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Canadian endowment shows how the climate crisis is changing philanthropy

In this week's issue of our environment newsletter, we look at how a decision by the Ivey Foundation could affect philanthropic climate action going forward, and how Nissan plans to win back market share in the electric-vehicle sector.

Also: Nissan hopes to reclaim its place in EV elite

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(Sködt McNalty/CBC)

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This week:

  • Canadian endowment shows how the climate crisis is changing philanthropy
  • Nissan wants to reclaim the EV throne 
  • A record-setting storm in Alberta was a bonanza for hail-chasers

Canadian endowment shows how the climate crisis is changing philanthropy

(Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the most prominent family foundations funding climate action in Canada has decided to give away all its money almost all at once, thereby upending the traditional model of philanthropy and possibly forcing other foundations to rethink their own responses to the climate crisis.

The Ivey Foundation has been a Canadian fixture for the past 75 years, and has donated about $100 million through its lifetime. In recent years, that meant donating about $3 million to $5 million a year to a wide variety of advocacy groups, think-tanks and university research projects focused on the environment. 

That's the traditional way such foundations work: an initial endowment, which is steadfastly maintained and carefully invested by the foundation's administrators, so it can generate a steady income every year, which is then donated.

But by winding down, an announcement that was made on Tuesday, the Ivey Foundation will give away the rest of its money — another $100 million — in just five years.

Central to the decision is the urgency of the climate crisis, and the UN's warning of a "brief and rapidly closing window" to secure a livable planet. In light of that, Ivey's board questioned whether it should exist for another 75 years or give the money away now, when it might be needed the most.

"It's our opinion that there's no real strong argument for why a foundation should exist in perpetuity," said Bruce Lourie, president of the Ivey Foundation. "Our thought is really that we should be benefiting the generations of today with the resources we have."

One of the beneficiaries of Ivey Foundation funding is the Canadian Climate Institute. 

Rick Smith, president of the CCI, says a burst of new funding will help projects that work on creating new supply chains for electric vehicle components; reimagining the farming industry, which is trying to adapt to changing weather patterns; and supporting think-tanks like his institute, which analyzes climate policy in Canada, among other important initiatives, to help the economy transition to a cleaner future.

The Ivey decision is "a kind of a flare going up for the Canadian economy to say, listen, the world is changing. Our economy, at the moment … is high-emitting when it comes to pollution," Smith said.

While Ivey's $100 million is a significant boost, other foundations in Canada have much greater sums of money in their endowment — for example, the Trottier Family Foundation, another major supporter of climate causes, has about $230 million. If other foundations follow Ivey's lead, it could unlock millions, or even billions, of dollars immediately. 

The rapidly deteriorating climate situation is inspiring shifts in philanthropy and a rethink of the best ways to affect change. For example, the outdoor gear and apparel company Patagonia, a longtime funder of climate causes, invests a portion of its profits every year while continuing to operate as a regular for-profit company.

In September, Patagonia's billionaire owner, Yvon Chouinard, decided to give away his ownership of the company and set up a new corporate structure that would ensure all of its future profits would be completely donated, rather than enriching its owners.

Richard Leblanc, a professor at York University in Toronto who studies non-profit governance, says he hopes other foundations are watching Ivey closely.

"What this grant-shifting does is it signals to policy-makers and to the for-profit world that climate change is immediate and it's happening here and now," Leblanc said. 

"So the action has to be immediate and we can't continue to kick the proverbial can down the road."

Inayat Singh

Reader feedback

In response to our piece on extreme weather in the Caribbean, Sonia had this to say:

"As a child born and raised in Jamaica … I have experienced some very serious hurricanes. I used to think our house was in danger and would blow away. I have experienced rivers raised to almost touch the bridge/roads and that was very interesting, yet a bit scary for me and others…. Looking outside and seeing the tempest of it all was just so intense … I had to get immune to a storm that would come every year, knowing that it was coming with (full) force and that we couldn't do anything about it, but wait until it passed over, hoping that we all would be safe."

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The Big Picture: Nissan aims to retake the EV throne

Tesla has become the world's most recognizable electric-vehicle manufacturer, and in North America at least, it remains the best-selling EV brand. But this wasn't always the case. Back in the early 2010s, before Elon Musk (who did not create the company) turned Tesla into the automotive juggernaut that it is, most EVs were produced by Nissan.

Specifically, it was the Leaf, which the Japanese carmaker introduced in 2010 (with a range of about 117 kilometres on a single charge). Although Nissan continued to upgrade its flagship model, the Leaf's current driving range hasn't really improved since 2019 (340 kilometres), a fact that allowed other manufacturers in North America and Europe to increase their market share. (The world's biggest EV market, China, is dominated by domestic manufacturers, including BYD and SGMW, with Tesla coming in third in the latest reporting.) 

Fallout from the arrest of former Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn (for financial crimes) had a dampening effect on the company's corporate culture, which current CEO Makoto Uchida hopes to reinvigorate ASAP. Later this month, the company will release the Ariya, a crossover SUV EV with a 500-kilometre range (and a price tag of about $53,000 Cdn).

More notably, over the next decade, Uchida aims to introduce 15 all-electric vehicles for the Nissan and Infiniti brands, featuring a new solid state battery pack. If Nissan achieves this technological feat, industry watchers say it would be a game-changer, as solid state batteries have the potential to store twice as much energy and require only a fraction of the time to charge.

(Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • Researchers at the University of Copenhagen are investigating whether it's possible to use sugar to extract methane — a gas that's about 85 times more potent than CO2 — from the atmosphere.

  • A plan to turn a former Toronto airport into a sustainable development that would house 80,000 people, and where all amenities would be within a 15-minute walk, has won a major international design award.

A record-setting storm in Alberta was a scientific bonanza for hail-chasers

(Francis Lavigne-Theriault/Northern Hail Project)

This summer, a terrifying and potentially deadly hailstorm in Alberta saw softball-sized chunks of ice smash through vehicle windows. It also happened to be a bonanza for a group of storm-chasing researchers.

Scientists with the Northern Hail Project (NHP) sent a team of hail-chasers to Alberta's infamous "hail alley," which stretches roughly from Rocky Mountain House in the north to about High River, south of Calgary. The conditions there in the mid-summer are ripe for big hailstorms.

The researchers collected seven bags of large hailstones that day, including a record-breaking one weighing 292.7 grams and 12.3 centimetres in diameter. 

It was a pilot study to collect difficult-to-obtain on-the-ground data that they hope will improve our ability to forecast hail. 

"We can have a good idea on a given day where there are going to be potentially severe storms, and that some of those storms might produce hail, but the devil's in the details," said Julian Brimelow, the executive director of the NHP, which is based out of Western University in London, Ont.

He said nobody on Aug. 1 was expecting record-breaking hail. The forecast called for golf ball-sized hail for the region, not softball-sized. 

"Radar wasn't suggesting particularly large hail in the area where that record hailstone was found," said Brimelow, "so that right there points to a big problem … with the sophisticated, state-of-the-art radars that we have now in Canada." 

That Monday started off like any other for the hail-chasers. The lead of the NHP field operations team, Francis Lavigne-Theriault, wrote in an email that the team was out tracking several developing storms until later in the day, when they turned their attention to one particularly ominous-looking supercell storm capable of unleashing destructive winds, tornadoes and hail.

The hail-chasers saw fewer hailstones on the ground than they were used to, but the ones they did find were a lot bigger. 

"They were all massive," said Lavigne-Theriault. "That's how we knew we had something."

For motorists in the storm's path travelling along the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, their first sign of danger came with a tornado warning.

Gilbran Marquez was driving north with a couple of friends when, within 20 minutes, the sunny sky started to darken and look more intimidating as the storm intensified and the wind picked up.

In an interview with CBC Radio, Marquez said what made them finally pull over was the sight of a softball-sized hailstone that remained fully intact after bouncing off the highway into a ditch.

"Probably 20, 30 seconds later, the back window gets destroyed and you just start seeing windows — one by one — get blown out.... And these things just sound horrible hitting the roof, just cratering above me as I look up."

According to the RCMP, the hailstorm damaged more than 70 vehicles along the highway that day. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured.

The scientists' plan is to use this off-season time to study the hail they collected. The team will also study data from satellite and radar systems, remote camera recordings and the styrofoam impact mats they deployed, which can provide information on size and number of hailstones. 

All this will go into forecasting models to improve our ability to predict destructive storms like this one.

Next year, Brimelow said their plan is to expand their field research to another Canadian hail hot spot, in Saskatchewan.

Sonya Buyting

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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