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Here is the page for my Redondo Beach Climate Action exploration.
Environment and Climate Action Guide: Volunteering
Volunteering for environmental causes is a great way to spend an evening or weekend having an impact, with fun activities and maybe even the outdoors thrown into the mix!
Finding volunteer opportunities is surprisingly difficult, though. Searching the internet for ‘environmental volunteering’ or ‘volunteer for the climate’ doesn’t always pull up what you’re looking for or represent the full range of possibilities. You often have to try multiple search terms and sift through opportunities that vary widely in what activities they focus on, what skills they require, and their time commitment.
When I first got started, I poked around the internet and signed up for volunteer events here and there. Over time, I found more organizations through email lists, links from one organization to another, and introductions.
To make the process of getting started easier, I’ve put together a list of the types of volunteer activities and organizations to look for near you.
(If you’re in California like me, watch this space! I’ll update this guide with specific examples of organizations for each category.)
The two main types of volunteering related to the environment are Advocacy and Nature.
If you think about environmental and climate action as improving the relationship between human society and (rest of) the natural world, advocacy is working on the human society side of the equation. This type of volunteering is all about spreading ideas and calling for change from governments, companies, and individuals.
Why it’s important: To decrease the impact of climate change and protect ecosystems, there are changes we need to make in all parts of society: using different materials, electrifying transportation and our homes, and switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
These changes are driven by industries making changes voluntarily, customers pressuring companies to keep up with the times, and governments setting regulations and offering incentives for making these changes.
The interesting thing is that both companies and government officials care what you think of them. Companies care about their brand. They want to be thought of as the good guys.
Government officials want their constituents to think they are doing a good job.
That’s why, when the public (that’s us!) calls in with a specific ask, they often pay attention. It often takes a number of people calling or writing, close together, to make a strong impression. And so, environmental organizations tend to set up campaigns, so that volunteers can coordinate to call about a subject that’s important and current.
- Calling the office of your elected representative or a corporate executive with a polite message
- Writing letters to officials, newspapers, or voters
- Writing public comments on legislation
- Phonebanking, or calling other volunteers or voters
- Going to protests or marches.
This might be for you if:
- You’re someone who likes to get right to the heart of things, tackling problems at their root cause.
- You like to express yourself in speech, writing, or art.
- You enjoy research, or are interested in getting good at it.
- You like the idea of speaking up and having an impact!
By the way, being shy or introverted is fine! I’m pretty introverted myself. There are many ways to get involved in this arena, and not all of them involve using your literal voice. And if you do want to actually speak to people, it’s something you can get a lot of training for and learn along the way.
How to find organizations near you:
(This section is going to be US-centric because that’s what I know.)
Most organizations that do advocacy work are national or global, so you need to find their local chapter. They usually list all the chapters on their website in some sort of map view.
Examples of organizations to look for local chapters of:
350.org, Sierra Club, Citizens’ Climate Lobby,
League of Conservation Voters, Green New Deal Network, and Climate Hawks Vote
Here are ways to find even more organizations:
- Go to Mobilize US and click ‘Filters’, and search for the terms ‘environment’ and ‘climate.’
- Go to Act Blue’s directory and check the options under ‘Environment’ in ‘Nonprofit Issue Areas’.
- Check out this Charity Navigator page of highly rated environmental and advocacy organizations.
How to get started:
When you find one or a few organizations doing work you find interesting, my top tip is to sign up for their email list (or social channels if they have them, and you prefer that. I don’t).
Just lurk on the email list for a while. They’ll let you know if they’re running a campaign, or having a virtual or in-person event. They tend to be pretty beginner-friendly!
Occasionally, you’ll sign up for a list whose emails you don’t like. All the organizations I listed by name have emails I generally find encouraging and action-oriented, but unfortunately I’ve been on other lists where every email was a downer.
If you get one of those, go ahead and unsubscribe, guilt-free! That’s why I recommend signing up for more than one, so you can find the ones that feel good.
This type of volunteering involves taking care of ecosystems, plants, and animals, and helping them survive and thrive in this era of rapid change.
Why it’s important: One reason is self-evident – plants and animals are awesome and deserve a chance at a good life, and they need our help as they are being threatened by climate change, pollution, and habitat loss.
The second reason is that protecting biodiversity is important for humans too, since being surrounded by healthy ecosystems is good for our mental health, our food supply, and air quality.
Human society has affected ecosystems in a variety of ways, both obvious and less so. Fortunately, biologists and conservationists carefully monitor the health of ecosystems, and volunteers can help protect and restore them.
- Habitat restoration (which can involve weeding and plant care, and sometimes more physically-demanding work like digging holes or taking down fences)
- Cleanup or picking up trash
- Education, like leading nature walks or teaching at a Visitor Center
- Plant care, like at a community garden or nursery
- Animal care, either at a wildlife center or animal shelter. (I can’t speak to this as much, not having done it yet.)
This might be for you if:
- You like the outdoors, doing things with your hands, gardening, and/or animals.
- You have a full or half-day free and transportation to parks or beaches.
- You like adventures!
How to find organizations:
- If there’s a park, trail, beach, river, or national forest near you, check its website (if it has one) for a ‘get involved’ or ‘volunteer’ tab, and if you can’t find one, search for the park’s name + ‘volunteer.’ You can also look for terms like ‘trail maintenance’ and ‘cleanup.’
- Search for ‘volunteer’ on your city or town’s website.
- Volunteer Match has a search feature, and the ability to filter for ‘animals’ and ‘environment.’
- Search for ‘community garden’, ‘wildlife center’, or whatever particular type of organization you’re looking for in your area.
- Charity Navigator has a nature-focused page for environmental organizations, and you can check if they have a local chapter.
- These do tend to be harder to find at first, since they are local to your area, and oddly poorly publicized. But when you find one you like, ask the other volunteers for suggestions! Once you start down the trail, you find more and more cool activities to go to.
How to get started:
- Once you’ve found some organizations, get on their email list or social channels if they have them.
- Also, since they are local, you can drop by if they are open to the public! Drop by the visitor center and ask if they are looking for volunteers.
- Often, there are special events like Trash Pickups or Beach Cleanups for Earth Day. You can go to those to dip a toe in the water, since they tend to be beginner friendly.
- Some things to be aware of:
- You may have to sift out events that require full-time participation or huge time commitments (if that’s not what you are looking for). I’ve found lots of really fun-sounding opportunities that I unfortunately can’t commit to. This has been the case for many of the opportunities I found on the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife, and California Volunteer Corps websites, though they are still worth checking.
- Activities vary in skill and fitness requirements, so when you sign up for things, be sure to read the description to see if it’s right for you, kid-friendly, or whatever constraints you have. If you need to do something relatively gentle, there are still good options out there!
* * *
So, there you have it! Hopefully you’ve got some ideas about where to start.
Among the two types, advocacy and nature, you don’t have to choose just one. I’d recommend trying a bit of both, since they complement each other! Personally, I find that the nature volunteering is a unique way to restore myself, get outside, and feel connected to the planet, and the advocacy helps me stay plugged into social change and make a difference at scale.
If you’re at all curious about volunteering for environment and climate action, I hope you’ll give it a try. As much or as little as you have time for, it all counts.
If you try this guide and have feedback, suggestions, or volunteer experiences to share, email me at kannapan[at]deeptikannapan.com! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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