How do I most effectively work for political change on global warming?
June 9, 2013 12:53 PM   Subscribe

So I'm a Canadian citizen living in the US, which means I can't vote anywhere. But I still want to work for political change, on global warming in particular. I'm not trying to make myself feel good, I want to make a difference if possible through whatever legal and non-deceptive means are available to me (donations, volunteering, whatever). Help me find a way to do that.

In particular I am looking for organizations that actually care about climate change (e.g. they don't focus on preventing hydrofracking, ideally they'd be in favor of or at least neutral about nuclear power) and are actually looking for results -- I don't want to raise awareness or write letters to the editor of the Times unless these things have been shown to actually influence the political process, which I frankly doubt. Also, as a noncitizen, I don't think it is honest of me to call or write legislators telling them that I'm a constituent, since I'm not really. But I am happy to try and influence citizens, finance campaigns, work on lobbying efforts, etc.

So far it looks like my best bet is giving money to the EDF. Should I just give money and call it a day, or is there some way that I can spend my time effectively too? Are there other organizations along similar lines that could use more funding and/or manpower? Would love some suggestions!
posted by goingonit to Law & Government (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
IMO- voting and trying to influence the political picture is one of the LEAST effective ways to bring about change. And, if you had not noticed, the US legislators are doing nearly nothing productive (about anything). So, I don't think you are missing much there. Faster, more pervasive change comes through success in commercial markets- in this case, with the success of viable energy alternatives. I would focus my efforts on promoting and funding technological advancements. There are many ways to do this. I don't know if there are organizations directed toward those goals that you could work with... Maybe. But certainly you can become an expert about (blog?) and an advocate of advancing viable energy alternatives.
posted by ecorrocio at 2:03 PM on June 9, 2013 might be interesting to you as an organization to contribute to or volunteer for.

You might also be interested in Transition Towns which are an effort to relocalize and decarbonize, both to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

You are probably right about writing letters not making much of a difference, although it's better than nothing. If you did go that route, hand written letters generally get the best response.

Otherwise, as someone who has seen effective and ineffective campaigns over the past decade or so, I would say that in general it's not what you do but how you do it. Electoral work, lobbying, commenting at public meetings, submitting comments, civil disobedience, writing editorials and books, donating, going door to door in your own neighborhood, all can work if there is some strategy and sustained effort behind them. Or they can all fail if not done well.

So do what you can with what you have, and be prepared to learn as you go and adjust accordingly. I'm glad you're interested in making a difference!
posted by natteringnabob at 2:08 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: natteringnabob -- yes, I have seen and it looks interesting. I will definitely check it out some more! As you say, though, well-run organizations that stay on message and strategize effectively are much more effective, and I was hoping someone would have some evidence about which organizations are and aren't. (Also: Bill McKibben looks exactly like James Carville.)

ecorrocio -- While I have great hopes in market-driven technological development helping to fight climate change, (a) I am not convinced that short of working for a green tech company there is much I can do to speed its development directly and (b) politics has a big role in determining the rate of development in this area in any case. I understand that there's not much I can do personally to change the political system but it's worth trying to help in any event.
posted by goingonit at 2:41 PM on June 9, 2013

Your question made me think of this recent article "Lobbying for the Greater Good" from the NYT which talks about the example of the Citizens Climate Lobby (which may be a bit too focused on lobbying legislators for your liking, but I had always wondered if letter writing et al was of any use, and the article suggests it can be).
posted by AnnaRat at 2:54 PM on June 9, 2013

I can recommend volunteering with the organization I work for, Sierra Club, which has a very robust and successful grassroots campaign going on targeting coal power, which is a huuuge source of carbon pollution in the US. Memail me if you'd like more info.

I also have informed opinions about some of the other orgs mentioned here (both positive and negative) that I'm happy to share over memail as well.
posted by lunasol at 3:37 PM on June 9, 2013

It's definitely a tough problem.
I don't have a good answer, but:

A lot of environmental policy in the US has been pushed into place by states like CA creating progressive local policy, which becomes defacto policy for national and international companies that wish to access the large markets of CA, prying open the way for national policy.

Local politics is often less corrupt than DC, definitely far less calcified, and often driven by smaller groups where individuals can make a bigger difference. You could look into organisations that were involved in shaping the recent CA carbon trading proposal - or their east coast equivalents.
posted by anonymisc at 5:02 PM on June 9, 2013

Not sure if looking like Carville is a compliment :)

I guess the point I was trying to get across, which I failed at, is that there isn't one good answer for you. Take Transition Towns - the one in your town might be doing great work, or it might be doing lame work, it just depends.

And the same goes for any org doing this type of work. Work and strategy follow funding. A group or organizer doing great work might find that their funding has dried up and they will have to move on, and you might find that whatever new strategy they take on isn't quite to your liking.

So that's why I can't recommend a specific group - you'll have to find what works for you, and you'll have to keep an eye on what they're doing to decide if you want to keep supporting them.

Seconding the bit about local politics, and everyone I know who works for Sierra Club on the ground is awesome.
posted by natteringnabob at 7:22 PM on June 10, 2013

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