A group of well-heeled Malibu residents are—to quote the film “Network”—“mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.” They’ve put their money where their mouths are by founding the Climate Emergency Fund. It is intended to support a new kind of disrupter activism, the likes that haven’t been seen much here—following in the footsteps of a British group, Extinction Rebellion, and also Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who’s made international headlines as an outspoken climate activist and leader.
Malibu resident and CEF board member Trevor Neilson, who has invested in renewable energy and donated to climate change causes previously, is one of the founders of CEF. He said he was called to action while evacuating the Woolsey Fire with “250,000 other people—the worst fire in the history of Los Angeles.
“It brought the issue home to me in a really vivid way,” he continued. “We would not have had the Woolsey Fire without the climate emergency because of the drought, dead brush and winds.”
Neilson, his wife Evelin and Rory Kennedy first raised money for fire victims through the Malibu Foundation. “Then, we looked at the fact we have a full-blown climate emergency globally,” he described. “The level of carbon in the atmosphere, we have not had in 800,000 years.” He cited freak weather events worldwide including hail stones the size of oranges along the Italian coast: “We have drought, famine, hurricanes and we have crossed the 415 parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere and yet governments are doing very little to address the problem.”
Aileen Getty, a philanthropist who provided an anchor investment to CEF’s $600,000 initial war chest, provided an email to The Malibu Times saying, “We no longer have the luxury of taking a gradual approach to addressing the climate crisis. We are sliding toward ecological disaster and need to move into emergency mode and act like the planet is on fire—because it is. My hope is that CEF will support large scale activism which will engage the public and finally push our leaders toward the policy change we so desperately need.”
Neilson, Kennedy and Getty took inspiration from a group in Great Britain: Extinction Rebellion (XR). XR’s aggressive protests in London shut down the city, getting the attention of Parliament and “the UK became the first country in the world to declare a national climate state of emergency,” Neilson commented. “It’s a remarkable success in a short period of time. The basic belief is that if a government will not declare a state of emergency then why would you ever expect for them to do the things necessary to stop the climate emergency.”
Declaring an emergency meant the government was able to take action, Neilson said.
“The government took sweeping steps with new plans being put into place with the British government declaring climate change an existential threat to the future of the United Kingdom,” he described. Neilson also cited the work of Thunberg in Sweden, who, at the age of 16, leads student strikes. “It made me realize that these activists who are fighting for our future are people that need to be supported.”
The CEF intends to do just that by providing seed money to new XR groups. One of the founders of XR, Roger Hallam, told Neilson that funding is one of the biggest barriers to the necessary level of expansion because, as Neilson said, “We need to see thousands of XR and student striker chapters around the world and that requires people to sometimes quit their day jobs.”
Through the nonprofit’s website (climateemergencyfund.org), Neilson says, “You can submit a request and be provided with everything you need to start a local student group or XR group to start fighting for your future.”
“We want this to be a funding mechanism,” he continued. “In many ways, it’s a wakeup call to the world’s philanthropic community including people who live in Malibu. We can’t expect that a gradualist approach to this emergency is going to succeed. We’ve put more carbon into the atmosphere in the last 30 years than we’ve put in the previous 300 years. Those 30 years are when all environmental groups were working, but they weren’t succeeding. We’ve got to change the approach.”
Kennedy told The Malibu Times, “Climate change is the single most important issue that is facing the world today.” She cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that claims a current 1.5 degree Celsius global temperature rise will cause humans rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society and calls for reduced emissions of greenhouse gases.
ClimateEmergencyFund.org has been registered as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.