The issue of climate change drove the news cycle this year, from the Climate Strike and Greta Thurnburg’s United Nations speech, to the Green New Deal. And for those looking to support green charities that make tangible change happen on the ground, there are a number of non-profit organizations that are doing great work in the climate space.
In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, donating to climate-focused charities may also be a great way for your gift to keep on giving—a gift to the Earth, a gift toward sustainability for the near future, and a gift to future generations.
We’re still years away from effective technology to recapture greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere—and so reforestation has emerged as one of the most powerful, and natural, ways to capture carbon. It has the potential to remove two-thirds of the 300 billion metric tons of carbon that humans have released into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
One Tree Planted is a non-profit that works to have one tree planted for every dollar it receives from donations. It chooses specific projects and reaches out to communities all around the world to get trees planted while also creating long-term benefits for locals who may be involved in the effort. The organization also works with the World Resources Institute to give money to vetted reforestation projects and organize volunteer events.
“The real impact goes beyond the tree,” Diana Chaplin, One Tree Planted’s marketing director, said. “Our projects have unique stories. Reforestation can contribute to clean water, food security, or habitat restoration and that’s often woven into that project.”
One Tree Planted is matching every donation it receives between Black Friday and Giving Tuesday. Other organizations that work towards reforestation efforts are The Nature Conservancy and Trees for the Future.
Cleaning up oceans
It is estimated that eight million tons of plastic trash end up dumped into our oceans every year, and 80 percent of ocean pollution comes from land-based resources. Much of the litter is then consumed by seabirds and marine mammals, causing over a million bird deaths and over 100,000 mammal deaths every year. Agricultural run-off, chemicals from pesticides, and untreated sewage also finds its way into the oceans.
Clean Ocean Action is a nonprofit that focuses specifically on the well-being of waterways in the New York and New Jersey area. Spencer Munson, the group’s resource and event coordinator, says 84 cents of every dollar donated going to projects to aid the water quality of the oceans and waterways in and around the two states.
The growing organization has been able to host large “beach sweeps”—or volunteer ocean cleanup days—and to monitor water quality for harmful pathogens. It also works as an ocean industrialization “watchdog” to stop initiatives like fossil fuel proposals from going forward, Munson said.
“Consider donating to a small organization with a high reputation and who appropriately uses their funds,” Munson told The Daily Beast, noting the organization's 4/4 star rating on Charity Navigator. Other well-known groups that work to clean up oceans are The Ocean Conservancy and the Surfrider Foundation.
Almost two billion metric tons of CO2 were released into the atmosphere in 2015 thanks to emissions from plastics production. Carbon is released throughout the entire life-cycle of a plastic item: from extracting petroleum to make plastic resins, transporting the plastic good to the market, and incinerating and recycling the item after it’s disposed of. With over 90 percent of plastic going unrecycled in 2018, recycling has been called one of the simplest ways to reduce the emissions that come from plastic use.
The Container Recycling Institute focuses on developing research and educating industry stakeholders to improve the collection and quality of the recycling system. Susan Collins, president of CRI, also said the group often worked with state entities to “help them create the best legislation around the recycling issue.”
Collins was also quick to point out the importance of reducing the use of plastics in reducing emissions. Another non-profit, 5 Gyres, works to stop plastic emissions at the source by encouraging the elimination of single-use plastics.
Water and Food Security
In 2013, it was estimated that 2 billion people in the global population experienced food insecurity and undernutrition had increased due to a number of pressures—one of them being “extreme climatic events.” It has also been suggested that major crop yields in Africa and South Asia could reduce by eight percent by the 2050s due to climate change factors, which could leave even more individuals malnourished and underfed.
The One Acre Fund provides a bundle of long-term services to help rural, smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa provide food to their communities and earn money along the way. After providing farmers with seeds and fertilizer on credit, the organization trains the farmers on modern agricultural techniques and about the agricultural marketplace to help them turn a profit—helping ensure the farm’s lasting impact within their community.
In addition to helping small-scale farmers, Action Against Hunger also provides food, cash, and other resources to areas devastated by natural disasters and other emergencies. Charity: Water has raised money and partnered with reputable organizations to build over 44,000 community-owned water projects in 27 countries so far.
Clean Energy and Green Cities
Clean energy has long been a focus of policy makers as a means of reducing greenhouse gases that electricity production emits. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions came from the production of electricity— with about 63 percent of electricity coming from the burning of coal and natural gas.
GRID Alternatives is a nonprofit that aims to bring clean energy benefits and resources to low-income communities, with the aim of reducing residents’ energy bills and expanding the reach of energy alternatives. It installs solar systems exclusively in underserved neighborhoods and provide solar industry job training while performing installations. Sarah Bucci, the group’s senior marketing director, said the organization installed solar systems in over 15,000 households and provided job training to over 40,000 individuals.
“We’re working towards a just transition to clean energy,” Bucci said. “Clean energy can tackle environment and economic justice issues in one fell swoop... We’re focused on people, planet, and employment.”
The Institute for Sustainable Communities also tackles global sustainability issues by focusing on helping cities, communities, and factories engage in more environmentally-friendly practices. In cities, ISC helps municipal governments cut emissions, educates leaders about sustainable practices, and provides funding for initiatives on the local level. The group also provides green infrastructure technologies, strategic funding, and connections with factories and larger cities to underserved communities.
Fighting Fossil Fuels
The majority of greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide, and according to the EPA, the use of fossil fuels is the primary source of carbon dioxide being released into the air. 350.org—named after 350 parts per million, or the determined safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—says it cares about three things: getting money back from the fossil fuel industry and putting the funds towards an economy of renewables; building towards the elimination of fossil fuels with efforts like the Green New Deal; and organizing climate strikes against the fossil fuel industry.
Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, the North America director for the non-profit, says the group works worldwide to make companies, politicians, and banks pay for their role in the fossil fuel industry—both literally and figuratively.
“We’re not just talking about climate liability… We’re trying to cut the funnel of money to fossil fuels and re-divert it back to the community. We believe that the money that we’re spending could be put elsewhere,” O'Laughlin said, adding that 350.org works to “accelerate” efforts to enable communities to do green energy work and demand fossil fuel divestment.
According to O'Laughlin, about 80 percent of 350.org’s donations goes into their work. It also has an affiliated political action arm.
Animals have been the first casualties of human-induced climate change. The Bramble Cay melomys, native to Australia’s Torres Strait, officially became extinct in February—with the Queensland state government declaring that ocean flooding had caused “dramatic habitat loss” for the species and possibly the “direct mortality of individuals.” A recent study also found that 99.8 percent of the 459 endangered species in the U.S. were at-risk to climate change factors, but “management agencies are inadequately assessing” those threats or “planning action” against those threats.
Defenders of Wildlife works to protect endangered species on the national, local, and grassroots levels. The group says 97 percent of their donations go directly towards their efforts to maintain the integrity of the Endangered Species Act from attacks against the Trump administration, to help local field offices with education and promotion of the issues, and to organize events like rallies that raise public awareness.
The local field offices collaborate with state agencies to ensure safe wildlife crossings, while the non-profit’s lawyers work to promote conservation law and protections for endangered animals.
West Sound Wildlife Shelter, a nonprofit wild animal medical facility in Washington state, is also a worthy cause to directly help wildlife. The facility rescues and treats injured, sick, and orphaned animals before releasing the creatures back into the wild.