Healthy environment, regenerative systems

Our support for a healthy environment is grounded in the belief that a flourishing and equitable Oregon depends on healthy ecosystems and clean water and air for all. We envision thriving communities and regenerative natural systems that are based on values of justice, cooperation, ecological sustainability and equity.

Unfortunately, the institutions, infrastructure and regulatory systems that govern our relationship with nature are not up to the task of delivering on this vision. This is because these systems are designed to exploit and divide people and nature, rather than nurture and support them. They don’t reflect the wisdom of the people who have stewarded this land we now call Oregon since time immemorial. They have not kept up with new approaches and knowledge about how to confront and adapt to our climate crisis. Nor do they include the voices of all communities who call Oregon home today.

The experience of the past year - the pandemic, uprising for racial justice and climate change-driven wildfires - has put these long-standing realities in stark relief, such that there is no denying the urgent need for deep transformation.

Through our grantmaking we aim to tackle the challenges of racism and ecological collapse by supporting a range of place-based and statewide solutions that aim to address the underlying drivers of these interconnected crises. We prioritize efforts aimed at challenging our current mindset and healing relationships with nature and each other.  We support efforts to build power in communities to resist continued exploitation, as well as create and implement regenerative, community-led solutions. Strong proposals may advance new and proven approaches at all levels — organizational, local, regional and state — that aim to change the rules, relationships, roles and practices in institutions and systems that shape how we care for the planet and each other. 

Why regenerative systems matter?

Oregonians have a strong sense of place based on our unique and diverse landscapes and our encounters with the natural world in our neighborhoods and communities. At Meyer, we want to expand upon this sense of place to build a collective understanding among communities across Oregon that we are part of living systems and inseparably connected to the health of natural systems. 

In nature there is no waste. What is not used by one organism is energy for another. While we may think that the energy in fossil fuels, soil, and rivers are therefore meant to be harnessed for human use, by doing so without stewarding their integrity and vitality, we have broken the delicate cycle. Climate change, and all of the other environmental and social crises that are wrapped up in it, is the direct outcome. 

Mending this cycle will take more than just sustainably replacing what we use or restoring ecosystems to a previous condition. We need approaches that are ever-evolving toward increasing health and vitality over time. This means sequestering more net carbon than what is released; bolstering forest and soil health; refilling aquifers; and redesigning social structures for community resilience.

Equity within the environment

Considering Oregon’s history of racism and how the economic system in our country is tightly bound to the resources of people and planet, environmental problems tend to disproportionately harm communities most impacted by discrimination and historic oppression, while the benefits of nature and environmental protection are less accessible to them. Importantly, this system also perpetuates the privilege of wealthy and predominantly white communities and their experience of healthy ecosystems and their benefits. 

We see this in the contamination of well water in some rural Oregon communities from arsenic, nitrate bacteria and pesticides. Many rural residents, particularly low-income, may be unknowingly drinking contaminated well water that could lead to cancer, miscarriages and other health problems. 

Another example is how the exposure to diesel exhaust, which is harmful to human health and a problem across Oregon, affects communities differently. Most Oregon residents are exposed to diesel particulate at levels that increase cancer risk above the public health threshold, but communities of color and low-income populations are disproportionately impacted by diesel exhaust and face more severe health problems as a result.

For Tribes, who originally occupied and continue to live in the place we now call Oregon, they rely directly upon the land to sustain their communities and cultural traditions. Despite treaties with the federal government, Tribes have experienced a long history of encroachment, land theft and other actions that have undermined their sovereignty; their rights to fish, hunt, gather foods and live in their traditional territories; and their cultural connection to the land. 
Climate change compounds cumulative environmental impacts and exacerbates existing disparities. 

The Healthy Environment portfolio focuses on disrupting the pattern of exploitation of nature and people, particularly people who are most affected by  current and historic oppression. That’s why we primarily invest in strategies that are led by and focus on communities at the center of this crisis: low-income communities, communities of color, Indigenous communities and Tribes, and immigrants and refugees, in rural and urban areas across Oregon.