Which are the most effective climate change nonprofits?

They aren’t the names you know

Marc Gunther
Nonprofit Chronicles
7 min readDec 11, 2020

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Photo by John Englart (Takver) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This fall, just in time for the giving season, two groups of independent researchers set out to identify the most effective nonprofits that are working to curb climate change. Their findings may surprise you.

Giving Green recommends five organizations: the Clean Air Task Force, the Sunrise Education Fund, which is the 501(c)(3) arm of the Sunrise Movement, Climeworks, Burn and Tradewater. Top charities selected by researchers at the Founders Pledge are the Clean Air Task Force (again), Carbon 180 and Terra Praxis.

You’ll immediately notice one thing about these recommendations, which reflects thousands of hours of careful research. With the exception of the Sunrise Movement, these are small, underfunded and not especially well known groups. There are other common themes here, too. Several recommended groups work on removing carbon emissions from the air, which is a crucial but neglected climate solution. These recommendations also reflect a recognition of the vexing problem of energy poverty — that is, the fact that more than a billion of the world’s people lack access to modern energy and deserve to get it; any climate solution that asks people around the world to use less energy is going to fail. Finally, Clean Air Task Force, the only nonprofit to make both lists, supports advanced nuclear power and the capture of carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants — technologies that fall outside the conventional wisdom held by climate activists that solar and wind energy can provide all of the reliable, affordable, low-carbon power that the world needs. They can’t, at least not for a very long time.

You may also note that none of the world’s best-known environmental groups — not the Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club or the World Wildlife Fund — appears on either list.

Which is fine, because the big green NGOS rake in plenty of big dollars. Just last month, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced that his Earth Fund was giving $791 million to 16 nonprofits fighting climate change. The vast majority of his money will go to the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature…

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Marc Gunther
Nonprofit Chronicles

Reporting on psychedelics, tobacco, philanthropy, animal welfare, etc. Ex-Fortune. Words in The Guardian, NYTimes, WPost, Vox. Baseball fan. Runner.