Environmental Progress Tied to Healthy Democracy

Photo by Mark Fischer, Flickr (fischerfotos)

The world is changing. Not only is our climate changing—introducing new challenges to our environment and communities—but our technology, politics, society, and economies are changing. These changes are happening more rapidly and radically than ever. Sea level rise, species extinctions, autocratic governments, income inequality, gun violence, and wildfire destruction are all on the rise. These issues go hand in hand, and any meaningful progress requires a high-functioning democracy built on trust, respect for established governing principles, and high voter participation.  

At a time of such immense political and social upheaval in the United States, RLF’s partner organizations—Fund for a Better Future (FBF) and Shared Ascent Fund (SAF)—are playing an increasingly important role in securing a stable atmosphere for RLF’s ongoing environmental work, which fundamentally rests on revitalizing foundational elements of our democracy and ensuring equal opportunity for people and communities.

These past two election seasons in the United States have presented two very different visions of America to voters: one that concentrates power and diminishes the vitality and diversity of the electorate versus one that leads with compassion and inclusion to advance equal opportunities for all. Over the last two years, FBF has contributed more than $50 million in 501(c)(4) dollars to defend hard-fought policies that make our nation stronger, safer, and healthier, funding the results of highly effective organizations like Fair Fight Action, Indivisible, Voto Latino, Supermajority, and Sunrise. We are proud to support the work these and other groups are doing to strengthen voter rights, defend our systems against autocratic influences, and elevate the influence of Black and Indigenous People and communities of color. This work truly is foundational to the progress we make on any other issue and challenge we face as a nation.

Complementing FBF’s efforts, SAF awarded its first grants in 2020, totaling almost $2.5 million, to amplify the impact of charitable organizations working to uphold democratic values and processes. Amid the immense challenges and crises that 2020 has piled on, SAF supported organizations like to Campaign Legal Center, Leadership Conference Education Fund, PushBlack, the Brennan Center for Justice, League of Women Voters, and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to advance their important work on racial justice and election integrity.

Now, more than ever, we—the collective we—need to embrace our values and fight to leave the world better than the condition in which currently find it. When I founded Resources Legacy Fund 20 years ago, I worked with visionary donors, advisors, and partners to protect land, ocean, and water resources and reduce the impacts of climate change in  new and strategic ways. It was the dawning of an era in natural resources management defined by a new level of collaboration among diverse partners and an integrated approach to benefits. We are on the cusp of another new era marked by integration—one that embraces the intersecting relationships of everything in our human and natural worlds, from biodiversity conservation and climate resilience, to community health, economic opportunity, and racial justice. 

Together, as we build new alliances of resources, knowledge, and expertise through cooperative mechanisms like RLF, FBF, and SAF, we are engaging the young and ethnically diverse leaders of today and tomorrow who will carry the torch of progress. Despite what feels like a threatening wave of change, I feel confident that we’ll weather the storm and actually improve the planet and the lives of all people.