Confronting Climate Change: Time to Act!


On February 17, Sierra Club and others are planning a rally about climate change.

What will it take to get governments to enact policies that ensure our children and grandchildren live on a planet that can sustain human life in a healthy manner? Recent reports about scientists concluding climate change is “far, far worse” than previously thought underscore how dire a situation we face.  But, don’t be depressed, dear funders and advocates. Instead, act!

Clearly environmental advocates in nonprofits and foundations have significant challenges in front of them. These include a public that is more worried about immediate economic worries than the future of the planet, industry leaders who believe it is not in their economic interests to make the necessary changes, and political leaders without the courage to lead on this issue.

It is on this kind of issue –risky for politicians but vital to the public interest—where foundations can, and we believe must, assert their leadership. And, to be certain, many are.

Opportunity for brave funders

By being bold in its approach, the philanthropic sector can play a pivotal role in moving the debate on how to address climate change. While the political moment for progress on climate change is now, it won’t happen without greater public support.

Despite partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, we have just re-elected a president who favors action and the memory of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation hasn’t faded—yet. Environmental groups and major campaign donors are pushing President Obama to “outline a strategy” on climate change, according to The Guardian.

Nonprofit advocates can do what they always do best in movement building—educate and mobilize. Tell stories that bring climate change home.  While efforts by climate change skeptics are having an effect, there’s no ignoring local problems created directly or indirectly by abuses of our planet: extreme weather, drought, and polluted air and water.

We urge funders to:

Support grassroots organizations: In a report that should be getting more attention, “Cultivating the Grassroots,” the National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy recommends that foundations invest in grassroots organizations in communities that are “disproportionately impacted by environment and climate harms.” Read the entire report here.

Support advocacy to create a consensus on climate action: Nonprofits and community organizers that engage in advocacy know that to move people on an issue you need to speak to their self-interest. As Andrew Hoffman put it in a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, a scientific consensus exists on climate change, but the challenge is that a “social consensus” does not. Hoffman urges messaging to bridge the partisan divide on this issue. See also “Uncommon Allies: How Environmental Funders Can Engage Non-Traditional Constituencies,” a May 2012 report from Arabella Advisors.

Build the capacity of organizations. Some of the groups in the best position to build a social consensus, like environmental justice groups that work in communities affected by environmental degradation, are relatively young.


Lastly, for anyone anxious to take immediate action herself, there’s an opportunity just around the corner. The Sierra Club and the Hip Hop Caucus are leading a broad array of groups organizing what they hope will be the largest climate rally in history.

Join them at 12 Noon on Sunday, February 17, when they predict “thousands of Americans” will head to Washington, D.C. to call for climate action.

What do you think? What will it take to create a public consensus that government, industry, and individuals must act to mitigate the effects of climate change? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.