Eric Lemelson started the Karuna Foundation in 2010 to support visionary organizations in developing nations working to both mitigate carbon emissions and help human populations and the ecosystems they rely on adapt to climate change. Karuna is the Sanskrit word for compassion.
Rapid economic development in Western countries, which have been profligate users of fossil fuels for several hundred years, caused most of the changes to the atmosphere that we are witnessing today. As a farmer and a career environmentalist, Eric Lemelson is both intimately familiar and deeply concerned with the consequences of climate change. At home, he has seen the world in his backyard literally change before his eyes; as a frequent traveler to developing countries, he has seen first-hand that people who bear no responsibility for creating the problem in the first place are often the same people who suffer the most. The Karuna Foundation’s mission is therefore rooted in concepts of climate justice, which are based on our ethical and arguably our legal duty to assist developing countries in mitigating the impacts of our choices and lifestyles in the developed world.
The Karuna Foundation has focused initial funding efforts in Bhutan, a small country in the Himalaya region that has made a major long-term commitment to preserving its environment. High-elevation regions, like the Himalaya range, are already witnessing dramatic changes in temperature, and this trend is forecast to only increase in the coming decades. Karuna’s modest resources are well-suited to a small, Buddhist country like Bhutan, where intent and effort are often as important as dollars in getting things done.
The Karuna board is employing a range of strategies in their efforts to help the Bhutanese adapt to climate change, including: energy efficient building design and construction; sustainable agriculture; weather and climate data collection, monitoring, and analysis; renewable energy; education in the fields of climate science and the environment; urban planning and sustainable development; scientific research; and other areas. The bedrock of this work, integral to the world view of the founder and board members, is a deep commitment to a just, equitable, and sustainable world.
The Karuna Foundation is led by its President and Founder, Eric Lemelson, and advised by a board of directors, all of whom live in either Portland or the Bay Area. The Foundation’s office is located in One North, an energy efficient, mixed use office and retail complex in Portland’s Boise neighborhood. One North, itself the product of Eric Lemelson’s vision for energy efficiency in the built environment, was completed in 2015.