Volunteering is one of the most important things you can do. There are plenty of environmental groups within communities for gardening, animal care, conservation, and more. If you have a particular interest that doesn’t have a group, just make one! These groups are a great way to gather people with common interests to offer their skills to work towards goals. Change within your community starts with you, and you’ll probably make some like minded friends along the way, too.
Joining environmental groups is an essential and meaningful part of building a greener future. All of the other green actions in this book are about what you and your family can do as individuals to become more sustainable, but the truth is that you can only have so much impact as an individual. By joining an environmental organization, your and other people’s individual efforts can culminate in community-wide, national, and international impact. Joining an environmental organization can also have health and emotional benefits for you and your family in addition to helping your community. According to the Mayo Clinic, the activities involved in volunteering such as building social groups and learning new skills are shown to decrease rates of depression and reduce stress, as well as other benefits. 1
Joining an environmental group can also provide a sense of community and bonding over shared passions for the environment. Many environmental issues are so large in scale that they can feel daunting, and we can sometimes feel as if we are the only ones who care, but when you join an environmental group you are able to bond with people with the same passions and fears for the environment as you. Environmental groups provide a sense of community, purpose, and hope. However, when choosing an environmental group to join, it’s important to choose the right one that fits your ideals and abilities. Organizations may need members to give financial support or volunteering time, so it’s important to note what you can and can’t give when evaluating which groups you would like to join.
civil action and protesting:
There are many environmental organizations whose sole focus is political action. We are very lucky to live in a country where we are guaranteed the rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to petition our government. This means that when our government does something that we don’t agree with, like not restricting greenhouse gas emissions, we have the right to spread information about climate change, protest, and contact our senators and representatives. Environmental groups that focus on civil action have an impact by changing the way our government works, by convincing elected and government officials to change the laws or how those laws are implemented. Many environmental organizations, such as the World Wildlife fund, send out emails about important environmental legislation, and ask their supporters to contact their representatives to urge them to support the legislation; these organizations also often send out petitions that need signatures or ask their supporters to vote on certain legislation.
Taking it a step further, Fridays for Future, a youth led organization that is trying to fight climate change by organizing protests all over the world. On Friday, September 20th, 2019, people in 150 countries protested for climate action, myself included. 2 Some environmental groups go a step further and take part in what is called civil disobedience, which is when people disobey laws that they believe to be unjust, like when Rosa Parks refused to follow the law that stated that African Americans had to sit in the back of the bus. One such organization is Greenpeace, which is known for staging elaborate stunts that bring to light the unsavory actions of big corporations. For instance, in 2015 Greenpeace staged a peaceful but impactful protest when hundreds of kayakers in Seattle created a blockade around a Shell oil rig that was headed for the arctic. 3 These are just a few examples of the ways that civil action has succeeded in protecting the environment.
One of the most important ways that you can help environmental organizations is by giving a charitable donation. Environmental organizations are almost always filled to the brim with people who have the dream and the drive to protect the environment, but lack the funds to achieve those dreams. Even if it’s a small amount of money, financial contributions are the lifeblood of environmental organizations and your contribution makes a difference. Additionally, in the United States, donations to charitable organizations can be deducted from your income tax.4 This means that when you donate to charity, you can think of it like you’re not actually taking any more money out of your pocket, you are just diverting funds that would have gone to the government to the environmental organization of your choice.
However, not all charities are created equally. Although an organization may have good intentions, it may not be very efficient which can lead to large amounts of the budget covering administrative costs, it may not be fully transparent with it’s donors and financial information, or it just may not have the resources to be very effective in its goals. A very helpful resource for determining the best place to put your donations is Charity Navigator, a non-profit organization that helps you find charities based on your interests. It gives each charity a rating out of 4 stars and a profile that has information about their financial transparency, impact, where they get their funds, and how they allocate those funds.
Volunteering and Community Work:
Another way that you can help environmental organizations is by volunteering your time. Organizations may need your help to pick up trash and litter, work at fundraising events, or any number of tasks. Fleet farming, a local organization in Orlando, Florida, asks volunteers to help out in maintaining their community gardens and in Swarm Rides, their regular bike rides to pick up locally grown food. Volunteering is one of the most enjoyable ways to help the environment, because it allows people to build social ties and learn new skills while staying active. Additionally, through volunteering you can have a direct impact on your local community, which can be incredibly rewarding.
local, national, and international
Another factor that can help guide your decision to join an environmental group is scale. A local group may be one that operates in your city, county, or state, and a local group is more likely to have a significant impact on your community. However, if you want to broaden your horizons, in a national or international group your individual contribution may be smaller, but the impact will reach a lot more people. However, many large organizations, such as the Citizens Climate Lobby, operate on all three scales. Citizens Climate Lobby is a bipartisan organization whose ultimate goal is to enact national legislation to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions, but they also have hundreds of local chapters globally.
local, national, and international
There are thousands of environmental organizations to choose from which can make the task seem daunting, so try to remember the key things in this article. First, the most important thing is that you join an organization that aligns with your core values. If you are extremely passionate about climate change but don’t have a big interest in reducing solid waste, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to join an organization promoting recycling and composting.
Second, consider what you have to give and what you can give. If you have a lot of free time but have very little money to spare, then it makes sense to spend time making calls to representatives and volunteering, rather than donating money. Similarly, if you are comfortable with your finances but have very little time to give, consider helping the earth by giving a portion of that money to an organization that needs it.
Third, think about what scale you would like to effect change on. If you are extremely passionate about the beaches in your area, it makes sense to join a local group that organizes beach clean-ups.
Finally, make sure to do your research. If you are considering joining an organization, look them up on Charity Navigator to make sure they are efficient and transparent with their finances. The most important thing is to find an organization that fits with the criteria that you are looking for, because if you don’t like an organization you’re not likely to stick with it. In short, make good choices!
1 Mayo Clinic Health System. (2017, May 18th). Helping people, changing lives: The 6 health benefits of volunteering. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/helping-people-changing-lives-the-6-health-benefits-of-volunteering
2 Kaplan, S., Lumpkin, L., & Dennis, B. (2019, September 20th). ‘We will make them hear us’: Millions of youths around the world strike for action.
3 Glaser, A. (2015, October 1st). 7 people-powered moments that helped defeat shell in 2015.
4 Internal Revenue Service. (2019). Charitable contribution deductions. https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organizations/charitable-contribution-deductions
5 Mayo Clinic Health System. (2017, May 18th). Helping people, changing lives: The 6 health benefits of volunteering. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/helping-people-changing-lives-the-6-health-benefits-of-volunteering
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