April 26, 2010

Former Vice President Urges All Foundations to Contribute To Climate-Change Fight


Former Vice President Al Gore called on the nation’s foundations to steer more of the expected wealth transfer between generations toward efforts to combat global warming, in a keynote address here at the annual meeting of the Council on Foundations.

He argued that foundations have an important role to play in combating the problem -- which he described as “by far the most serious problem facing our civilization” -- and in encouraging the nation’s young people to get involved.

“How can we appropriate for ourselves all of the benefits of the generations who have come before, and then give the back of our hand to future generations?” Mr. Gore asked.

He envisioned future generations looking back in dismay if action is not taken: “What were you thinking? Were you watching Dancing with the Stars? Didn’t you care?”

Mr. Gore, who won the 2007 Nobel prize for his efforts to draw the world’s attention to global warming, said he respected the issues that foundations were working on, but he warned that such programs would ultimately be moot if tougher standards on climate change are not enacted in the United States and around the world.

“Every cause that you’re working on is profoundly affected by whether we as a nation summon the courage to take on this challenge,” he said.

“This is not just an issue,” he said. “This is our future.”

Long-Term Investments

Mr. Gore is also a co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management, which focuses on sustainable investing.

In his speech, he took foundations to task for making grants that are focused on long-term progress, but putting most of their endowment investments with managers who measure themselves against quarterly or annual benchmarks.

“Some of you know this discussion,” Mr. Gore said. “Very few foundations have done anything about it.”

At the beginning of his speech, Mr. Gore took the breakfast audience on a whirlwind history of democracy and capitalism, from the invention of the printing press forward. He argued that the free exchange of information in the past few centuries had helped to liberate people, but that the world had slid backward in recent years.

The advent of television has made the 30-second television slot vital for political candidates, which means they spend an inordinate amount of time raising money rather than working on legislation, Mr. Gore said.

He argued that capitalism has taken a step back because of the short-term focus in the capital markets, which leads to bankers sticking homeowners in inappropriate subprime loans in order to make a quick profit.

“The problems I’ve alluded to create tremendous opportunities and tremendous need for philanthropy,” Mr. Gore said.