Spirit Paradise,” Jay Huang

October 11, 2020, Guardian and New York Times, “Opinion”

Prince William, the UK’s Duke of Cambridge, is concerned about climate change and environmentally damaging practices. Rather than providing grants for those working on reversing the damage, he has determined that providing awards is a better tool.

William, along with journalist and natural world historian Sir David Attenborough, has announced a new monetary award for environmental work. Named the Earthshot Prize—an homage to President John F. Kennedy’s “moonshot” of the 1960s, which brought people together to work on bringing humans to the moon—the award will provide five £1m prizes each year for 10 years, with the goal of 50 solutions to repairing the environmental damage that has been done to the planet.

While funding is coming from the charitable Royal Foundation supported by the Duke and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, there are other funders’ voices included: Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Jack Ma Foundation, and the Aga Khan Development Network. The award is not restricted by a single person’s control.

Unlike applying for a grant, which is hard work and often many hours of staff time, the prize is meant to create excitement and become, according to Prince William, “a bit of a catalyst, a bit of hope, a bit of positivity” for an endeavor more often pushed by doomsday scenarios.

Prince William credits his father, Prince Charles, and Attenborough, one of the award council of judges, with the inspiration. He believes that strategies to combat climate change are lacking positivity.

“That ultimately has to change, because I also worry from a mental health point of view, the anxiety and the worry that many of these younger generations are going to have. Hearing about what we’re talking about, it’s going to weigh on them. And they don’t to inherit a world that is full of doom and gloom.” William tells BBC Radio 4’s Today program.

“I think that urgency with optimism really creates action. And so, the Earthshot prize is really about harnessing that optimism and that urgency to find solutions to some of the world’s greatest environmental problems,” he said during the prize announcement.

Individuals, cities, countries, businesses, and “people-powered movements” can all be nominated for the awards. The five “Earthshot” goals are:

  • Protect and restore nature.
  • Clean our air.
  • Revive our oceans.
  • Build a waste-free world.
  • Fix our climate.

Attenborough tells the BBC’s Today program, “There are simple things that can be done, which may sound crackpot, or a bit hole-in-the-corner things, which really need impetus put behind them to get them done on a world scale. We want to know about those things. The prize will give them that strength, that financial impetus to spread and develop.”

There are more than 100 “nominators”—people, and academic institutions, and nonprofits—around the world that have been chosen to recommend candidates for the prize. Nominations open on November 1st. There are 5 stages of elimination, in partnership with the Centre for Public Impact and international experts. Those on the “short list” of nominees will be given support and assistance to scale their work.

The process to create the awards, which has included people from around the planet in all walks of life, does not discuss measured outcomes and other boundaries that might be on a funder’s grant proposal requirements. While a grant is for work to be done, an award is given for good work achieved. A grant requires a budget, and an agreement between the grantee—generally an NGO—and the grantor. The prize nominees will have to generate an idea, a plan, or a project. The entry will be screened by an independent assessor and judged by experts. There is no mention that overhead can only be 10 percent of a program, or that staff wages cannot be included, which appear in many grants. There is a great deal of freedom to work, to dream, invent, and design for the award.

Prince William’s goal to reward ingenuity and positive environmental work also includes the opportunity for individuals to receive a prize. The parameters in the US for individuals to receive funds from foundations are tight, limited to scholarships or awards open to the general public.

While the awards will not have the conditions of a foundation grant, which can be onerous, they are a taxable event for individuals. Examples of these are Fulbright awards and the Nobel Peace prize. Despite the tax piece, being given the opportunity to imagine a healing planet and bring it to fruition is worth a shot.—Marian Conway