Foreign Policy Blogs

Moving beyond conservation

Residing in a oil-rich province, my morning reading consists of the daily banter between business tycoons and the environmental conservationists.  Last month, a group of Canadian Sierra Club members bicycled to the tar sands (approximately 1,000 km) to gather water from the oil sands to bring to oil executives in Calgary.  In July, Greenpeace recently staged a protest at the tailing ponds, where 500 ducks were killed in April, to stop the toxic waste from entering the pond.  Beyond these two incidences, oil companies continue to argue the economic benefits of these oil resources and promise that the land will be reclaimed.  As Shell Oil Company promotes its partnership with Earthwatch, Aboriginal tribes watch as their land is desecrated and hope (and push) for proper reclamation of the land.

But there is hope.  Move over reduce, reuse, recycle – renewable sources of energy are the darlings of the current climate change debate. 

We’ve read Jeffrey Sach's arugument for the research and development of new energy technologies in Common Wealth – citing that we can reduce and stabilize greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time sustaining global economic development.   We’ve heard Sarah Palin's nomination speech that a McCain-Palin administration will “lay more pipelines and build more nuclear plants and create jobs with clean coal and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative sources.” 

With the issue in the mainstream, the opportunities for debate are rife and the how, where, and when to start are less clear – that's where philanthropy comes in.

The UNEP's report Global Trend in Sustainable Energy Investment 2008 notes that in 2007 $148 billion was invested globally in sustainable energy, a 60% increase over 2006.  In philanthropy, the Clinton Foundation has partnered with the Solar Energy Foundation to provide solar panels to homes in East Africa.'s initiatives around climate change continue to make headlines with their new investments in geothermal energy technology and cheaper coal.   And the Energy Foundation is rounding up major donors to assist with its pursuits of advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Just as in global health and development, philanthropy will have a unique role to play in the debate around energy and climate change.  Whether it is in encouraging investment of new or underused opportunities, bridging partnerships between private companies and nonprofit organizations, or educating the public on new technologies – philanthropy will fill the gaps that government can not and will put dollars to the theories in which the experts believe.

And it's not a moment too soon – oil is a finite resource and patience is growing thin.

(Disclaimer:  I’m not a climate expert, but Bill Hewitt is – and has more of the science behind renewable energy and climate change.)