This past week I was talking with my folks on the phone, and my mom asked a question: What climate organizations should she give to? She has typically been giving to various animal welfare organizations, but it’s really been occurring to her that all that work is for naught if we fail to act on climate.
In the chance anyone else is interested in the answers, here we go. Let’s give the simple list, and then why later.
Many people associate not for profit corporations with tax exempt charity status, but that’s not strictly true. To be granted tax exempt status there are a bunch of rules around it. One of it is that you can’t spend the majority of your resources on Lobbying elected officials (the official rule is something like 10%, so you’ll see lots of charities with a 20 person staff having 1 policy person, that’s fine).
The thing about climate change: it’s a really big problem. A problem that needs systems change to really solve. And that means policy. Which means you really do need to lobby for things. And a few of these orgs are all in for doing that.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby is an organization I’ve devoted a lot to. At the heart of the organization is a belief that the way forward on climate is by strengthening democracy, and that a big part of that is training volunteers all over the country to go into elected officials offices as citizen lobbyists, and ask for it. We’ll never outspend the professionals, but we do outnumber them. In the past 3 years I’ve now done over 20 lobby sessions, including 7 with my congressman’s office (once with him directly). I now feel incredibly empowered to sit down with my elected officials and ask them for things. In many of those meetings I’ve had break through moments realizing that we were bringing brand new information and perspectives to the table.
Supporting this org means funding the national staff, who manage education, messaging, and materials for the 195,000 volunteers in the group. I’ve met most of the national staff now, many have become friends. They work on a shoestring budget for what their impact is.
Sunrise Movement is a youth climate organization, founded in 2017, who were thrust onto the national stage through the Green New Deal plan. Sunrise is also one of the organizations most responsible for pushing the Democratic presidential field into being better on climate. They are working off a theory for change from the Civil Rights Movement.
They also only let you join the organization directly if you are under 35. This is a youth centered organization, specifically lifting the voices of millennial and gen z.
So while I can’t join, I can support them financially, which again pays for their leaders to be able to build the movement.
350.org – The organization started by Bill McKibben named after the safe atmospheric level of CO2 we need to get to. We’re currently at 414 (pre-industrial was 280ish). Their work of late has been focused on divestment, getting organizations to divest their investments from fossil fuels. When they started this work there was a lot of skepticism that it would mean anything, because there was always more money on the table. But, a decade in, it’s starting to snowball now. The fossil fuel companies are starting to complain about lack of financing, and it’s definitely removing social license from them.
350.org was the first charity I gave to who was working on changing systems, not just relieving suffering. I’ve been donating to them for over 10 years, and it’s really great so see this work coming to fruition.
Environmental Voter Project – I first heard about this org 3 years ago, and went all in this year.
It turns out Environmentalists tend to suck at going to the ballot box. And this is one of the reasons why politicians don’t prioritize the issue, because it hasn’t won them elections. EVP exists to change this, by building lists of people where Environment and/or Climate are their top issue, but who don’t vote regularly. And then, we text them, call them, knock on their doors. Remind them an election is coming up. Remind then that voting is a norm. Ask them to say out load to us that they are going to vote.
Because it turns out if you tell someone you are going to do something out loud, you are far more likely to. EVP doesn’t tell anyone how to vote. Just works to make Environmentalists super voters. People that show up to vote for every election, from president, to school board, to dog catcher.
In addition to financial support, I helped organize and run phone banking hours this fall, and activating a lot of CCL volunteers to help make calls. This organization is really running on a shoe string budget, and all money goes into buying the data sets and supporting their very small national staff.
Journalism / Media
One of the dramatic changes that happened on the climate landscape this past couple of years is a whole lot of really talented people (mostly women) ventured out of safer media landscapes and decided there was a lot of climate journalism not being told because of the publishing companies didn’t see value in it. Maybe that’s because of how much ad revenue they get from fossil fuels? Maybe other reasons.
But, these folks changed the narrative, and also showed the appetite for it all.
Drilled – I personally found my way in here via Amy Westervelt’s incredible Drilled podcast (now in season 5). It tells the story of the huge disinformation campaign that’s been waged by the fossil fuel industry for decades to block climate action. This is required listening for anyone wanted to make change in the space. It’s infuriating at times, but sets up the real stakes going forward. Once she made an option to support the effort, I was all in.
Heated – Just of a year ago Emily Atkins quit her job and started a climate news letter full time for people that were angry about climate change. It was great. The first couple of months she did it for free, but was always up front that she would make it subscription based so she could pay the rent. I’m pretty sure I signed up day one that she did. Her voice is amazing, and she’s asking hard questions of powerful people. Her complaints about Twitter’s ad policy around climate denial changed policy there. The list of powerful folks that consider Heated required reading is only growing.
Hot Take – Amy Westervelt teamed up with Mary Annaise Heglar to make a podcast (and now news letter) that discussed the best of climate writing. Not just journalism, but all kinds of writing. It’s great stuff, and the two of them riffing off each other is always incredible. Again, once they had an option to financially support them, I was all in.
Our Warm Regards – This has been a years long project by Jacquelyn Gill and Ramesh Laungani. Jacquelyn is one of my favorite climate voices on twitter. This podcast centers some of the science of climate change, but in often unexpected ways. The recent episode on the Tempestries project (making scarves that show the temperatures changes of time), was really remarkable. This year they setup a patreon to help pay for interns to help with the show. Again, I was all in.
Why so many?
We don’t yet know what will be the winning solution on climate. Will it be insider policy work? Will it be outside pressure? Will it be social license change? Will it be changing the electorate? Will it require all of the above and more?
I’m privileged to be working in an industry where we’re paid quite well. So I feel like I can support a bunch of these efforts both with money and time. I also feel like the journalism side doesn’t get enough attention. Climate journalism is critical to connect these impacts with our day to day lives, and exposing some of the history around industry disinformation to block action.
If you are looking for one answer – Citizens’ Climate Lobby remains the organization I give the most to, and where I think some of the bigest outcomes are likely to be. Especially given that the Senate is going to be somewhere between 52-48 R/D, to 50-50. How we collectively partnered with EVP this fall and activated a huge number of volunteers and leaders to do that work was amazing.