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Illustration by Delphine Lee

Yes! But How?

9 Climate Action Styles

Which One Are You?

Illustration by Delphine Lee

Illustration by Delphine Lee

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 there’s another option that’s 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 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.

Illustration by Delphine Lee

Illustration by Delphine Lee


Do 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 citizens 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 House.


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 antiscience policies that have been cropping up in some school districts and helps train teachers to counter misinformation.

Illustration by Delphine Lee

Illustration by Delphine Lee


You’re Ready to Take It to the Streets

Consider joining 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.

Illustration by Delphine Lee

Illustration by Delphine Lee


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.


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.


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 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.


Your Spiritual Beliefs Guide Your Life — and Your Climate Actions

Many religious groups find support in their scriptures for caring for the planet. 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 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.


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.


You're Older and Want to Fight for the Next Generation

Elders Climate Action members are tapping 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 cochair.

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 and ask for pledges of action on climate from candidates who come to speak to them.

People We Love

The New Yorkers Who Shut the Door On Amazon

People opposed to Amazon’s plan for New York headquarters protest inside an Amazon bookstore

People opposed to Amazon’s plan for New York headquarters protest inside an Amazon bookstore on Nov. 26. Residents questioned the city and state’s deal that gave the retailer $1.2 billion to open a second headquarters in Long Island City in Queens. Amazon was criticized for anti-union policies and alleged cooperation with immigration authorities. photo by stephanie keith / getty

When Amazon announced in November it would establish another headquarters in Long Island City, in the Queens borough of New York, the reaction wasn’t all positive. A group of local activists, unions, and political leaders voiced their opposition to the $1.2 billion in tax breaks the city and state offered the retail giant. Many cities had actively courted the company in hopes of investment and jobs. But the Queens contingent also feared increased gentrification and displacement from the neighborhood and came together to fight the decision. In February, the resistance scored a victory when Amazon abandoned its plans in New York.

Josselyn Atahualpa
Josselyn Atahualpa

Josselyn Atahualpa was upset when Amazon announced its decision to establish a second headquarters in New York City, but she also fully believed her community would win the battle.

“I came in fierce,” she said of her involvement.

Atahualpa, an organizer for Queens Neighborhoods United, a group that works to find solutions to gentrification and displacement in its communities, said conceding the battle was not an option. She knew that companies like Amazon, not the communities in which they reside, reap the benefits of their development despite promises to the contrary.

Queens Neighborhoods was just one of several local organizations that didn’t support Amazon’s plan, joining with other neighborhood groups, organizations representing the area’s Latino and South Asian communities, and local politicians. Atahualpa says she is very optimistic for the future because she saw so many different groups coming together in a way she never had before.

Jose Cabrera
Jose Cabrera

Jose Cabrera, a lifelong Queens native and co-chair on the organizing committee for the Queens branch of the New York City Democratic Socialists, said he was scared by the thought of the gentrification the company would bring to a city already in a housing crisis.

“People felt like this was the beginning of the end of their life in Queens,” he said.

Cabrera said it is crucial for politicians to collaborate with the communities they represent in order for change to happen, and that was the case for this action. Meetings, town halls, and phone calls were planned to make sure those on the New York City Council and in the state legislature heard their opposition to Amazon’s plans.

“You can’t put your future in Amazon’s hands,” he said.

Cabrera hopes this victory can be an inspiration to communities who are facing, or might face, similar situations. He said just because it is a big corporation, it is not impossible for communities to fight back.

Zack Lerner
Zack Lerner

Zack Lerner, senior labor organizing director for New York Communities for Change, a group that fights against wealth inequality, was unconvinced by Amazon’s promises of job opportunities and billion-dollar investments in the community even before the HQ2 deal was announced.

Lerner said he and his colleagues knew about the problems at Amazon, including its workplace practices and business relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. When the deal was announced, New York Communities for Change was in shock, he said, but they did not let the news deter them.

“We were able to mobilize quickly because we knew this was a bad deal,” Lerner said.

The defeat was a win for the group and others like it, but Lerner knows there is more work to be done. He said conversations about how to invest in communities, infrastructure, and education are necessary in order for cities to continue to flourish.

The Page That Counts

The Numbers That Define Our World

Gallons of oil leaked in those spills5,543 1

Criminal cases filed against NoDAPL protesters by North Dakota836

Criminal charges filed against pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners0 2

Americans’ exposure to toxic fine particulates generated by economic activity of White consumers, compared to national average+12%

Exposure suffered by White Americans, compared to national average–7%

Americans’ exposure caused by Black consumption–23%

Exposure suffered by Black Americans+21%

Share of all deaths from environmental causes attributed to fine particulate matter exposure63% 3

Cuts to Environmental Protection Agency funding in Trump administration 2020 budget proposal 31% 4

Increase in suicide rate among American children ages 10 to 17 from 2007 to 2017 117% 5

Recommended minimum student-to-counselor ratio in schools250:1

U.S. states that meet that standard3

American students with police in their schools but no counselors1.7 million 6

Homicides of children ages 5 to 18 that occurred in U.S. schools during the 2014-15 school year20

Homicides of children ages 5 to 18 that occurred outside of schools during the 2014-15 school year 1,148 7

LGBT representation among regular characters in TV series during the 2007-08 season 1.1% 8

LGBTQ (queer added to study in 2016) representation during the 2018-19 season8.8%

LGBTQ people of color characters on network TV, 2018-1950% 9

Transgender regular characters in the FX show Pose5 10

Rank of Pose among all other scripted shows for number of transgender characters1

Same-sex engagements and weddings between regular characters in the history of children’s television 1 11

Sources: 1. The Intercept 2. Water Protector Legal Collective 3. U.S. National Academy of Sciences 4. Environmental Protection Agency 5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 6. ACLU 7. National Center for Education Statistics 8. GLAAD 12th Annual Diversity Study 9. GLAAD “Where We Are on TV Report,” 2018 10. The Hollywood Reporter 11. Pride Media

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