty, even as all nine of the existing nuclear powers—the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—boycotted the negotiations over the treaty.

The Peace Prize announcement came one day after president Donald Trump reportedly decided to decertify the Iran nuclear deal, contradicting the stated and leaked views of his top national-security advisers, who counseled that the deal was effectively constraining Iran’s nuclear program. Trump told reporters on Thursday that now might be “the calm before the storm.” It was one more unsettling statement from a president who alarmed everyone but his die-hard political base with his September warning at the UN General Assembly that the US might “totally destroy” North Korea, an obvious threat to unleash nuclear weapons and kill millions of civilians to punish the country’s “supreme leader,” Kim Jong-un.

If anything underscores the value of outright abolition of nuclear weapons, it is this kind of mad, untrammeled belligerence from the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful nuclear arsenal. The single scariest thing about Trump as president—topping, admittedly, a long and dire list—is that this violence prone simpleton wields unfettered, unilateral authority to push the nuclear button. As I reported in The Nation in July and others have written elsewhere, both US law and long-standing policy hold that the president and the president alone can order a nuclear attack. Trump need not consult with the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the national-security adviser, the Congress or anyone else. He need only summon the aide who carries the nuclear-launch codes (and is never more than a few feet away from any president at all times), verify his identity as president, and give the command. In less than 10 minutes, incomprehensible amounts of death and devastation will take flight, with no way of being called back.

Trump’s unilateral nuclear-launch authority, combined with his vindictive and erratic temperament, poses a clear, immediate danger to the United States and, indeed, humanity. Yet it remains the great unmentionable of American political discourse. Breaking this silence to debate whether this or any president should be entrusted with such awesome and unchecked authority ought to be a transcendent priority for every public official, regardless of their political party, not to mention for the press. Yet the silence continues, even as war with North Korea or Iran or both threatens to erupt—one more measure of the sleepwalking towards disaster that the bomb and the Nobel Prize committee seek to disrupt.

“The danger of nuclear war hasn’t been this great since the 1980s, when the US and Soviet Union almost attacked each other,” Schlosser told The Nationbefore a staging of the bomb at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco on October 4. “The issue went dormant in the United States after the Cold War, and very little was done to engage with the broad public. Now, everyone who’s aware of the threat has to think of new ways of resistance. We need to create a popular outcry.”

The bomb is an innovative attempt to do so via an overwhelming sensory experience. The audience is surrounded on all sides by eight giant screens. Thumping, very loud electronic music opens the show; the screens offer images of Earth as seen from outer space. Satellites float past. The pace quickens as the screens fill with military parades, thousands and thousands of uniformed soldiers marching in precise, closed ranks, all heading—where? To their unthinking deaths? To glorious triumph? The audience isn’t told. The bomb has no narrator suggesting what to think; you have to figure it out for yourself.

Claustrophobia mingles with excitement as the parading soldiers encircle the audience and the music becomes more ethereal, overlaid with high-pitched, ghostly vocals. Now the parades feature not just soldiers but military equipment—first tanks and rocket launchers, then actual bombs and missiles. The escalation continues as we see image after image of missiles being fired, launching variously from land, ship, plane and submarine. There is an unsettling beauty to the ensuing mushroom clouds, dozens of them, bursting into supernatural hues of orange, red, pink, yellow, white.

A cruelly comic passage follows as US propaganda films from the 1950s and 1960s instruct Americans what to do “if an atomic bomb falls right in their town.” Two kids walking home from school demonstrate the supposed magic formula for survival, just “Duck and Cover.”

The emotional climax of the bomb arrives with a tremendous, enduring roar that pummels the screen to a gray blankness that lasts a very long time. The blankness gives way to scenes of utter destruction in Hiroshima. An aerial view shows a city that is bisected by a river and has literally been leveled, virtually every building reduced to rubble. Then comes a series of photographic still-lifes, motionless faces of survivors in hospital beds, eyes vacant and uncomprehending. At that moment, someone in the darkness of the San Francisco crowd gasped.

The Nation

Leave a comment

September 25, 2017

America is a global leader— here’s how Congress can maintain that status

News From Alexandra Toma, Compton Foundation Board Member:

Washington celebrates no shortage of commemorative days – some lightheartedsome solemn. Today, the International Day of Peace, is the latter. Members of Congress should take this reminder to heart by protecting funding for the International Affairs Budget and by partnering with the private sector to get the most bang for their buck around the world. Doing so will maintain American influence abroad, and increase peace and prosperity globally, including in our own backyard.

Last year, Congress recognized the importance of U.S. global leadership by providing $58.8 billion for the International Affairs Budget. Many well-respected, nonpartisan organizations have smartly laid out the myriad national securityeconomic, and moral arguments for a strong International Affairs Budget. Not surprisingly, what’s good for the country is also good for each individual state. Buried on the State Department’s website, is an interactive map that lays out – state-by-state – some of the direct impact State programs have in American communities. Did you know that flights between Dallas and Madrid, with an estimated impact of $100 million, were made possible by an Open Skies agreement negotiated by State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs? Or that the Peace Carvin V program, managed by State’s Office of Defense Cooperation, brings members of the Singapore Air Force and their families to Idaho each year where they contribute $16 million to the local economy?

Despite these success stories, the Trump administration has proposed cutting these funds by a devastating 32 percent, crippling State’s ability to operate globally and within the United States. Some have responded by asking if the private sector, such as corporations and philanthropy, can’t just make up the difference in Trump’s budget cuts altogether.

Short answer: no.

The private sector, where I work with some of the nation’s leading philanthropic organizations, will do its fair share to shore up U.S. global leadership, peace, and security, but we cannot realistically fill the gaping hole left by these devastating cuts. The numbers just don’t add up.

recent report found that private giving for international affairs comprised only 6 percent of all philanthropic giving in the U.S. The 2017 Peace and Security Funding Index found that in 2014 (the most recent data), foundations gave $357.1 million on peace and security issues. This pales in comparison to the $41.9 billion that the U.S. Government (USG) plans to distribute across these same issues for FY2017. Even though U.S. foreign assistance is only 1 percent of the federal budget, this still makes the USG one of the largest peace and security funders in the world. Since 80 percent of U.S. assistance goes to providing relief and promoting stability in conflict zones and fragile states, imagine what will happen if the USG pulls out.

Congress must wisely hold the line here. And, moving forward, government can – and should – team up with the private sector to build on recent progress to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Once Congress holds the line on the International Affairs Budget and the critical programs it funds, it can play an important role in helping the USG leverage scarce peace and security dollars. There are already several successful examples of government partnerships with the private sector in foreign policy. They succeed because they are inherently more efficient, more innovative, and less risky than each side striking out on their own. But there’s just not enough of them.

I speak from experience here. My organization, the Peace and Security Funders Group, serves as a touch point for the private philanthropic sector in this space, while the State Department’s Office of Global Partnerships is open for business to help policymakers find appropriate external partners to achieve common goals. But Congress needs to turn the volume way up.

In an era where the U.S. role in the world is questioned on a daily basis, Congress must use its power of the purse to protect our nation and maintain America’s greatness globally. It starts with protecting critical State Department programs from a dangerous and devastating budget axe. But the job won’t be finished until they’ve done their part to ensure that the government engages strategically with the private sector.

Alexandra I. Toma is Executive Director of the Peace and Security Funders Group, a Term Member with the Council on Foreign Relations, and a Truman National Security Fellow.

The Hill

BY ALEXANDRA I. TOMA, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR —

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL

Leave a comment

July 31, 2017

Grantee News From Women Make Movies:

FOLLOWING AN EXTRAORDINARY IMMERSIVE GLASTONBURY PERFORMANCE, ‘THE BOMB’ WILL DEBUT ON NETFLIX WORLDWIDE on AUGUST 1ST

 SCORE WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY THE ACID

 Following triumphant screenings at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, and at the Glastonbury Festival, the bomb makes its Netflix worldwide debut on August 1st.

An experimental, music-driven film that looks at the strange and compelling world of nuclear weapons, the bomb has been hailed by critics:

“A stunning avant-garde approach to a plea for nuclear disarmament…unique and dazzling.”

     Entertainment Weekly

“An abstract wonder and a literal nightmare: a dazzling view into the abyss.”

     The New York Observer

“Thrilling…The footage of blasts is, as you can imagine, absolutely top-notch.  Some of it is so spectacular, so trippy, so ridiculous, I was convinced it was fake.”

     Vice

“Terrifying…haunting…unsettling.”

     Newsweek

 “Scarier than any horror picture released in the past year, the bomb renders a hot-button controversy with terrible beauty and haunting audiovisual novelty.

      UPROXX

“Mesmerizing, stunning, building to a powerful, touching conclusion that magically stopped the audience cold in its tracks.”

     The Film Stage

 “It’s da bomb.”

     Hollywood Reporter

 At the bomb’s Tribeca and Glastonbury performances, the film was shown as an installation, on massive 360-degree screens that completely surrounded the audience, while The Acid played the soundtrack live.  At the Berlin Film Festival, the film was shown on a single screen at one of the largest theaters in the city, while The Acid performed the score in the orchestra pit. Upcoming live performances of the bomb will be staged in London, Sydney, and Los Angeles, with a world tour to follow in 2018.

Watch the film’s trailer HERE

the bomb was produced and conceived by Smriti Keshari (Food Chains) and Eric Schlosser (Command and Control, Fast Food Nation, Food, Inc.).  The film was co-directed by Kevin Ford (Three Days, By the River), Keshari & Schlosser, with art direction by Stanley Donwood (Radiohead) and animation by The Kingdom of Ludd. The live installation was designed and staged by United Visual Artists.

The Acid composed the soundtrack.

“The topic of this film is very important to us, it’s a story which needs to be told to a generation that needs to hear it,” says The Acid’s Adam Freeland. “It’s been an honor to collaborate with some of our heroes on the bomb. It’s turned into something even more powerful than the sum of its parts. Three people passed out when we premiered it at Tribeca Film Festival.” 

 The Acid recently released ‘Modern Propaganda’ from the soundtrack.  Listen to it HERE. The full soundtrack to the film will be available later this year.