If you ever played on a sports team growing up, chances are you remember your coach saying ‘Remember team, offence wins games, but defence wins championships’. The old adage emphasizes the importance of playing a balanced game – that winning can’t happen without paying attention to both the offensive and defensive sides of the field.
A few weeks ago, Global Greengrants Fund board member Elmer Lopez gave a similar pep talk to our staff and board of directors. Elmer, who is a career environmental activist from Guatemala, spoke about the duality of the environmental movement in tackling climate change. His defence: environmental justice. His offence: local solutions.
Elmer said that we must fund local groups working on two angles of the climate crisis. On one side, groups that work to defend forests, watersheds and indigenous peoples’ rights from the negative effects of climate change or the causal mechanisms of related development projects. On the other, proactive initiatives that contribute to climate change mitigation in the short term and enable communities to be better equipped in the long run to adapt to potential impacts.
He told the stories of two local groups: one that is reducing local vulnerability to climate change by restoring mangroves that have been destroyed by water diversion projects, and another that is proactively growing native, drought-resistant seeds to sell to local farmers.
Climate defence: resist and restore
Changing weather patterns have left many communities along Guatemala’s Pacific coast shaken by the rains and rising water levels associated with tropical storms. These effects were previously lessened by the natural buffer and dispersive drainage system of mangroves in the area. Yet recently constructed irrigation ditches now serve as a funnel for rainwater to flood into local communities. What’s more, the large agricultural plantations consume much of the fresh water needed to sustain the coastal mangroves. This has caused their rapid degradation – and consequently increased the vulnerability of communities to coastal flooding and storm damage.
In response, affected communities have built resistance to the damages of such diversion projects and begun replanting lost mangroves. Through these actions, they are restoring balance to the surrounding ecosystem and mitigating the damages caused by increased flooding and storms.
Climate offence: develop local solutions
A group of local entrepreneurs in rural Guatemala is restoring traditional, resilient agriculture practices. They are gathering and regenerating native, drought-resistant seeds to sell to local farmers and creating an agricultural system that is less vulnerable to changing climatic conditions – ensuring future sustainability of the livelihoods of surrounding communities. In an area that has lost much of its biodiversity to large seed companies, this cooperative has raised awareness about the benefits of seed sovereignty. Through these actions, the group is providing a sustainable economic and environmental system that can withstand changing growing seasons.
While both of these initiatives encompass some aspects of both offensive and defensive strategies, it’s clear that both perspectives are needed to develop a robust environmental justice movement. As high-level negotiations continue to fail and local initiatives become increasingly important, philanthropy must integrate this balanced approach to climate funding. We need to support both justice-driven campaigns that defend against climate change and its causes, as well as local solutions to prepare those most affected by climate change to thrive in the future. Because as coach says, ‘Offence wins games, but defence wins championships’.
Paul Hendricks is donor advised fund manager for Global Greengrants Fund