Guest Blog

Why Nonprofits Are a Vital Player in The Fight Against Climate Change by J Hawkins

The climate crisis is a global issue that is becoming increasingly alarming and urgent with each passing year. Its severe geophysical effects, such as rising water levels and changing weather patterns, are threatening lives around the world. Even though the impacts of climate change on local communities are well documented, their concerns still remain largely unaddressed. In an Environmental Engineering Science special issue, Michigan State University notes that historically marginalized communities often “lack full participation in social, economic, and political life.” They also disproportionately bear the burden of environmental and health risks.

When it comes to addressing climate issues on a systemic level, nonprofit organizations are a crucial mediator between policymakers and these marginalized communities. Here’s why nonprofits are vital to the fight against climate change.

Financial independence
Financial independence allows nonprofit organizations to operate with great freedom. Maryville University claims that nonprofits only generate the necessary revenue to maintain their operations and do not have public shareholders or stocks. They don’t distribute income among officers or members either. This means that, unlike NGOs, they don’t have ties to stakeholders, patrons, or members that could compromise their operations, ideologies, or interests.

Recently, after three years of organization and advocacy, the Union of Concerned Scientists assisted in an Illinois climate and equity act that would allow a transition to renewable energy, paying attention to the workforce, contractors, and communities involved. For decades, this community of the nation’s top scientists has mobilized their causes with science- and evidence-based solutions to solve human rights issues beyond the climate crisis—done solely with funding from individuals and independent foundations to protect their freedom to operate without external manipulation.

It’s easy to quantify the gravity of the climate crisis in numbers, such as water levels and heat indexes, but these numbers do little to influence action without proper recognition of their human casualties. For nonprofit organizations, being community-oriented can bridge that gap by highlighting the human aspect of these issues.

This is exemplified by the Climate Justice Alliance, which focuses on just transition solutions by working with frontline communities and organizations. Recently, they teamed up with the Center for Story-based Strategy and The Solutions Project to launch “Communicating Our Power,” a program geared towards boosting communications support for people of color at the frontline of climate justice movements. In this manner, they highlight the concerns of those most disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

Because nonprofit organizations are generally more community-oriented, they are also able to loop in more people into action and knowledge dissemination through volunteerism. Many of these volunteers often have day jobs or access to resources that they can utilize in order to advance the organization’s advocacies. For instance, lawyers may offer free legal advice and doctors may offer free medical aid to victims of climate injustice. Otherwise, nonprofits can attract volunteers from more diverse backgrounds, who in turn may gain practical experience in the field and encourage sensitivity to these issues.

One such example is the Marine Mammal Center empowering youth volunteers to speak up about climate change. In 2018, the nonprofit marine mammal hospital and education facility oriented young volunteers on climate science and communication strategies. This was to engage guests in activities that brought more awareness to climate change and how it affects marine mammals. By the end, they were able to engage over 3,580 visitors, resulting in over 860 pledges to reduce carbon footprint.

Nonprofit organizations are a vital component among countless others that are essential to addressing the climate crisis. The post on Climate Wise about solving the climate crisis talks about how communities can be passionate ambassadors for change by witnessing the effects of the climate crisis on a micro level, with matters like local ecosystems, water quality, and health risks. Because of their community involvement and freedom, nonprofits are vital to bringing attention to the more understated effects of the climate crisis.

By J Hawkins for

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