Groups of climate activists known for their aggressive tactics and raucous protests are getting an unusual assist from some of the biggest names in philanthropy.

Filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the niece of John F. Kennedy, and Aileen Getty, granddaughter of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, are among numerous prominent founding members of a Climate Emergency Fund that will send everything from cash to bullhorns and other supplies to grass-roots activists gaining momentum across the country and around the globe. 

The move is an especially big boon to the activists that are part of a “climate emergency movement” calling on governments around the world to treat climate change as an existential threat — as much of the funding in the climate space traditionally goes to groups advocating for slower and less ambitious policy changes.

Getty says her personal foundation, the Aileen Getty Foundation, has been donating more to environmental causes in recent years as global warming has made her “very anxious about the state of our world.”

But she’s been frustrated with the slow pace of change — and is throwing her weight behind the scrappy young activists who are drawing fresh attention. “Even if this approach isn’t going to deliver the outcome we’re hopeful it will, it’s better than doing what we’ve been doing that hasn’t amounted to any change,” said Getty, the founding donor who is on the fund’s advisory board.

For her, it’s as much about her family’s legacy as her own. “There’s legacy and there’s personal responsibility,” she said, adding that her family, which sold Getty Oil in 1984, is “focused on making responsible decisions today that reflect our role." "I can safely say there’s nothing about the way that I live that I’m not willing to change," she added.

So far, the Climate Emergency Fund has raised $600,000 and committed to giving three grants: two to Extinction Rebellion in New York City and Los Angeles, and a third to the Climate Mobilization, the fund's co-founder Trevor Neilson told me.

These disruptive groups are already making waves. Extinction Rebellion blocked roads and major landmarks in London until the British government agreed to declare an “environment and climate emergency,” the first national government to do so. Climate Mobilization launched a campaign to get local governments to make climate emergency declarations — just last week, Los Angeles established an office to address the climate crisis.

Margaret Klein Salamon, founder and executive director of Climate Mobilization, said many climate philanthropists have so far funded groups that want to reduce emissions over multiple decades, or push policies such as carbon pricing that she argues don’t go far enough.

“The climate emergency movement says this is an existential crisis, and we need to eliminate emissions as quickly as possible, in 10 years or less, and we need to pull every lever to do that,” she said.

Rory Kennedy told me that at a minimum, the goal is to meet the deadline outlined in the dire report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warned emissions need to be on a major decline by 2030 to get climate change under control. These grass-roots movements can try to make change from the ground up, Kennedy said, in lieu of a promising vision from U.S. leaders. The Trump administration is “doing the opposite,” she said. “They’re talking about clean, beautiful coal; they’re denying climate change; they’re denying the science.”

Klein Salamon said the $50,000 grant has helped her “small, scrappy organization” in a big way, enabling it to hire a digital organizer to manage social media.

She also applauded the prominent names behind the new fund. “To have the credibility of people like Rory Kennedy and Aileen Getty and Trevor saying, ‘This is what we need to do’ is huge,” she said.

For its part, the climate emergency movement’s core message has reached progressive policymakers in Washington. This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced a joint resolution in both chambers of Congress to declare a climate emergency and that says the climate crisis demands a “national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States” to “restore the climate for future generations.”

The Climate Emergency Fund’s backers acknowledge the activists they support might get into legal trouble — and they are willing to help out with that, too. The new fund is partnering with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights to provide legal protection for groups participating in nonviolent civil disobedience.

And it’s fully embracing the tactics used in their demonstrations, contributing “activist starter kits” that include bullhorns and printed banners that have become a regular feature of movements such as the School Strike for Climate movement sparked by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg.

One key hurdle for the new fund will be finding other philanthropists to donate to the cause. “It can be a little scary because it is disruptive,” said Sarah Ezzy, who is on the fund’s board of directors with Kennedy and Neilson. “But a lot of our work supports young people, and there’s nothing more compelling than a young person getting involved, trying to fight for his or her future and the right to have their own children live in a planet that’s hospitable.”


One day after floodwaters hit New Orleans, the city began preparing for another inundation. (The Washington Post)

— Fourteen years after Hurricane Katrina: The city of New Orleans is preparing for what The Post’s Tim Craig and Frances Stead Sellers write is a “triple whammy this weekend — heavy rain, an already engorged Mississippi River and a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico that is expected to make landfall in Louisiana on Saturday, with storm surge that could reach 4 to 6 feet.” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) declared a state of emergency and implored residents to take precautions and to take warnings about the tropical storm named Barry seriously. He said the National Guard has been authorized to have 3,000 people prepared to assist.

Following Katrina, the inundation of water is set to be a “major test of the updated drains and pumps that remove water from the streets, the earthen levees that hold back the river, and the elaborate system of barriers that prevents tidal surges from sweeping in — all part of a $14 billion investment in the city’s flood-fighting infrastructure.” While New Orleans’s mayor decided to not yet evacuate residents, unless triggered by a Category 3 hurricane, the president of Plaquemines Parish, which sits where the Mississippi meets the Gulf, did order evacuations.

Tracking Barry: The Post team is tracking here the tropical storm that the National Hurricane Center has predicted will become the first hurricane of the season. “The storm may not reach hurricane strength, but strong winds, although worrisome, are not the main danger that Barry poses for Louisiana. Rainfall totals could add to 20 inches in some areas, which could trigger serious inland flooding.”

— How climate change impacts hurricanes: As Tropical Storm Barry approaches, it's the amount of water that it could pour down on the region that is troubling, the New York Times reports: "In recent years, researchers have found that hurricanes have lingered longer, as Barry is expected to do, and dumped more rainfall — a sign of climate change, said Christina Patricola, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a co-author of a study that found that climate change is making tropical cyclones wetter." 


— Democratic candidates invited to a climate change summit: Several environmental groups are sponsoring a climate summit on September 23 to invite all the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination to speak on the issue of climate change — an announcement that comes as the Democratic National Committee has so far said it wouldn’t hold a debate that’s focused solely on the topic. (The Energy 202 wrote this month that DNC leaders will consider a proposal to hold a climate-specific debate). The New Republic and Gizmodo will host the summit in New York City. “The first round of Democratic presidential debates failed the planet. In a combined 240 minutes of discussion — at an event held in a city poised to sink into the ocean — the moderators devoted a combined 15 minutes of airtime to the biggest existential threat humanity faces,” the New Republic’s Emily Atkin and Brian Kahn write. No candidates have yet confirmed they will participate in the forum.

— Senate confirms new leader to oversee EPA’s waste office: The Senate voted 52 to 38 to confirm Peter Wright, a former Dow Chemical attorney, to lead the EPA’s office that oversees the Superfund and waste programs. Wright was previously working as a special counsel in the EPA administrator’s office. In a statement, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler praised his confirmation, calling him a “qualified nominee who has spent his entire career finding solutions to environmental contamination.” But Wheeler also chided Democrats in the Senate who “delayed his confirmation for 493 days, leaving EPA without the head of its emergency response and land management office.” “Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tom Carper (Del.), and Bob Casey (Pa.) said Wright and the EPA haven’t done enough to address contamination from ubiquitous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in drinking water across the U.S.,” Bloomberg Environment reports.

— California legislature approves bill to help utilities pay wildfire liabilities: A bill sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) desk will help support the state’s utilities against major liability claims. “The bill’s passage was a political victory for the governor, but some questioned whether California leaders were just making a down payment for wildfire costs that will skyrocket if more isn’t done to prevent ever-larger blazes,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The administration says the bill will provide investor-owned utilities with at least $21 billion to pay for damage from blazes linked to their equipment beginning this summer. Utility customers will be required to pay $10.5 billion to the so-called wildfire fund through a 15-year extension of an existing charge on monthly bills, one that was originally expected to expire by 2021.”  Newsom is expected to sign the measure on Friday.



  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on "Keeping The Lights On: Addressing Cyber Threats To The Grid."