President’s Letter

Of all the formidable challenges facing the human family, none is more potentially destructive and deeply perplexing than global climate change. It seems that nearly every day brings news of additional scientific evidence that humans have dangerously altered the earth’s ecological balance. Proof of these changes includes irreversible damage to coral reefs, accelerating extinction of animal species, harsher and longer droughts. The evidence from these and other alarming changes continues to grow.

And, yet, significant portions of the American population simply ignore or, worse, deny the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is occurring. How can this be?

It seems that both psychological and political factors have erected a barrier that no amount of evidence or reason can penetrate. All humans have difficulty imagining that we could actually be putting our existence at risk by our unsustainable production and consumption of fossil fuels. The thought may simply be too horrible. In addition, the effects of climate change are virtually invisible to most of us and, although rapidly worsening, are also incremental. Furthermore, changes in climate are somewhat erratic even as the general path of global warming continues to relentlessly move forward. We simply have a hard time integrating such a pervasive, difficult-to-grasp threat into our thinking.

What is a foundation like ours, with a long history of support for the environment, to do?

Politically, it has become expedient to deny the evidence of climate change because those of an antigovernment stripe assume that action to deal with the threat will require an expansion of government power. It is not surprising that many people who find the science arcane will happily heed voices that denigrate it as “political science” and “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” And those comments by a former and a current member of the U.S. Senate are just two among many in the chorus of climate change deniers.

What is a foundation like ours, with a long history of support for the environment, to do?

It is apparent that we must join forces with other organizations to change the conversation on this issue. Politically motivated attacks on environmental organizations have marginalized them and their message. At the same time, “green” groups have too often played into the hands of their opponents by speaking in language that is overly technical, narrow and, frankly, too often focused on the environment as if it were a thing apart from people.

If the hyper-partisan tenor of our politics has taught us anything, it is the vital role of communications in persuading people to take action. But to break through the barriers that have been erected around climate change, successful communication must be new and different. Scientific data and dire warnings will not work. The messages that motivate people to demand action from policy makers must resonate with their values, with what we all care about — jobs, prosperity, family, health and fairness.

If we do not address the challenge of climate change, people throughout the world will suffer tremendously. The difficulty lies in finding the actual words that carry the message effectively. Once crafted, messages must be used consistently and persuasively by those in a position to create an impact.

Our Foundation has been working with several other foundations and nonprofit organizations to find the words that can pierce the psychological and political fog, especially of those independent-minded citizens who hold the balance of power in battleground states like Ohio. This is not easy work, but it is essential if we are to meet the greatest challenge of our time.

Geoffrey Gund Signature

Geoffrey Gund
President and Treasurer