Where and how can I contribute to solving climate change issues?
August 13, 2015 8:00 PM   Subscribe

OK, I'm scared. I'm a programmer, and although I have several other skillsets, that's probably my most valuable one. How can I use it to help? What organizations should I contact? Are there scientists or academic institutions that need some kind of support in this way? Are there existing projects that I could contribute to?

The above mostly has it. What, if anything, can I do to help?
posted by ABCApplePie to Technology (18 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I know this probably isn't the answer you are looking for but I think it might be the most effective: You are a programmer, you probably make a fairly good income, so donate as much as you possibly can to people who are working to stop climate change. I think, assuming that you are in the USA, the Sierra Club's climate campaign might be the best bang for your buck.

Also, consider spending some money to live a lower carbon lifestyle (and demonstrate such to those around you). Solar panels on your roof, electric car in the driveway. Get your home off gas if you use it.

As far as using your skills as a volunteer, I would try larger organizations, as smaller ones are less likely to be able to use specialized skills. Some ideas: Sierra Club, 350.org, Greenpeace. If, like me, you think the answers are likely to be political as well, I would consider volunteering for a political party that you think will do something about climate change (this may not work so well if you are in the US).

I don't think the most effective use of your time would be on the science side. I don't think more science is going to convince people. We already have plenty of very good science, what we need now is action and that takes political and social capital.

Can you share your general location or at least which country you are in? I think that would help.
posted by ssg at 8:22 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

ssg, I am in the greater Seattle area in Washington state, USA.

Thank you for all of your input so far!
posted by ABCApplePie at 8:36 PM on August 13, 2015

Civic hacking! Go forth and make it easier for people to ride the bus.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:36 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

As a programmer, you could probably come up with some 'green' project idea involving an Internet of Things framework, like the one Samsung released recently. If you google IoT and green or climate or whatnot, you'll see the ideas linked fairly often--sometimes with very healthy and realistic expressions of doubt, but you never know. My thought is that even a failed project on that front gives you meaningful experience and time to work out what you'd do next to help.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:38 PM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

A lot of people have the same question as you do. People also tend to feel quite alone in their concern; we see tremendous evidence that most of the way we live has a negative impact on the world, and we feel helpless in the face of it all.

I think one of the most beneficial courses toward helping would be to 1) help people answer the "what can I do" question effectively (linking them with information from science, product life cycle analyses, behavioral economics), and 2) help them know that they are not in fact alone in not only understanding that there is a problem, but in being willing to actually do something thoughtful about it.
posted by amtho at 8:38 PM on August 13, 2015

Internet of things? Every CPU chip created has a significant environmental impact, and the rate at which new objects are created and thrown away makes that problematic, I think.
posted by amtho at 8:39 PM on August 13, 2015

Please Memail me!
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:46 PM on August 13, 2015

I work in this space and I would say the things you can do are:
1. Reduce your carbon footprint, there is A LOT you can do. Start with your home energy use and go from there.
2. As others suggested, give money to organizations that work with climate change. Though Sierra Club is a great start, there are a lot of other groups working on a civic and educational level around climate change including: Climate Science Defense Fund, Alliance for Climate Education, Climate Parents, Climate Voices and the National Center for Science Education. I would ask though that you not dictate to any group what you THINK the money should be spent on. They work in the space, you don't, they know what they need.
3. I disagree with a previous comment that your skills are better suited to a large organization. Small organizations have little money and lots of needs for programmers for a variety of tasks. You simply offering your skills could be worth 100k to them.
4. Civic hacking is awesome - if you can figure out a way to use it to reduce carbon emissions, that would be even awesomer. I would suggest again contacting groups who work in this space though, as they probably know what people need.
posted by Toddles at 9:23 PM on August 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Look for local and state action groups on Facebook and join them and help interlink them ... Bicycle infrastructure happens because a group of citizens get together and get the word out and do the work. State investment in carbon-neutral commuter rail and bus happens because 30 such community groups involving bikes, gardeners, green moms, disability advocates, new urbanists, shopping local, eating local, stopping global warming, creating energy independence from the Middle East, and making traffic safer for kids, all band together and lobby the statehouse. Connect, connect, connect. A small group of committed people can influence a LOT at the state and local level.

We just got a delicate environmental area turned into a protected park in under 2 years because the people who wanted to make the park put it out there and all the bikers, hikers, green mamas, environmentalists, bird watches, homeschoolers, and so on, sent it to their groups as an item of mutual interest. There were 500 advocates willing to show up at park board meetings within a week. I see more and more local green advocacy happening this way, and it's getting more and more effective as people pool their talents and a broader group of people who have loosely "green" interests get interconnected and start to know each other.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:49 PM on August 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I hope it's OK to chime in with a closely related question related to donations: What are the most reliable carbon offset funds to give money to? Or is there a reason not to put cash in those places at all?
posted by mark k at 10:35 PM on August 13, 2015

Many say that, as with the anti-apartheid movement's success, following the money and ultimately working to divest is the most powerful way to bring about root change. Divestment in fossil fuels. 350.org, which others have mentioned, has some good information efforts already in place.

GoFossilFree.org is a really good resource. It connects readers/budding activists with local divestment campaigns already in place: https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org

Onward! And if you can, maybe join the Climate March in D.C. Sept 24 to demonstrate and support the new Pope in his public leadership calling for response to climate change. (I'm scared too and when I went to the NYC march in 2014 it soothed the fear-part a bit. Because you see how many are the boat and fighting too....) It's going to be huge!

posted by seaward at 11:07 PM on August 13, 2015

As an individual, I think personally promoting positive change (great suggestions above) and donating to organizations that do are the best way to make a difference. Individual carbon offsets you tack on to an airline flight are usually just feel good PR. Search for "carbon offset controversy" to see some of the discussion.

If you're going to use a carbon offset program, make sure it's a good quality one. Natural Resources Defense Council has a decent overview. They also recommend reducing carbon footprint and moving to renewable energy before looking at offsets.
posted by dttocs at 11:11 PM on August 13, 2015

searching on: "civic hacking resilient communities" and "civic hacking climate" gives a bunch of projects to look over and find something linked off of them you'd want to chip in on:

Virginia Beach, Virginia: The local brigade Code for Hampton Roads is organizing a GIS-focused hackathon around coastal flooding and climate resilience.
Tacloban, Philippines: Community development organizers are putting together a [freespace] event to focus on culturally-driven redevelopment post-disaster and how news can be projected into areas of the community who aren't connected.


Hacking our way towards Resilience

NASA challenges civic hackers to focus on climate change

Read some of the more fundamental texts once in a while along with more tidbit-sized stuff so that you can suss out what's bang-for-your-puck projects/lifestyle changes from the sunshine-from-oranges! feelgoodism stuff.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:52 AM on August 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'd definitely look into the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. Environmental Working Group isn't in the climate space much but uses a lot of programmers; you might look at their website and see if a climate-related project in their style came to mind. 350.org is doing good grassroots organizing; I don't know what their needs are. The other thing you might look into is the electoral side of things. A lot of people gave up on US federal action for some time due to the makeup of Congress. I'm not sure which groups are doing electoral strategy (selecting seats that might be flipped and then building campaigns there), but you might research that as well.
posted by salvia at 8:32 AM on August 14, 2015

I believe that the single best action the US can do to limit climate change is to adopt a carbon tax. The only obstacle is political, and the tipping point is not far off. Therefore, the most effective action would be to help elect Democrats who support a carbon tax to Congress. Anything else (other than, say, feasible fusion power) would be just working around the edges. Still worth doing, but likely to be less effective.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 2:45 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a programmer, one thing you might be able to do is to develop a game that donates all profits to a green fundraising effort. Similar to FreeRice.com. Come up with a trivia game or a quick shooter-type thing that would draw people in, get some sponsors, and set up donations.

No idea if this would be more or less successful than helping directly.
posted by CathyG at 6:07 AM on August 15, 2015

The right way for you to contribute immediately is for you to contribute money. Take a big pile of money out of the bank and donate it to people who know much better than you do how to solve climate change issues. Then do it again and again as you save up. Convert your evil employer's cash into something good.

You could also develop and maintain databases and web sites for free, but the most bang for your buck would be to continue throwing cash at climate scientists.
posted by pracowity at 1:24 PM on August 15, 2015

Do you have a lot of foot traffic past your office or cubicle? If you have to get to work by car, do you park where a lot of cars will be driving past?
posted by Baeria at 8:13 AM on August 16, 2015

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