Frederick M. "Ralph" Taylor: Getting to Carbon-Zero

Frederick M. "Ralph" Taylor

Donor Profile Frederick M. "Ralph" Taylor

Private investor Frederick M. “Ralph” Taylor established the Metanoia Fund nearly 30 years ago to support environmental causes and search for solutions to our warming climate. He was drawn to RAND because of its work on making decisions even in the face of deep uncertainty. His Metanoia Fund partnered with the RAND Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition to begin identifying and assessing pathways to carbon-zero through a series of workshops that bring together researchers, philanthropists, policymakers, and innovators.


RAND researchers have launched an ambitious effort to think through how we might break our reliance on carbon. They're doing it with help from a philanthropic fund whose name, in ancient Greek, could translate as “repent.”

Private investor Frederick M. “Ralph” Taylor established the Metanoia Fund nearly 30 years ago to support environmental causes and search for solutions to our warming climate. He was a student at Harvard Divinity School at the time, but chose the name less for its fire-and-brimstone biblical use and more for its meaning in the original Greek: “To change your way of knowing.”

“For me, it's much more a matter of a deeper insight, a shift in perspective,” he said. “Becoming more complex and nuanced in our thinking. That's really what we need now to confront these challenges to our environment.”

That means solving our carbon problem. The fossil fuels that generate carbon power our cars, our electricity plants, and around 80 percent of worldwide economic activity. The international community, meeting in Paris in 2015, acknowledged that worldwide carbon emissions will have to approach zero by 2050 to avoid climate conditions that humanity has never witnessed.

“Becoming more complex and nuanced in our thinking. That's really what we need now to confront these challenges to our environment.”

There are ways to do that, at least in theory. Cars can run on something other than gasoline. Wind farms, solar arrays, and nuclear plants can replace coal-fired power generators. Emerging technologies can even capture carbon emissions at the source and then store them deep underground.

But none of those is an answer alone. It will take worldwide action along many pathways—technological, political, societal—to even approach the level of decarbonization that we need. And that requires a new way of thinking, a shift in perspective that brings together those many pathways and provides at least some direction through an uncertain future.

Taylor has built his investment portfolio around such social and environmental causes. He was an early supporter of community-development efforts in the 1980s and provided seed funding in the 1990s for a pioneering effort to measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions. He and his brother Jack also provided the start-up funding for Root Capital, a nonprofit that helps finance small farmers in Latin America and Africa.

He was drawn to RAND because of its work on making decisions even in the face of deep uncertainty. RAND researchers use computer simulations to test policy options against hundreds of future scenarios, to find those most likely to make a difference.

“RAND is well-positioned to contribute to environmental research,” Taylor said. “RAND's sophistication in generating models will be a great support for people who want to do something about climate resilience.”

His Metanoia Fund partnered with the RAND Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition to begin identifying and assessing those many pathways to carbon-zero. Its $170,000 commitment is funding a series of workshops that bring together researchers, philanthropists, policymakers, and innovators.

Those “Decarbonization Dialogues” have a bold agenda: to produce a roadmap of actions and investments that would transform our global system of energy.

“We are in a race against time,” Taylor said. “There needs to be a better way to focus our efforts, to generate the technologies and interventions we're going to need.”