RFF President Richard G. Newell celebrates the anniversary of RFF’s founding and reflects on all the important work to come.
When Resources for the Future (RFF) was established nearly 70 years ago, our mission was novel. On October 7, 1952, RFF became the first think tank dedicated exclusively to environmental and natural resource issues. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts had yet to be passed. The first Earth Day had not yet been celebrated. The impact of humanity on our global climate was decades from being fully appreciated.
Over time, our researchers put forth the fundamental idea that the impact of economic growth on environmental quality was a much more significant problem than the threat of resource depletion. RFF's groundbreaking 1963 study “Resources in America's Future” laid a blueprint for projecting long-term availability of natural resources and understanding their role in the US economy. Our 1979 landmark study “Energy: The Next Twenty Years” provided the impetus for what is now the routine and systematic collection and analysis of energy data by the federal government and private industry.
RFF was the first to identify the economic value of undisturbed natural environments such as rivers and forests, creating the modern theory of resource conservation. Because of the work of RFF’s experts, environmental decisions now recognize that people experience economic losses when fragile ecosystems are damaged, which has transformed the way we think about the benefits and costs of policies that impact the environment. RFF’s groundbreaking efforts also advanced the idea of using financial incentives to encourage environmental improvements, showing that flexible, incentive-based policies like tradeable credit systems and pollution fees could be more cost-effective and inspire greater innovation than conventional uniform regulations.
Across the decades, our commitment to conducting rigorous research and improving environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions has not wavered, even as the world around us has changed demonstrably. No longer are we fearful about resource scarcity; instead, we have come to realize the critical nature of the threat of climate change. It’s the problem for which we don’t have enough agreement about smart approaches that work, enough shared knowledge of how to equitably make the necessary transition, enough innovative research to underpin solutions not only for this decade, but for the next. Solving a problem of this scale requires systemic change, change that brings the most creative thinking to bear and uplifts communities around the world. That’s the vision that we work toward at RFF.
Whether we are responding to rapidly evolving legislative proposals for clean energy, researching how environmental justice and equity can inform contemporary policy, or hosting convenings with the world’s leading environmental decisionmakers, our work helps us all make the decisions to ensure a healthy environment and a thriving economy. Our rigorous research and independent analysis is informing decisions in boardrooms, in the halls of Congress, and in countries around the world. No organization matches RFF’s comprehensive economic expertise in solving the climate challenge.
That’s why we’re celebrating Founders’ Day this year: to reflect on our progress and achievements over the past seven decades, to celebrate the successes that are yet to come, and to ask you to join us on this journey. Please consider supporting RFF on our Founders’ Day so we can move even closer toward our vision of a future where climate change no longer threatens our well-being and environmental decisions help uplift communities around the world.
Give today in honor of our founding and help us achieve RFF’s vision for the future.