1545: The Pisces Foundation Blog

Welcome to your source for Pisces Foundation updates and insights from our trustees & staff.

Here we will share news from the critical intersection of philanthropy and the environment, as well as highlight innovative initiatives and programs from our grantees & colleagues.


Philanthropic Community Launches Fund to Support Energy Efficiency in Developing Nations

This morning I was in attendance as Secretary of State John Kerry and key environmental and foreign ministers met near the United Nations to voice support for phasing down one of the world’s most powerful greenhouse gases: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Adding to new commitments from the U.S. and other countries, a group of foundations and private donors unveiled a new fund that will expand energy efficiency efforts in developing countries as HFCs are phased down. I am proud to announce that the Pisces Foundation intends to contribute $1 million to this new donor fund.

Today’s announcements come a little more than two weeks before Montreal Protocol negotiations begin in Kigali, Rwanda, where an amendment to reduce HFCs is expected. The Protocol is known as one of the word’s most effective environmental treaties, and it provides an international framework to phase down HFCs.

The new philanthropic fund responds to a request from developing nations. It has been created by a coalition of 19 foundations and donors that have pledged $53 million. These funds are specifically to bolster efforts in developing nations to pair energy efficiency improvements with HFC reductions (for example, through new energy-efficient, HFC-free appliances). It comes alongside funding commitments from supporting governments, which will help nations phase down the production and use of HFCs and replace them with newer, climate-safe coolants.

HFCs, which are chemicals used primarily in air conditioning and refrigeration, are part of a set of short-lived climate pollutants informally referred to as climate “super pollutants.” This is because pollutants like HFCs pack thousands of times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide. The growing use of HFCs could undo global progress made in addressing the threat of climate change.

The good news is solutions are in our reach that can allow us to act quickly.  We already have the technology now to create alternatives to HFCs and make products that are more energy-efficient.

Studies show that phasing down HFCs may prevent an additional 0.5°C of global average temperature rise by the end of the century. Combined with energy efficiency gains and related carbon pollution savings, this effort could result in 1°C of climate savings.

Participating in this exciting collaboration is just one of many endeavors Pisces Foundation is pursuing to quickly accelerate progress and meet the challenge of climate change. Bolstering carbon cuts with needed reductions in all pollutants driving climate change—including HFCs and other climate super pollutants like black carbon and methane—is our best hope for successfully meeting the world’s climate goals.

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For Some People in the U.S., Every Day is a Day without Water

Water is something that we easily take for granted. We wake up in the morning, stumble into the shower, brush our teeth, and brew our coffee without a second thought of how the abundance of clean water arrived at our tap. By the end of that routine, nearly 30 gallons of water has been used. Yet, as of 2015 more than 660 million people throughout the world still did not have access to clean water, spending large portions of the day walking miles to fetch water.

Most people within the United States do not often consider what life would be like without water for a day, let alone for most of the time.  Imagine a Day without Water, September 15, 2016, is a day to help raise awareness and educate the American population on water, our most precious resource and one that is facing serious constraints.  This campaign is sponsored by Pisces Foundation’s grantee, US Water Alliance, and is implemented by the Value of Water Coalition. Raising awareness is possible in many ways, such as issuing a press release, sharing success stories, or participating on social media with the hashtag #valuewater. A full list of ways to participate can be found here.

It is easy to assume that most water related concerns are in other countries.  But that is not always true. Within California, according to Community Water Center (CWC), a well-respected grassroots organization working to address water and equity issues in California’s Central Valley, thousands of people in the southern San Joaquin Valley have no clean drinking water due to drought or contamination of ground water supplies with arsenic, nitrates, or pesticides. In 2014, within the San Joaquin Valley, 432 public water systems did not consistently meet safe drinking standards. These poor water conditions have been exacerbated by the five-year drought that California currently faces. Many domestic wells that are the primary source of water for poor, disadvantaged communities have gone dry. Water levels at more than 2,300 wells state-wide have been deemed critically low or dry.

At the Pisces Foundation, we are working to highlight and address drinking water quality issues throughout the US, including through an important meeting this week we helped design and co-funded where the focus is on how remote sensing technology can help. At a national level, we’re supporting efforts like NRDC’s recent report examining the scope of lead in drinking water.  To address the complexity of the problems in parts of California, our grantee, the Water Foundation, is working with the Community Water Center and other partners to advance statewide and local solutions in the San Joaquin Valley to build resiliency for vulnerable communities and support all human needs. CWC uses community organizing, education, and policy advocacy to ensure communities impacted by drought and water contamination are able to secure a safe and reliable source of water.

I had the good fortune to visit the San Joaquin Valley with Laurel Firestone of the Community Water Center several years ago. We toured through the Valley in a van, meeting up with local residents at schools, which is where most people have to go to pick up water for their homes and families.  Turnout was high throughout our tour as residents came out to explain their many years of efforts to obtain access to the safe tap water that the rest of us take for granted.  It left a deep impression on me.

The Community Water Center works alongside Valley residents like Josie Nieto and Delia Martinez in Seville.  Josie, Delia, and their community dealt with nitrate-contaminated water for decades. They had to use bottled water for cooking and drinking, because the water from the taps in their homes, local school, and community places did not meet federal health standards. CWC worked alongside the Committee for a Better Seville to organize and advocate for a solution. Seville was able to drill a new well in 2014 that meets federal nitrates standards, but they are still hard at work advocating for the distribution system to be replaced to prevent water shortages and bacterial contamination.

The Pisces Foundation is proud to partner with the Water Foundation and the Community Water Center, and many other grantees committed to clean and safe drinking water.  Together, our goal is to make a day without water an imaginary world.  No one should have to live even one day without clean water.

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Now Hiring: Executive Assistant

The Pisces Foundation is hiring an Executive Assistant to work with the President and the Chief Operating Officer. The Executive Assistant will play an important role in a dynamic, growing philanthropy. The position will be located at the foundation’s San Francisco headquarters. Please follow the link below to see the full, printable job announcement.

Executive Assistant Position Announcement

Applications are encouraged by September 30th, but will continue to be accepted until the position is filled.

We welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of skills, experiences, and ideas. We are an equal opportunity employer. Employment selection and related decisions are made without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, national origin, color, veteran status, or any other protected class.

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Summit on Remote Sensing to Protect Our Water

Nearly two years ago, Toledo, Ohio suffered from toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie that ultimately caused the water system serving 400,000 people to shut down for two days. While not all algal blooms are toxic, even non-toxic algal blooms are a water quality problem in that they prevent light from penetrating surface waters to allow submerged vegetation to grow. When the algae die, they suck the oxygen out of the water, suffocating fish and other animals that need oxygen to breathe. Algal blooms are fueled by increases in phosphorus and nitrogen entering the water supply from a variety of sources, including farms, sewage systems, storm water, and air deposition. While we have ambient monitoring data on algal blooms in water bodies, gathering that data is time intensive, costly, and usually limited in duration and coverage.

Fortunately, ambient sampling methods are no longer the only tool available for gathering water quality data. Satellites are constantly circling the earth, gathering local water quality data using remote sensing that can help fill information gaps and focus ambient monitoring efforts on where it is needed most. Even better, agencies like EPA and NASA collect this data and make it available to the public for free! Remote sensing satellite systems can detect water quality factors such as temperature, algal growth, turbidity, and color and can also identify associated pollution sources and sinks. Understanding the key factors that contribute to algal blooms may help us decrease their frequency and the protect public health. Yet, as of now, the data is often not available to the public in a usable form.

Here at the Pisces Foundation, we take these threats and challenges seriously and are working to leverage water investments that ensure people and nature thrive together. See our Op Ed in the New York Times to read more. Later this month, the Meridian Institute, with funding from the Pisces Foundation, Walton Family Fund, McKnight Foundation, and Johnson Foundation, will bring together remote sensing experts and conservation organizations to discuss how groups, such as non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, technology companies, philanthropic organizations, and researchers, can advance and increase the use of remote sensing to protect freshwater resources in the U.S. This initial discussion could help create a pathway for non-profit organizations to make a greater use of remote sensing in water conservation and protection projects in the near future. The group will focus on remote sensing technologies that produce publicly available datasets that are accessible at low or no cost to users. Participants will discuss how remote sensing data is currently being used to protect water resources and how its use could be enhanced with new products, new software, and increased awareness of its potential in the nonprofit community. One goal of this meeting is to create and identify opportunities for government, technology companies, philanthropy, and universities to work together to accelerate advancement of these technologies for water resource protection.

The convening will take place at the Johnson Foundation’s retreat at Wingspread in Racine, WI. The Johnson Foundation has served for over 50 years as facilitators for meetings to identify innovative solutions regarding healthy environments and local communities. While this meeting will focus on the use of remote sensing to monitor freshwater resources within the United States, the recommendations this group develops could have global applications.

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HFC Phase-down Talks Continue

Among the many forms of pollution that contribute to climate change, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are among the most potent.  Scientists agree that to keep global warming under the crucial 2°C threshold, phasing out HFCs – a whole class of gases that are used as refrigerants and in some industrial processes — needs to be part of the solution. Recent progress at the latest round of international negotiations makes me increasingly optimistic that we will see a major breakthrough on HFCs this year. Here’s what you need to know:

Negotiators met in Vienna July 15-23 for a series of meetings related to the Montréal Protocol. Parties to the Montréal Protocol already agreed last year, in what is called the Dubai Pathway, to reach an agreement on an amendment in 2016 to phasedown hydrofluorocarbons. The Vienna meetings were an important opportunity for moving forward on that agreement, with the Meeting of the Parties scheduled for October 10-14 in Kigali, Rwanda.

There were signs of continued momentum for agreeing to an amendment this year. The negotiators made progress on a number of the most critical issues debated including funding and intellectual property. Parties moved closer together in their opinions on when developed and developing countries would phase-down HFCs and by how much.

The negotiators were encouraged by members of the High Ambition Coalition, which played an important role during the Paris negotiations, and a high-level meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) which stated their strong support for “the adoption of an ambitious Montreal Protocol amendment in 2016.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also gave a rousing speech during the meetings: “amending the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs is one of the single most important unitary steps that we could possibly take at this moment to stave off the worst impacts of climate change and to protect the future for people in every single corner of the globe.”

Much work remains to be done. While major concepts were agreed to, there was no unified text for negotiators to take back to their capitals. For this reason, negotiators may meet again before October to make further progress.  We’ll be watching closely!

If negotiators successfully come to agreement to reduce HFCs, it will have immediate impacts, as well as offer us a fighting chance to stay under 2 degrees.

Below are the topline reactions from a number of the NGOs closely following this process as well as a few of the articles and opinion pieces, which appeared in the media over the last couple weeks.

NGO Reactions:

  • CAN International: “a strong signal that action is a priority following the signing of the Paris Agreement”
  • CSE: “clear signs of a deal with solutions to all the major challenges”
  • EIA International: “Countries are moving in the right direction but there is a huge amount of work to be done to finalise an ambitious amendment in Kigali in October.”
  • IGSD: “perceived universally in the climate context as the piece that you need to do this year”
  • NRDC: ‘a big step forward that caps a week of enormous progress towards the final deal expected in Kigali”

Selected Media Coverage:

  • Bloomberg BNA: Nations Narrow Differences but No Deal Yet on HFCs
  • The Christian Science Monitor: World leaders poised to seal landmark emissions deal in Vienna
  • Climate Home: Cooler coolants: closing in on a climate deal in Vienna
  • E&E Climate Wire: In Paris redux, India seen as stumbling block to climate deal
  • The Hindu: India’s proposal on HFCs gets mixed response in Vienna
  • India Today: Nations make progress over phasing out HFCs
  • New York Times: A Sequel to the Paris Climate Accord Takes Shape in Vienna
  • New York Times: A Coolant That Threatens to Heat Up the Climate
  • Reuters: Deal on cutting greenhouse gases in sight for this year: Vienna delegates
  • Reuters: Helping refrigerators save the climate
  • Time: Why Climate Negotiators Have Turned Their Attention to Your Air Conditioner
  • The Washington Post: The world is poised to take the strongest action of this year against climate change

 

 

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Launch of the Pisces Foundation & Intel Corporation Water Quality Monitoring Survey

Inexpensive and easy to access information on water quality is essential to empowering people to safeguard their health and the environment.  As described in my February 2016 blog post, the Pisces Foundation with assistance from the Intel Corporation has embarked on a project to evaluate the use of low cost technology to collect and transfer information on water quality conditions.

As part of the first phase, we are requesting that community members and organizations who monitor water quality participate in a survey that will take 10- 40 minutes, depending on the depth of their activities, to determine water quality technology uses and needs.

If you would like to preview the Pisces Foundation & Intel Corporation Water Quality Monitoring Survey in its entirety, prior to taking it, please click here for the PDF version.

We hope you will contribute your expertise by participating in the online survey. Responses would be appreciated by June 10th. Click here to begin.

At the conclusion of the first phase of this nationwide survey, we will post a summary of the findings on the Pisces Foundation webpage.

Based on analysis of the survey results, a second phase of the project will focus on finding ways to stimulate improvements in technology development and deployment. The survey will be used to share information with nonprofits about water quality monitoring technologies of which they may not now be aware and may also be used to spur the development or dissemination of new low cost monitoring technologies.

This project has been guided by an accomplished Steering Committee and I want to take this opportunity to thank them for their assistance and look forward to working with them as we move forward.

Your participation in this important survey can help shape future low cost methods to collect and disseminate water quality information.  If you have any questions, please contact Verna Harrison, Project Manager (vharrison@vernaharrison.com 410-562-9840.)

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Now Hiring: Executive Assistant

The Pisces Foundation is hiring an Executive Assistant to work with the President and the Chief Operating Officer. The Executive Assistant will play an important role in a dynamic, growing philanthropy. The position will be located at the foundation’s San Francisco headquarters. Please follow the link below to see the full, printable job announcement.

Executive Assistant Position Announcement

Applications are encouraged by September 30, but will continue to be accepted until the position is filled.

We welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of skills, experiences, and ideas. We are an equal opportunity employer. Employment selection and related decisions are made without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, national origin, color, veteran status, or any other protected class.

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Water Funder Initiative Blueprint launched around World Water Day

Today marks World Water Day, a day that coincides with a landmark set of announcements and commitments made as part of a first ever White House Summit to Build a Sustainable Water Future.  While everyone knows that water is essential to life and access to clean, safe water resources is foundational to a strong economy, very few of us act like we know it absent an emergency that focuses our attention.  But those emergencies are occurring more and more often these days, and that isn‘t just by happenstance.  The pressures on our water resources and infrastructure continue to grow from population growth, aging infrastructure, poor land use choices, and climate change.  Recognizing these problems—as well as new opportunities—a group of funders came together last year to form the Water Funder Initiative (WFI).  WFI seeks to bring more philanthropy to the water sector and has outlined action plans that will enable those philanthropic dollars to do the most good for people and the environment.  Pisces President David Beckman and I are pleased to be part of the WFI steering committee, and our foundation is proud to be a financial supporter of the effort.

WFI approached the challenge of framing a solution set of pressing water problems with real deliberateness.  WFI held forums all across the Western US and interviewed scores of water experts from a wide range of backgrounds.  WFI’s findings and recommendations are now available in a blueprint designed to guide and inspire philanthropic efforts to make our water systems more balanced, resilient, and sustainable.

Toward Water Sustainability: A Blueprint for Philanthropy (the “blueprint”) is a roadmap for collaborative and expanded philanthropic action to advance sustainable water management at a scale never before attempted in the water field. This document, available at www.waterfunder.org, describes the need and opportunity and describes the six priority strategies that emerged from the Water Funder Initiative’s consultation with experts and stakeholders:

  • Shape healthy water markets: Meet changing needs, reduce over-allocation, and embed social equity and environmental considerations into equitable and transparent markets.
  • Develop new funding sources: Expand and diversify funding for sustainable water management and infrastructure, including by properly valuing water.
  • Improve water governance: Promote governance structures that reduce over-allocation, protect environmental values, support disadvantaged communities, and respond to climate variability.
  • Drive decisions with data: Accelerate the development of open data and information systems to support sustainable management.
  • Strengthen communications and build political will: Improve the field’s strategic communications capacity and build the political will and constituencies needed to support water management reforms.
  • Accelerate innovation: Accelerate development and deployment of innovative technologies and practices to advance goals in the urban, agricultural, energy, and environmental water sectors.

The Pisces Foundation is proud to partner with the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Energy Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and Water Foundation to guide and support WFI.

Following the launch of this blueprint, WFI will be seeking to expand its philanthropic partners and to put together projects in all of these areas for further water sustainability in the U.S.  For more information on WFI, see www.waterfunder.org, which provides the full blueprint, an executive summary, graphics, frequently asked questions, and other resources.

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Now Hiring: Environmental Education Program Associate

The Pisces Foundation is hiring a Program Associate to work with the Environmental Education program. The Program Associate will play an important role in a dynamic, growing philanthropy. The position will be located at the foundation’s San Francisco headquarters. Please follow the link below to see the full, printable job announcement.

EE Program Associate Position Job Announcement

Applications are due by April 17, 2016

We welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds and with a variety of skills, experiences, and ideas. We are an equal opportunity employer. Employment selection and related decisions are made without regard to gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, national origin, color, veteran status, or any other protected class.

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Intel/Pisces Survey to Promote Innovation in Low Cost Water Quality Monitoring

In November I wrote about a new initiative launched by the Pisces Foundation and Intel Corporation to help empower citizens protect their water through information gained with the use of low-cost monitoring equipment.

Clean water is essential for the health of humans, plants, animals and our economy.     Understanding the condition of local watersheds is a critical first step on the path to safeguarding clean water supplies.  However, monitoring is expensive and government support is inadequate and diminishing over time.

There are volunteer water quality programs in every state in the U.S. Some volunteers accomplish amazing things — not only monitoring water quality, but also cleaning up pollution sources.  Santa Barbara Channelkeeper’s Stream Team program is an example where the Team worked with government agencies to develop cleanup plans for 16 polluted streams.

Yet, most of the volunteer monitoring programs are also under-funded and often produce results that cannot be easily shared or used by others.  Technology can bring down the cost, improve the accuracy, and facilitate data analysis and transparency.

The Intel Corporation has dedicated a highly capable team of advisors to work with Burke Environmental Associates in developing, distributing and analyzing the low-cost water quality monitoring survey.  The survey will assist government, nonprofits, foundations, and the private sector to understand the gap between the monitoring, reporting, and information sharing technologies that nonprofit and volunteer water quality monitors currently deploy and what could be available to those without large monitoring budgets to use in accomplishing their environmental and public health objectives

A Steering Committee, comprised of an outstanding group of experts from across the country, has already convened twice to provide initial advice to help ensure the viability and utility of the survey. Selected from public, private, non-profit and academic sectors based on their innovative work in areas including water quality monitoring, information sharing technology and capacity building, their assistance will provide valuable guidance for the project. A list of the Steering Committee organizations is below.

We look forward to a spring launch of the survey.   If you would like more information or have ideas about individuals or groups who might like to participate in the survey, please contact Verna Harrison Associates, LLC  vharrison@vernaharrison.com   For information on the technical components, contact burke.davidg@comcast.net.

Steering Committee Organizations

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