Tackling climate change means talking about and addressing systemic racism. It’s that awareness that drives the work of the Solutions Project, co-founded by Mark Ruffalo in 2013 and led by Gloria Walton, the organization’s president and CEO. “We can’t separate racism from climate change, they go hand in hand,” Ruffalo said in an appearance with Walton at the TIME100 Summit in New York City on April 25. “We need to be comfortable talking about racism.”
Addressing these interconnected issues requires changing old ways of doing things. “We need to disrupt status quo philanthropy, fund communities like we want them to win, and actually be in a real relationship,” said Walton. That means bringing resources directly to the communities most affected—and that are leading the way forward.
As Ruffalo recounted, he was fighting fracking in New York when he connected with Walton, who encouraged him to think bigger. A long-time community organizer in Los Angeles, Walton convinced Ruffalo and his team that it was time to “leverage what we’ve already built,” he said, “and use this to bring philanthropy to the front lines.” And it’s their collaborative work to support community-level climate solutions that is why the two are among TIME’s inaugural Earth Award honorees announced on April 20.
While there can be a tendency to look at climate change and social justice as separate issues, they’re intertwined, the two discussed; many communities deeply affected by climate change tend to be underserved, poor, and communities of color. “You can’t just talk about nature,” Walton said. “Nature-based solutions—that’s a buzzword right now. And when people hear that, they’re thinking that you’re not thinking about communities.” In fact, the very opposite is true, she said: communities are at the heart of solutions.
That’s why, she explained, disrupting philanthropy means empowering organizations working hard on the ground to address environmental justice—from fighting for cleaner air and water to pushing the clean energy transition forward. Key to this is consistently giving these groups enough money to sustain their work over years, and allowing them to choose how to spend it. That’s because people living on the frontlines of these environmental impacts are “already coming up with the solutions,” said Ruffalo. This was echoed by Walton: “The just transition is underway—in case we didn’t know. And communities are leading it.”
“What frontline [communities] need is money. We need to scale, we need to invest like we never have before,” said Walton. Over time, she said, “I hope we can move a billion dollars to the frontlines. Enough capital for our communities to thrive and to win.”
- Who Will Be TIME's Person of the Year 2023?
- Why Cell Phone Reception Is Getting Worse
- The Dirty Secrets of Alternative Plastics
- Column: It's Time to Scrap the Abraham Accords
- Israeli Family Celebrates Release of Hostage Grandmother
- In a New Movie, Beyoncé Finds Freedom
- The Top 100 Photos of 2023
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time