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Underserved Communities Addressing Climate Change Impacts
Kentucky Ag Connection - 12/05/2017

The historic Atlantic hurricane season this year made clear the devastation that can result from extreme weather events. As climate change continues to send global temperatures upward, climate scientists expect severe hurricanes, rising sea levels, wildfires and other natural disasters to become more common and more frequent.

In the U.S., the South represents the front line of the climate crisis, particularly in poor communities and communities of color forced to live on land most vulnerable to flooding, pollution and dislocation. Unfortunately, foundations and other donors have not stepped up to support communities working to alleviate the impacts of climate change.

The good news is that donors who want to help these communities prepare, adapt and thrive in spite of these challenges while protecting the environment can do so by learning from those already doing important work and applying four recommendations found in a new report on climate justice in the South.

"As the South Grows: Weathering the Storm," a new report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Southern Progress explains why national and Southern grantmakers must invest in Southern climate resilience and how they can do so effectively and sustainably.

The report tells the stories of nine Southern community leaders in Eastern North Carolina and Southern Louisiana who are working to address the environmental threats caused by climate change. However, their efforts aren't being matched by support from foundations, especially work that involves grassroots community organizing and advocacy.

"Climate change presents an exponential and existential threat for people across the South -- and for the nation more broadly -- but foundation grantmaking to date does not reflect that reality," report authors Ryan Schlegel and Stephanie Peng wrote. "Southern communities' and our national complacency with racialized poverty puts whole communities and the whole region in greater danger from climate crises."

Funding per person in the region by the country's grantmakers is only a small fraction of the national funding rate.

The country's grantmakers gave the equivalent of $31 in funding per person in Southern Louisiana (excluding Orleans Parish) and $67 in funding per person in Eastern North Carolina from 2010-2014. Compare this to the national funding rate of $451.

Between 2010 and 2014, only 4 percent of foundation funding in Eastern North Carolina went to community organizing, policy change and other strategies that seek to address problems that put vulnerable communities at risk. In Southern Louisiana, only 8 percent of funding went to such strategies; outside New Orleans that number was just 0.3 percent.

"As we contend with the very real and devastating impacts of climate change in the region, philanthropy must not only name equity and inclusion as a strategy, but commit to deep institutional learning and practices that center people of color, low-wealth communities," said Lavastian Glenn, co-chair of GSP and program director at the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation. "In particular, funders of the environment and concerned with climate change must engage the people who have been pushed to these low-laying lands prone to flooding, or exposed to toxic dumping from coal-fired power plants because of institutional racism, as allies and as part of the power-building equation that saves us all in the end."

Schlegel and Peng interviewed dozens of community leaders, nonprofits and grantmakers about their experiences with philanthropy.

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