Posted on January 5, 2011
2010: Gulf Coast Oil Spill Tops List of Environmental Concerns
PND — 2010: Gulf Coast Oil Spill Tops List of Environmental Concerns
Climate change, ocean acidification, species loss — all took a back seat, for a few months at least, to the biggest environmental story of the year, the disastrous explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20 and the subsequent discharge of oil into the Gulf. Before it was capped in mid-July, the deep-sea gusher pumped more than two hundred million gallons of crude into the Gulf — the worst oil spill in U.S. history — wreaking havoc on the region's fishing and tourism industries and threatening long-term damage to its fragile ecosystems.
Not that the news on the environmental front was all that bright before the Deepwater blowout. In February, a report from the Pew Environment Group suggested that rapid melting of Arctic snow and sea ice could cost the world a minimum of $2.4 trillion by 2050. The urgency of the global warming problem was underscored later in the month when the Boston-based Barr Foundation, New England's largest private foundation, pledged $50 million over five years to help make the metro Boston region a national leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And in July, the New York City-based Ford Foundation made an even larger climate change commitment, pledging $85 million over five years to help rural and indigenous people play a more active role in the stewardship of the natural resources around them and ensure that future global climate change initiatives addressed their needs.
Still, the BP spill dominated headlines for the better part of the year — which made the lackluster charitable response that followed in its aftermath all the more surprising. Community foundations in the region were among the first to respond, of course, with the Greater New Orleans Foundation establishing a Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund in early May to support those in the fishing and tourism industries affected by the disaster, while the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice made an early grant to support a Florida marine laboratory monitoring the Gulf's marine life. But six weeks after the explosion, only $4 million had been donated to relief and recovery efforts (compared with the more than $580 million contributed within eight days of Hurricane Katrina's landfall).
A number of corporations eventually did step up with significant donations of cash and/or in-kind goods. They included Pepsi, which contributed $1.3 million through its Pepsi Refresh Project to nonprofits proving support and assistance to people in the Gulf Coast region; Chevron, which gave $750,000 to the National Audubon Society; and BP, which gave $25 million to three research institutions working in the Gulf. In addition, the nonprofit X Prize Foundation launched a $1.4 million competition, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge, to encourage the development of solutions to cleaning up oil spills.
If the BP spill overshadowed most other environmental efforts in 2010, it certainly served, as William Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society, said in June after his organization received a three-year grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, as "a tragic reminder of why the transition to renewable energy is so essential."
Meadows was hardly alone in holding that view. In October, David and Patricia Atkinson pledged $80 million to Cornell University to endow the Center for a Sustainable Future they had created on
campus in 2007. "The environment, energy, and economic development
are heavily interrelated; problems of sustainability can only be
addressed with a multidisciplinary approach," said Atkinson, a
retired general partner of Philadelphia-based Miller, Anderson,
& Sherrerd LLP. "As the pressures of rapid population growth
take hold, to avoid a crisis it's important to address issues of
Arctic Melting Could Cost $2.4 Trillion by 2050, Report Suggests (2/9/10)
Barr Foundation Commits $50 Million to Fight Climate Change (2/17/10)
Pew Environment Group Calls on Congress to Reform Laws Following Gulf Oil Spill (6/16/10)
BP Awards $25 Million to Gulf Research Institutions Studying Effects of Oil and Dispersant (6/18/10)
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Awards $3.1 Million to Facilitate 'Wildlife-Friendly' Renewable Energy Development (6/30/10)
Ford Foundation Commits $85 Million to Advance Rural Land Rights, Reduce Climate Change (7/29/10)
X Prize Foundation Launches $1.4 Million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge (7/30/10)
Oil Spill Aid Remains Small, But Some Corporate Donations Trickle In (8/4/10)
Pepsi Refresh Project Doubles Its Monthly Grant Commitment (9/6/10)
Cornell University Center for a Sustainable Future Receives $5 Million Gift (10/14/10)
Cornell University Receives $80 Million for Research (10/29/10)
Chevrolet Commits $40 Million to Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions (11/22/10)
Princeton Receives $11 Million for Carbon Mitigation Initiative (11/24/10)
Swiss Billionaire Donates $35 Million to Conserve a Million Acres in Montana (12/14/10)