Photo: Sara Lafleur-Vetter, Standing Rock Reservation
It’s giving season and folks have been asking, “How and to whom do I donate to fight climate change?” This is a complex question because where you decide to give is unique to your understanding of why problems exist and your vision for the future. As someone who has studied and worked in the realms of climate science, policy, and advocacy, I’m choosing to share my perspective on what powerful climate-focused giving looks like.
The reality is that climate change is global is scope, but unequal in impact. The communities who are and will be disproportionately impacted by climate change are those who don’t have the resources to easily adapt: indigenous, low-income black and brown, female, and people whose incomes are directly dependent on the land and sea, like small-scale farmers. Climate change amplifies all of our existing social ills, such as poverty, homelessness, and health disparities, and strains already stretched government resources, particularly in rural areas.
If you are interested in using your resources to tackle climate change, I believe that the most powerful approach is to support the organizations that are building the cultural and political power of the communities who are and will be most impacted by it.
Investing resources in the communities most impacted is not just about mitigating damages — it is also a vital way to create climate solutions that work. In countless cases, the people most affected by a problem are also those most able to solve them. Particularly for climate change, top-down policy to reduce emissions will only get us so far. We are locked into enormous environmental changes — storms, wildfires, drought, sea level rise, heat waves — that will require diversified and creative adaptation. Moreover, top-down policies can often exacerbate local problems. For example, solar rebates can increase property values, pricing out long-term residents. If implemented in tandem with rent protections, renewable energy projects and neighborhood ‘beautification’ can be a source of community health and cohesion, rather than amplifying gentrification and displacement.
Organizations that restore decision-making power to the most climate-affected communities already exist and need bold investments. They build their own alternatives to our extractive economy and help protect communities from further harm. Organizations like the CLEO Institute in Miami Florida, which educates communities about climate change and responds to their needs. Re-Locate Kivalina in Alaska using ethnography and art to build the self-determination of peoples re-visioning their home in the face of climate displacement. And the Community Alliance for Agroecology in the Central Valley building the political power of rural communities for environmental justice.
How communities within the U.S. respond to climate change threats can range as broadly as different countries in Europe. California and Florida both need to address sea level rise, but are worlds away from each other regarding financial resources, political organization and will, and citizen education.
Communities must have the resources they need to respond locally — not just to drought and sea level rise, but also to the complicated economic and social injustices that exacerbate those threats. Local innovation to address climate change in concert with other local stressors is critical. In Oakland, where I live, example solutions might include Climate Workers, a grassroots labor movement for climate justice that mobilizes union members against dirty energy while also engaging workers in projects to foster climate resilience. Not coincidentally, most of the solutions to climate change on the local scale are also building stronger systems of democratic, decentralized governance that hold decision-makers accountable to the needs of the people most impacted by their policy choices (e.g., distributed solar).
Climate change is about opposition. Our fossil fuel-based economy must go.Yet, it’s also about creative agency. Agency comes from effective control over resources and choosing how to live with dignity. We may feel overwhelmed about global climatic chaos, but we are not powerless. I believe that in making choices about how to respond to climate change, we are making choices related to who we are as citizens. What are the power-building organizations that are already creating the local-scale solutions near you? How can you fund and amplify them?
This giving season, the organizations directly resisting the fossil fuel industry need our support (e.g., Rising Tide, Idle No More). They will be more important than ever as our government becomes even more aligned with fossil fuel interests. I also urge you to donate to the organizations in your city that are explicitly building the self-determination of marginalized groups who will be invariably bearing the direct and indirect impacts of climate change across the U.S., and who are very often on the leading-edge of developing and implementing on-the-ground solutions for a climatically stable and socially just future.