CLIMATE ROUNDUP: Bill Gates to back climate-focused media outlet dubbed 'Cipher'

Colin Sullivan

September 16, 2021

Bill Gates’ philanthropic energy arm Breakthrough Energy this week revealed plans to fund and launch a climate-only media outlet called “Cipher”.

The advocacy coalition created by Gates to promote clean energy and climate action has pledged to give the new outfit complete editorial independence, though it will apparently operate as a “not-for-profit” media source.

LETTER FROM AN ENERGIZED FUNDER: Do you consider yourself an activist?

Theresa Preston-Werner

September 16, 2021

A few days ago, I participated in my first training for political organizing to further climate action. I’ve been a donor for several years, and our foundation currently supports many activist organizations. I’d like to consider myself an activist, but when I took time to think about it, I had to admit I was closer to an advocate.

But what’s the difference between an advocate and activist? Risk, I think. Bold willingness to face physical violence or police brutality. In contrast, I wonder if being an advocate means something softer. Using your voice to speak out about, or on behalf of, others. Bringing attention and awareness to groups of less powerful people and shifting the hegemonic gaze. This is not an unimportant question.

A birthday letter

Theresa Preston-Werner

September 9 2021

Today is my 40th birthday.

And I have a cold to end all colds. I’m miserable. At least it’s not COVID; I have 3 at-home tests from the past week to prove it. But it still sucks.

GRANTEE SPOTLIGHT: Climate Changemakers bets on virtual organizing to reach the climate curious and Big Tech

Colin Sullivan

September 9 2021

When the Yale Program on Climate Communication last year reported evidence of a demographic shift within the groups that make up “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” Climate Changemakers Executive Director Eliza Nemser knew she had her hook.

That study conducted a series of surveys that found 26% of Americans were “alarmed” about climate change, while 29% described themselves as “concerned” and 8% were “dismissive”.

POLITICS: What’s at stake for climate if Newsom loses?

Colin Sullivan

September 9 2021

California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall election next week that would make him the third governor in U.S. history to be ousted from office through a recall if he loses.

The implications for climate change policy are significant, but, at the same time, sources interviewed for this article said they do not believe a replacement would have enough time in office to undo the state’s far-reaching attempts to combat carbon emissions.

CLIMATE ROUNDUP: Wildfires, climate denial to feature prominently in Calif. recall

Colin Sullivan

Aug. 19, 2021

Leading with a quick note on our schedule, before we dig into California’s recall election less than a month from today: The newsletter is off for the last two weeks of August. We’ll be back after Labor Day. Happy end of summer! Meanwhile …

Leading the news is the possibility that Democrats may be about to lose the governorship of arguably the bluest state in the country — to a conservative radio talk show host who has called the climate crisis “a crock”.

COMMUNITY: For PWV, finding global partners started with a workshop in Uganda 

Colin Sullivan and Amelia Abdelrazik

Aug. 12, 2021

Reframing power dynamics in philanthropy is easier said than done. This post is about how Preston-Werner Ventures worked intimately with a handful of sexual and reproductive health organizations in East Africa, in hopes that we might better navigate between the global North and global South with actions not words. 

Context: PWV staff in 2019 went to Kampala, in Uganda, to meet with prospective grantees. We flew people in from across East Africa, conducted a three-day workshop and let the grantees decide some major family-planning funding decisions for themselves. 

CLIMATE ROUNDUP: Airline carbon cuts may light Biden’s path to Glasgow

Colin Sullivan

Aug. 11, 2021

Hello! Happy to be here, and happy to begin this post by not discussing scalding summer weather or the oak mites that have invaded my neighborhood in the wake of cicada mania in Washington, D.C. First, some good news from a surprising quarter: White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy.

McCarthy was on the road this week to talk energy research at two national labs but paused her trip long enough to conduct an interview with Axios, which pressed her on a recent Reuters story that revealed the White House is working with airlines on a plan to halve the sector’s carbon emissions.

CLIMATE ROUNDUP: A busy week in Washington, broken down

Colin Sullivan

Aug. 5, 2021

There’s a lot going on in Washington right now, as Congress eyes several weeks out of town for the annual August recess. Here’s a roundup to help navigate the ins and outs.

A group of liberal Democrats have floated legislation in Congress that would make large carbon emitters foot the bill for events linked to climate change and fossil fuel combustion. They hope to attach the “polluter pays” bill, from Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen and others, to a forthcoming budget reconciliation measure this fall.

GOOD HUMANS: Yari Greaney cut her trail from Stanford divestiture fight to D.C. and back again

Colin Sullivan

Aug. 5, 2021

Meet Yari Greaney, a self-described goofball with a bright smile who can claim an impressive list of political accomplishments before she’s glimpsed the age of 30.

Greaney is Preston-Werner Ventures’ recently hired program manager for Local Politics and Environmental Justice. She’s an avid hiker, birder and activist who always points out that she lives on Lisjan Ohlone lands on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, not in “El Cerrito,” as the area is commonly referred to in modern maps.

POLITICS: Activist Tobita Chow urges the U.S. and China to step back from ‘escalating tensions’

Colin Sullivan

July 29 2021

Tobita Chow is in many ways an environmentalist in new clothing. He’s a labor activist attempting to bridge climate action with international politics. He often finds himself in the middle of players who don’t trust each other and works to erase that gap. And that’s precisely why Preston-Werner Ventures decided to fund him, as the energetic director of the People's Action project Justice Is Global.

Chow is another one of our favorite humans, in other words, but he would prefer this story not focus on him. He wants it to focus on China.

CLIMATE ROUNDUP 1: A week in the life of a techie foundation

Colin Sullivan

July 22 2021

Hello and welcome back. So … on the one hand, we hope to contribute serious journalism to the progressive causes we support. As in, not press releases. We’d also like you to come back here and look forward to coming back here. So we’re going to try stuff. Shoot for some moons. The more serious affair on offer today sits beneath this post, as in story #2 right below this one. It’s a deep look at “theory of change” — a subject that’s very important in philanthropy. The more casual affair being this piece right here.

Our first experiment then — (in this column) (brace yourself) — is a wide-ranging, quick analysis of the news as we read it at Preston-Werner Ventures, as parsed by a veteran climate and political reporter (me) who was hired by a thoughtful family foundation to write something refreshing. Away we go.

THEORIES OF CHANGE: Do they matter (yes) and why

Colin Sullivan

July 22 2021

Starting this post with a caveat: This is not my personal blog. I’m a reporter hired to help tell the story of Preston-Werner Ventures, the causes we care about and the humans we fund. That means you’ll often hear me toeing a line between “I” and “we” — but it should be clear that I’m hoping to recede as much as I can and let the organization do the talking.

So: In this piece we’re exploring “theory of change” and what it means for a nimble family foundation like ours. What it means for our staff and our wide-ranging expertise. I admit that I had never thought about the topic until about two weeks ago, so I’m learning as we go.

GOOD HUMANS: Introducing Tom Preston-Werner, hacker (and lockpicker) emeritus

Colin Sullivan

July 15 2021

Tom is a youthful-looking Iowa native who shows up to Zoom meetings early. He’s likable, doesn’t get rattled and juggles a dozen projects at once. And he seems more interested in raising his kids and starting humane companies than, say, yachting off the Italian coast or buying overpriced sports teams.

It’s unlikely he’s ever owned leather pants, in other words. He’s not the sort that would bother to make those comparisons or see himself in another’s shadow, either. Much more likely is a discussion of open-source web development or carbon offsets or how to bring the best out of talented people than promotion of his own brand.

YOU’RE INVITED: A tech-climate convergence, far from the sluggish center

Colin Sullivan

July 15 2021

Hello! Today we launch an excellent newsletter. It’s free. It's here.

It’s called Climate Is Everything, because climate change really is about everything, and that makes it too easy to give it a confused shrug and back away, especially when heat waves aren’t pummeling the western United States and testing power grids up and down the Pacific Coast.

Giving is a Political Act

Jake Werner

October 27 2020

At Preston-Werner Ventures, we think of giving as a political act. We reject the idea that deprivation is merely an accidental lack that can be filled bit by bit through charity and technological advance. If such an idea were plausible a decade or two ago, it is hard to sustain today. What may have seemed like steady progress has now given way around the world to growing racist and nationalist movements based on a zero-sum struggle for resources and power, even as the stream of climate refugees begins to build. We see deprivation not as a lack but as a systematic outcome of our society.

The large-scale cooperative processes that sustain our lives, from the market economy to corporate bureaucracies to national and global governing institutions, are the same processes that generate concentrated pools of wealth and produce systematic inequalities among classes, races, countries, genders, sexualities. They are the same processes that give rise to the endemic insecurities and resentments that serve as the raw material for demagogic politicians to mobilize projects of national or racial supremacy. Finally, these same processes have left the world vulnerable to pandemic disease and are intensifying the existential threat of climate change.

Funding Abortion in the COVID-19 Era

Amelia Abdelrazik

June 25 2020

Around the world, we are expecting spikes in pregnancies during this time of social isolation (as reported by Save the Children, Rewire.News, and Reuters). At present, and amidst the global pandemic of SARS-CoV-2, financial, logistical, legal, and discriminatory barriers to accessing comprehensive sexual and reproductive healthcare are increasingly exacerbated. We are now confronting commodity shortages, supply chain delays, further economic inequities, health risks, and new legal challenges. These limitations have been especially evident in abortion care.

Fortunately, there is a safe, non-surgical way to terminate an early pregnancy from one's own home using a combined regimen of two medications, Mifepristone and Misoprostol (Misoprostol-only regimens are also low-risk and effective, but the combined regimen is the standard of care in the United States). Although medication abortion care isn't as well-known as clinic-based surgical abortion, Mifepristone and Misoprostol were approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for abortion care twenty years ago, and have been in use ever since. In 2017, 39% of all legal abortions within the US were medication abortions. Like surgical abortion care, medication abortion care is highly effective at ending early pregnancy.

Committing $250k this Year to Racial Justice Efforts

Tom Preston-Werner

June 15 2020

On February 23rd, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by armed white men while jogging near Brunswick, Georgia. On March 13th, Breonna Taylor was murdered by Louisville Metro Police in her own home. On May 25th, George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis Police officers. These are just three of the names on the list of thousands of Black men and women who lost their lives to the systemic racism that is woven into the fabric of this country.

It will take a monumental anti-racist movement to change the underlying conditions that allow racism in the United States to flourish. As part of that movement, Preston-Werner Ventures is committing $250,000 this year to projects that fight systemic racism. Here's how we intend the funds to be dispersed:

Global COVID-19 Response: Grantee Flexibility, Centering Women & Girls, and Filling the Gaps

Amelia Abdelrazik

April 17 2020

After deploying emergency funding for the Bay Area COVID-19 response, Preston-Werner Ventures turned our attention to the global fight. In carving the way forward, we sought to answer a few questions:

After chatting with some grantees, other funders, and attending a host of webinars, we are taking the following steps at Preston-Werner Ventures.

First Efforts at Emergency Relief

Theresa Preston-Werner

March 23 2020

We find ourselves faced with a new crisis—COVID-19—that threatens the world's health and well-being. This is a moment of urgency, and this morning, Tom and I deployed $1 million toward efforts to fight against the virus and its effects.

At Preston-Werner Ventures, our philanthropic investment concentrates on international efforts. From this lens, we have expertise in understanding long-standing challenges contributing to economic and social imbalances of power and resulting in climate change. Working at this level often means thinking about slow-moving pieces. This foray into emergency relief is the first time we have made such quick funding decisions.

Announcing RedwoodJS

Rob Cameron

March 10 2020

For the past several months Tom, Rob and a couple of other contributors have been building a new Javascript framework. Today we're proud to unveil Redwood a framework for the next phase of the internet.

Redwood is meant to be deployed to the edge—CDNs and Lambda functions that can be distributed around the globe and served to users in milliseconds. In tech circles this is known as the JAMstack (Javascript, APIs and Markup). Until now the JAMstack has mostly focused on static sites being backed by a CMS (Content Management System). Redwood makes relational databases a first-class citizen in the JAMstack, allowing your front-end to get and send data to a real database through a GraphQL API. This, along with many other time-saving and productivity-enhancing features makes Redwood not only a powerful JS framework, but it's actually fun to work in, too.

Annual Letter from Tom and Theresa

Theresa Preston-Werner

January 23 2020

Preston-Werner Ventures is at the beginning. We have just today launched our website, a sign to our patient grantees and partners that we are, in fact, a real thing. To nudge us forward, I am writing a letter to document where we are today and where we're hoping to go someday soon.

As a couple, when Tom and I come together, we goad one another to “push harder, and do more!” This has become our family motto. On my own, I've spent my career working with and learning about inequality, political economy, and the monitoring and measurement of human activity. Tom has worked ever since I've known him (twenty years this February) on gaps in technology and how to develop innovative solutions.