In the last few years we’ve witnessed a climate awakening. Climate change is a major threat. More people agree than ever before. There is also a growing awareness, as David Attenborough stated. Put it! to the United Nations earlier this year, “If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security.”
Yet, funding for nonprofit organizations that help prevent a climate disaster is severely lacking.
That’s what I discovered when I analyzed 65,000 non-profit IRS tax returns for a Recent studyOn charitable giving. My research had two goals: to find out how much money Americans give to environmental groups each year and to identify the types of work these donations fund.
My motivation was mainly driven by curiosity. I pledged 50% of my company three years ago. Campfire Labs‘, annual? Profits to climate advocacy. Ever since then, I’ve tried to identify the most impactful places to give money each year. I often look for what Effective Altruists refer to as “neglected problems,” causes and projects that receive little attention or funding.
My research revealed shocking results. Climate advocacy is one of most neglected areas of philanthropy.
In 2020, the amount of donations to environmental charities was $8 billion. Although that may seem like a lot of money to you, consider the fact that $471 billion was donated by Americans to charity in the same year. This means that less than 2 percent of all donations went towards environmental causes, which is the lowest percentage of charitable causes.
Most of that money went to organizations focused on conservation and wildlife protection—nonprofits like The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International. These organizations are essential to preserving biodiversity and protecting so-called “carbon sinks”—forests, oceans, and wetlands that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
However, conservation can only do so much in preventing climate disaster. We must stop burning fossil fuels, and decarbonize our entire economy if we want to limit global warming to below 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. That’s why for my research I set out to understand how much money goes to organizations focused on this task, which is often referred to as “climate mitigation.”
I discovered that climate mitigation nonprofits received just $2 billion in 2020—0.4% of all charitable dollars. This is unacceptable considering the critical role these organizations play in achieving our climate targets.
It’s tempting to think that the free market alone can get us to zero-emissions. Climate tech companies can only thrive in a policy environment that supports their growth. Tesla, the poster child of clean energy innovation is a good example of this: Without electric vehicle rebates, and the ability to charge for them, Government loan for $465 million the company received in 2009, it’s unlikely they would exist today.
These government policies don’t magically happen either. A coalition of nonprofits is behind every clean energy rebate, government R&D budget, and fossil fuel regulation. In many cases, these organizations actually write the policies that become law. Without them we don’t stand a chance of preventing a climate disaster.
Fortunately, I was able to find many effective climate nonprofits during my research. WE ACT for Environmental JusticeThis is an example of a nonprofit that can accomplish a lot with a small budget. Recently they led a successful effort to ban natural gas use in New York City’s buildings. With a budget of just a few million dollars, the team behind this initiative got America’s biggest city to pass a bill that will cut emissions by By 2040, 2.1 million tons.
Another example of a climate nonprofit that is effective is Rewiring America. The organization has educated millions about the importance of replacing fossil fuel-powered vehicles and appliances with electric ones powered by renewable energy over the past year. They also collaborated with Senators to introduce a bill to Congress that would give Americans rebates for electric vehicles. Heat pumps.
These organizations are one of the most effective and efficient ways to address climate change. And it’s up to donors, big and small, to support them. Although it may not seem like a lot of money is needed to make a difference in climate change, the fact is that they can make big changes with very little money.
Michael Thomas is the founder. Carbon SwitchClimate tech startup, which produces guides and research on effective climate actions. He is also the founder. Campfire Labs, a content-marketing agency that donates 50% to climate advocacy.