When Politicians Fail on Climate Change

In the past six weeks, we’ve seen droughts parch the western United States, a superstorm overwhelm New York City and a typhoon ravage the Philippines. Call me crazy, but in the wake of all this devastation, I was searching for stronger messages and leadership to emerge from the recent U.N. climate talks in Doha, Qatar.

This is what I hear the Earth telling us:

1. “Climate change affects everyone.” Many of us have already personally experienced this. But seeing New York, the country’s largest city and financial center, dealing with such destruction, brings it home. Climate change affects us all.

2. “It is time for action.” For years, greenhouse gas-emitting industries have collaborated with the right wing to muddy the science of climate change. Even the term “climate debate” is a misnomer: 97 percent of scientific experts agree that climate change is man-made, says a report in USA Today. Let’s use climate disasters as clarion calls: the Earth is out of balance. We must act.

3. “Act globally.” When we destroy the Amazon, people in Colorado feel it. When we burn fossil fuels in the United States, rising sea levels threaten islanders’ lives. Climate is interconnected. If we truly want to turn global warming around, we do not have a choice. We must act globally.

At last week’s global climate talks in Doha, once again, many of the world’s most powerful leaders demonstrated they are still not ready to take the action we need to turn climate change around. This leaves me wondering: What can the organization I direct, Global Greengrants Fund, do? We already make more than $1 million in climate-related grants every year. What more is there?

I believe women, indigenous communities, people in the Global South, and young people hold a key to the solution. Each of these groups brings crucial perspectives to the table, from deep respect for the Earth to care for the next generation. And each of these groups is cut off from traditional channels to power—perhaps because they bring perspectives that challenge the status quo.

So I am deeply excited to announce that Global Greengrants Fund has launched a new initiative, the Next Generation Climate Board. This board comprises three young women and two young men from five different countries. The group will be given a modest budget at first, $50,000, to make climate-related grants. With support from Global Greengrants Fund staff, the board will develop its own unique grantmaking strategy and will focus on putting grant dollars into the hands of youth-driven policy and grassroots climate-change campaigns. These young activists have already developed impressive expertise and done great work on climate issues.

Doha calls on each and every one of us to reflect on what we can do to restore the Earth to balance. Let’s start talking about it—not only about how our cities can protect us from future climate disasters, but also how we can turn climate change around. It’s going to take all of us working together to create a sustainable world.

Terry Odendahl is the executive director and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund, a nonprofit that gives high-impact grants to grassroots environmental groups around the world.