MacArthur Delves Deeper into Climate and Fracking

MacArthur has traditionally been a conservation-focused environment funder, with support for climate change work peppered (liberally) throughout its other programs. But two huge grants to the Environmental Defense Fund related to clean energy and fracking signal something bigger might be on the way.

Is MacArthur the next big climate and energy funder? Two recent "exploratory" grants totaling $6 million suggest it’s entirely possible. 

This year, the foundation gave two $3 million grants to the Environmental Defense Fund, one of its regular grantees, for two domestic energy-related projects. The first will support the EDF’s clean energy program, “which seeks to decarbonize the U.S. energy system. The program is anticipated to lock in 8.5 percent to 13.3 percent carbon dioxide emission reductions in the U.S. by 2018, and accelerate innovation, efficiency, and clean energy.”

The second will go “to support EDF's effort to strengthen the science and regulatory framework for natural gas development in the U.S., in order to minimize methane emissions and human health hazards from production.”

Unless we're missing something, this appears to be the first time the MacArthur Foundation has made a grant specifically related to the environmental harms of natural gas fracking, a growing, sometimes contentious issue for foundations. 

Related: MacArthur Funds Team Bracing for Climate Change on the East Coast

When asked about the motivation for the two seven-figure grants, and whether we can expect more giving in this arena, a MacArthur spokesman emailed:

These grants are made within a foundation-wide initiative to explore a ramping up of our climate change grantmaking. The new grant related to domestic natural gas development is part of the foundation’s developing work to seek even greater impact in helping to address global climate change. Given the exploratory nature of this work, we are not in a position to comment further about future budgets. 

So you’re telling me there’s a chance…

If MacArthur does, in fact, ramp up its climate change grantmaking, it would signal a significant move by one of the country’s largest environmental players.

Related: MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Climate & Energy

The foundation already gives a fair amount to climate change work, considering it doesn’t have a formal program. It does have what it calls a “cross-foundation program” that prioritizes U.S. Climate Adaptation through its other domestic focuses. And its large, international conservation program lists climate mitigation and adaptation as one of its "cross-cutting global issues," while protecting a few key geographic regions.

In other words, it’s sort of woven into other giving. But you won’t find a dedicated page on the website or program director for climate and energy. And it’s been a relatively small chunk of Mac’s $200 million-plus annual giving. That could be about to change.