A Climate Action for Every Type of Activist
No matter your age, gender, race, or political ideology, there are ways to fight climate change that fit your life and values.
Most of us have heard about U.N. researchers warning that we need to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit our risk of extreme heat, drought, floods, and poverty caused by climate change. Report after report about a bleak climate future can leave people in despair.
But another option is good for you and the planet.
Susan Clayton, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the College of Wooster, says getting involved with a group can help lift your climate-related anxiety and depression in three ways. Working with like-minded folks can validate your concerns, give you needed social support, and help you move from feeling helpless to empowered.
And it can make a difference. “Groups are more effective than individuals,” Clayton says. “You can see real impact.”
So join forces with like-minded citizens and push for change.
The U.S. Climate Action Network lists more than 175 member organizations, which are activist groups working through energy policy to fight climate change. And that doesn’t include all of the environmental groups out there. So you have lots of options for getting involved.
Full disclosure: I found my activism comfort zone with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. I love its bipartisan, nonconfrontational style, and it suits me. What’s your climate action style?
I’ve done some matchmaking for you. Here are nine activism styles that might fit, along with some groups that align with them. Pick one, and you can start making change.
1. You believe in a bipartisan approach.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby is an option for those who believe the best strategy is to gain support on both sides of the aisle. The group trains people in ways to build political will in their communities and to effectively lobby their members of Congress. It asks volunteers to bring respect and empathy to all of those encounters, even when talking with people who may vehemently disagree with their cause.
What distinguishes Citizens’ Climate Lobby from many climate groups is its singular legislative goal—to see a fee placed on carbon, with the proceeds returned to citizens as dividends. After more than 10 years of lobbying, a bill similar to their proposal has been introduced with bipartisan sponsors in the U.S. House.
2. You’re an educator looking for support.
The Alliance for Climate Education can be a climate teacher’s best friend. It offers educational and interactive resources that can be streamed to high school classrooms. The group also works to fight anti-science policies that have been cropping up in some school districts and helps train teachers to counter misinformation.
3. You’re ready to take it to the streets.
Consider joining 350.org. You may find yourself attending rallies, lobbying elected officials, helping get out the vote, or even getting arrested for protesting fossil fuel projects.
“To solve and fight the climate crisis, we need to employ every tactic we have,” says Lindsay Meiman, 350 U.S. communications coordinator.
One of the group’s more high-profile fights has been against the Keystone XL pipeline. But 350 members are also encouraged to take actions that make sense in their own communities. For instance, Meiman has been involved in a campaign against a fracked natural gas pipeline under New York Harbor.
4. You’re a fierce mama or papa bear looking out for your kids.
Check out Moms Clean Air Force*, a million-strong organization of moms (plus dads, grandmas, aunts, uncles, godparents). These parents show up in senators’ offices, with babies on hips, to talk about climate change. They testify against rollbacks of clean air regulations. They work with their mayors to spark change locally, and they write or call their representatives.
“We have this saying: ‘Tell Congress to listen to your mother,’” says Heather McTeer Toney, national field director.
5. You prefer working with people who share your culture.
If you’re a person of color, working with White progressives may not feel comfortable for a variety of reasons, no matter how welcoming they try to be.
Hip Hop Caucus is an option for anyone who embraces hip-hop culture regardless of age or race, says Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former senior vice president. The group takes a holistic approach, linking culture and policy. Its work ranges from registering people to vote to lobbying members of Congress to producing the radio show and podcast Think 100.
Other options for climate fighters of color: the Indigenous Environmental Network, GreenLatinos, Ecomadres, and the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program.
6. You’re young and ready to change the world.
The Sunrise Movement started in April 2017 and got lots of attention last year for its protest along with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office demanding a committee to study the Green New Deal proposal.
The Sunrise target age is 14 to 35, and most members are in their teens and 20s. The group is growing fast—100 new hubs opened within two months in communities across the country after November. Communications Director Stephen O’Hanlon says the group’s overarching goal is “taking on the corrupting influence of fossil fuels and making climate change an urgent priority in every corner of the country.”
And if you’re still in high school, another option is Alliance for Climate Education.
7. Your spiritual beliefs guide your life—and your climate actions.
Many religious groups find support for caring for the planet in the Scriptures. Two that are doing important work are Young Evangelicals for Climate Action and its parent group, Evangelical Environmental Network.
Because evangelical Christians are often more conservative than traditional environmentalists, these groups are able to get an audience with Republican lawmakers (they’ve met with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) who are less receptive to liberals. They also work to educate fellow churchgoers and spur them to action.
Other faith-based options include Green Faith, which unites people from the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist traditions in working to protect the planet, and Interfaith Power and Light.
8. You have more money than time.
If you’re too busy to volunteer time but would like to support the climate cause financially, all of the above groups have operating expenses and need donations.
You may also want to invest in one of the large established groups that have been in the environmental battle for years, like the Environmental Defense Fund*, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club Foundation.
Charity Navigator, an organization that ranks charities based on their financial health, accountability, and transparency, can help you evaluate the groups. But be aware that relatively new or small groups may not be evaluated yet.
9. You’re older and want to fight for the next generation.
Elders Climate Action members are using their life experience and skills—and for many, the extra time they have in retirement—to try to make a difference on climate issues.
“Most of us won’t be around when the worst of climate change hits, but the people we love will be,” says Leslie Wharton, Elders co-chair.
Although members are nominally 55 and older, anyone can join; people as young as 18 have. And even though some members are in frail health, they can still get a lot done. For instance, members of an Elders group at an assisted living home write letters to lawmakers to ask for pledges of action on climate from candidates who come to speak to them.
*Editor’s Update 8/2/19: The Environmental Defense Fund advocates for market-based solutions and takes an industry-collaborative approach in its climate work. For example, EDF and three other environmental organizations are currently partnering with more than a dozen major corporations—including oil and gas companies Shell and BP—in the climate lobbying group CEO Climate Dialogue. Moms Clean Air Force is a special project of the Environmental Defense Fund. Readers interested in supporting an organization that takes a corporate accountability approach to climate action may want to consider Food & Water Watch.